Martin Luther King’s dream was becoming a nightmare as word spread of the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis on the evening of Thursday, April 4, 1968. In Washington D.C., crowds started to gather. Rioting and looting began by 11 p.m. and soon spread to more than 110 other cities throughout the nation. Rioters attacked cops and firefighters with bottles and rocks.
The White House dispatched 15,000 military troops to assist D.C. police. Marines mounted machineguns on the steps of the Capitol Building.
In Miami, Florida, an occasional shot rang out, accompanied by periodic looting. I was a young Miami cop working a “salt-and-pepper team” (white partner/black partner) in what was referred to then as the Central Negro District (CND), the most violent and crime-ridden area of the city. Everyone expected wholesale violence to erupt before the episode ended. Chief of Police Walter Headley cancelled all days off and put every cop in the streets.
By then, I had been patrolling Central District for nearly four years. It was Dodge City on steroids. Plenty of action. My partner Daniels and I had shot two people in gunfights, been shot at several times, stabbed. . . Cement blocks dropped from the tops of the projects onto policemen and our vehicles. A sniper killed a rookie cop. Another cop lost his life when a fleeing armed robber shot him. Black Panthers lolling on street corners yelled “Pig!” as cops drove by. Arrests often ended in confrontations.
There was a protest parade up Second Avenue on Friday. What was most significant was that we kept busy chasing suspects who mugged parade participants and bystanders.
Night fell. The ghetto was dark and eerily quiet under curfew after a day of action. Daniels and I sat our patrol car on Fifth Avenue, lights out, watching and waiting for something to happen. About midnight, loudspeakers at various points in the district began broadcasting.
Martin Luther King’s famous speech echoed through the dark streets: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. . .
“God bless Martin,” Daniels murmured.
“And God help us all,” I added.
“Now we turn all these groups against each other and create chaos. It doesn’t matter where the chaos comes from, as long as we have rioting and violence in the streets.” From A Thousand Years of Darkness, by Charles W. Sasser. Available at BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com. In soft cover, Kindle or Nook.