How can anyone talk about the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri, without creating more trouble? In any event, here’s a try. First, a premise: It breaks my heart to see our country torn apart and polarized by all this. I’ve lived to see just about all of it: desegregation of the US Military; integration of US Sports; Brown vs. Education; the March on Washington; compulsory school busing. All that notwithstanding, everyone is farther apart than they were when all this social movement began, 70 years ago. So much for history and progress! Where to start?
I’m going to start with my father, who retired in 1964 as a Lieutenant for the Evanston Police Department. He had started there in 1926, at the age of 20, as their radio operator, as cars were relatively new on the nation’s streets and highways and ‘patrol cars’ needed radio communication in order to arrive quickly at the scene of a crime or accident. He later went full-time, in 1929, at the start of The Great Depression, as he was going to get married and needed a steady job with sure pay. That meant US Government work; the Police Department, in this case.
He was armed at all times on the job, for 38 years. He carried a Smith & Wesson, snub-nosed, .38 special. My brother, my mother and I saw that weapon every day, in its holster, when he was off-duty, perhaps sleeping during the day if he had the shift that went midnight until 8:00 in the morning. When he’d come home and take off his gun belt, my brother or I would ask him the question little kids ask: “Daddy, did you shoot anyone today?” He’d always answer with something like this: “No, not today. And I hope I never have to.” We understood.
For 38 years, he never had to take his gun from his holster … until one day near the end of his career. I’ll come to that day tomorrow. I’ll say this, though my memory may be faulty: In the time frame 1940-64, I never heard of an incident in which an Evanston Policeman fired a shot while on duty. It may have happened but I was never aware of it. I’ll add this: We were next door to Chicago but I recall very few incidents in which shots were fired by Chicago policemen in that same time span. I’m sure it happened but, if I’m not mistaken, rarely. More tomorrow.