Over at Open Salon they asked that people submit stories of their petty arrests. Here's mine. Since it involves some American political history about George Wallace and racism in America, I thought it might be of interest to some Daily Kos readers as well.
For George Corley Wallace, his 1972 Presidential campaign swing through Maryland was one seriously bad trip. He was met by riots in Hagerstown and Frederick, by noisy counter-demonstrations at Wheaton Plaza and Capital Plaza near DC and was seriously wounded by gunfire in Laurel. And me? I managed to get myself arrested by an Alabama state trooper ------in Maryland no less.
Although mostly forgotten now, Wallace was the Halley’s Comet of the neo-confederate universe in the 1960’s, trailing a constellation of stars and bars behind him. As governor of Alabama he stood in front of the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in 1962 in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent its desegregation by black students.
At his 1963 gubernatorial inauguration he vowed,”Segregation Now. Segregation Tomorrow! Segregation Forever!” When segregation was outlawed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he changed his rhetoric to the racially coded language that has inspired generations of Republican politicians from Richard Nixon to Newt Gingrich.
When he ran for President in 1964 and 1968, Wallace got a substantial vote from rural and moderate income white Maryland voters, but he also met with strong opposition. Maryland is a border state and contested terrain, south of the Mason Dixon Line, but north of the Old Confederacy. A former slave state, Maryland was the site of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day of the Civil War and in all of US history. Gettysburg PA is nearby, where Lincoln gave his famous address.
There had been white-only signs in many parts of the state and there were places that could be very dangerous for black people. Even in 1972, the sight of a Confederate flag in Maryland set off strong, even violent emotions, both for and against; and so did the presence of George Corley Wallace.
He was running in the Democratic primary for President and he was expected to carry the state.
I was writing for a local underground paper and we organized a bunch of people to confront him at both Wheaton Plaza and Capital Plaza. These were not upscale malls but older shopping centers that catered to lower middle class shoppers. We knew we would be probably be outnumbered by Wallace supporters, but we didn’t care.
As a former Wheaton resident, I felt bad about having to miss the Wheaton Plaza event, but I was able to make it to Capital Plaza in nearby Prince George’s (PG) County, a Wallace stronghold. I was driving a delivery truck then, so with magic markers, poster board and my limited art skills I made a sign that read “Truck Driver Against Wallace.” I knew that would get some attention.
A bunch of us drove over to Capital Plaza where several hundred enthusiastic Wallace supporters were swaying to country music, some waving Confederate flags. To me, the Confederate flag is the American swastika. More about swastikas later.
Including us, there were maybe 75-100 counter demonstrators off to the side of the main crowd. We chanted anti-racist slogans; the favorite being “Bus Wallace back to Alabama!”. Busing for desegregation was a big issue in PG County at the time.
When Wallace began to speak I took my sign, left the main contingent of counter-demonstrators, and accompanied by a couple of friends, patrolled the outskirts of the Wallace supporters. As I hoped, the sign really pissed some people off and I did my best to answer their taunts while getting ready to beat a quick retreat if necessary. Picking my teeth up off the pavement of a suburban parking lot was not on my proposed agenda. A few people made threatening gestures, but nobody got violent and the cops didn’t seem to be taking any of it very seriously.
Finally Wallace finished his speech and exited with his entourage.I was standing at the western side of the parking lot with my buddy Charlie when we noticed a bus at the eastern end, maybe 100-150 yards away. The large swastikas on the side were hard to miss; so were the people who were blocking the front of the bus. Charlie turned to me and said in total surprise “Fuckin’ Nazis!” Several men emerged from the bus, one with a club in his hand. We shook off our complete shock and began running toward the bus.
It was the Nazi Hate Bus. I had heard of it, but had never actually seen it. As we came closer, I could see that the bus blockers were scattering, the bus was pulling away and that PG cops were converging. They began arresting people, for what I had no idea. Charlie and I stopped where the bus had been and looked around. PG County law enforcement had a sizable population of racist thugs. Mentally recording their behavior looked like a good idea.
A stout guy in a suit quickly planted himself in front of me and demanded that I leave the scene. I looked at him and said,”Who the hell are you?” He shouted,”You’re under arrest.” I was grabbed from behind and cuffed. Within minutes I was in a PG cop car and heading for the local Hyattsville lockup with 2 teenagers. It turned out they from the Students for McGovern club at a nearby high school. McGovern was the liberal Democrat running that year. They and their pals had organized the sit-in front of the Nazi Hate Bus. I congratulated them and wondered if I would have done the same. Probably not.
There were 8 of us at the lockup, 7 of the McGovern kids and me. The bemused jailer looked at us and asked why we were there. One of the kids proudly said that we had been demonstrating against Nazis.
The jailor looked at us for a few seconds and then said firmly,” Nazis? I hate Nazis. You boys sit down until someone comes to bail you out. I’m not going to put you in a cell because of a bunch of Nazis.”
All 7 of the McGovern kids turned out to be Jewish. They were great kids to hang out with. I was charged with disorderly conduct and got bailed out for $100 a couple of hours later.
The next day I called Gary Simpson(no relation), an ACLU attorney we relied on and asked him what I should do. He said he’d look into it. The next day he called and told me that the guy who had “arrested” me was an Alabama State Trooper, a member of Wallace’s security detail and a man with no jurisdiction in Maryland. Then Gary said,” I can’t believe it, but they want to go to court over this. It's outrageous.”
Gary took my case for $100 and as he always did, channeled Clarence Darrow in the courtroom. I was found not guilty.
While awaiting my court date, I happened to be in my delivery truck in an industrial park about a mile south of Laurel MD. Sirens were wailing from the long line of cop cars and emergency vehicles as they passed me at high speed heading north on Route 1. I had never seen so many flashing lights. The truck dispatcher came over the radio and ordered me to leave the area ASAP because George Wallace had just been shot.
The next day there were rumors in the truck lot that all of the black and hippie-looking drivers were kept a safe distance away from the scene by the company. I was one of the hippie-looking drivers, so maybe that’s why I got that call. I guess they were afraid of retribution by angry Wallace supporters.
As for George Wallace, he survived his wounds, painfully paralyzed until he passed away in 1998. Wallace never really believed the racist crap that he spread around in public. It was cold-blooded political calculation and late in his sad life he repented; in my opinion, quite honestly.
Arthur Bremer, his would-be assassin, was released in 2007; his motive seeming to be no more than bringing publicity on himself. Maryland Wallace opponents told a cruel joke about the shooting, saying that if Bremer had been tried by a “Peoples Court”, he would have been found guilty and sentenced to 6 months of target practice.
Wallace supporters had their Confederate flag. We had our Artie Bremer joke. Racism never paints a pretty picture.