….Police Brutality and an Irish Story for any other day except St. Paddy’s.
By: Thomas X. Foolery, D.D.
As a young boy growing up in Boston I was led to believe that anything is possible. My Grandparents were instrumental in this respect, whereas my Grandfather was a Contractor…built many of those triple deckers that dot the poverty stricken, drug infested landscape of “outer” Boston. Places like Dorchester, Southie, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park and Charlestown. He did it because he wanted to give people decent homes, and he knew poor. Very well. As the son of an Irish Immigrant the only work he could get prior to World War II was as a lumber grader at the railroad yard. The labor gangs were controlled by Teamsters, but the Irishman weren’t allowed to become members, only to work for ‘day wages’ in small groups on the worst possible gigs available. Hard, tedious and very dangerous work. He lost two uncles to accidents in “The Yards”, and it was a grotesque horrific way to go. One, Uncle Thomas (my namesake) was smashed between two railroad lumber cars laden with 60 tons of Northern White Pine, all but obliterated him to a pile of oozing shit. The other, Uncle Patsy, was stabbed clean through the back with the hoist hook. A giant fish hook looking contraption for snagging and lifting the giant logs. It had a barb and all, that was attached to a 40’s era crane. He was clammering up a pile of logs when the craneman caught a gust of wind and the hook went swinging….nothing could be done. Before anyone knew it, there was Ole’ Patsy, swinging away thirty feet off the ground with intestines, bile, blood and all sorts of vile crap raining down like in a slaughterhouse. The craneman was mortified, and three quarters shit faced, by the time the Foreman could pry him from the cab of the crane. Patsy hung there for a few hours while the firefighters tried to figure out what to do. He was long past dead. Finally the hoist was dropped and with rigor mortis setting in, Ole’ Patsy just slid off like a trout. He was covered in a blanket and carried off to be buried in Potter’s Field. His wife and seven children now without a patriarch knew poor too. After he passed she was a barmaid and a hooker…raising her kids anyway she could.
The whole clan lived in O’Brien’s Block, a row of battered old brick buildings with shop fronts on the street level and one or two room apartments on all the remaining floors. Indeed my Grandfather slept on a makeshift straw mattress made from cat o’nine stalks tied tight with cordage, covered in newspapers and a single surplus woolen blanket. He shared this bed of sorts with 4 other brothers. Across the room was a similar type makeup, seperated by a sheet of course, and that was where the girls slept. All 5 of them; also on a single mattress. My Great Grandmother was a dutiful wife and Mother. I did have the good fortune to meet her. “The Great Nana” I referred to her as, really don’t know why. Met my Great Grandfather too, he was an Angry Irishman…prideful, violent, a drunkard…yet he was immensely proud of his family, a giant gaggle of nine children in his two room castle assured him his blood would flow for generations to come. He liked me, which was odd because he wasn’t actually fond of kids in general. He called me “my little smartass” in Gaelic because from a very young age I was constantly in trouble and had issues with authority. He would get mail from the Old Country that he would read aloud to me, and noone else, it was addressed as follows, ‘To: Black Mike, South Boston From: Red Mike, Galway, Ireland.’ No last names, no zip code, State or country code. And the postman knew how and whom to deliver it to…for ‘Black Mike’ was well known. He had been banned from all but two drinking establishments for brawling, smashing tables and mirrors. He even burnt one place to the ground after they refused to serve him…for being ‘Irish’. Never arrested either, questioning of the neighborhood for hours over several days resulted in nothing of substance that would warrant his arrest so the police had to leave him be…in his rocking chair, pipe in mouth, jigger of Old Jameson in hand exalting “Get out of my home you contemptuous cocksuckers, find some real crooks up there on Beacon Hill” drooling out of his crooked mouth with an almost incoherent irish brogue. He would then break out in song and whistle. He could whistle like no one’s business, as could be my Grandfather. Its worth a mention, I can’t whistle. Tried to learn well into my late 30’s (from age 4 or so) and to this day, I am unable to garner anything but a whisp and a gasp.
Good Ole’ Grampy went on to fight in WWII, two tours in fact. One as a tank driver under General George S. Patton and a second as a machine gunner in the Big Red One, Yankee Division. After the war he met my Grandmother, the 2nd generation daughter of an Irish Immigrant whom was of all things Protestant. And her Father was a Police Chief in a neighboring suburb of Boston. They married, had four daughters and Gramp settled into forming his own construction company. By the mid 60’s he had hit the bigtime. An office, secretary, all the heavy equipment he could ever need and they were building one house a month. Great big triple deckers with three bedrooms in each on lots bought from the City for back taxes owed. He was doing well. My Mother got caught up in the 60’s and all the decadence inherent in that time, only to come out the other end with a Son, yours truly, and a chemical dependency to alcohol and heroin. Thus, my grandparents were a big part of my life, coming to my rescue more than once after Mother departed on weekend long road trips with the Hells Angels or invoked a half willing spin dry in a detox to elude going to jail. The benefit of having your Grandparents involved in your upbringing, especially being Irish, is all the knowledge of history that comes with a colorful family. Especially Irish Immigrants from South Boston. The stories were handed down like great wisdom, as I sat like Plato at the feet of Socrates. Listening intently to them all, Great and GrandParents alike, discuss the “Old Days” as if it were last week. Actually imparted a love of tea that I still have to this day. Don’t drink it often but when I do, it brings up memories that warm the soul. Every week my Grandfather would take me out on Sunday to visit his Father. The Great Nana had passed away and Black Mike spent his Sundays at church and then home listening to the Red Sox game on the radio. Those were indeed special times.
(Family Crypt Cross from Tomb in Ireland; Tattooed on Back 2014 – Translation: “No Regrets”)
My Great Grandfather was murdered on St. Patrick’s Day in 1979 by a policeman. As he staggered home from a day of heavy drink and song, he entered the alley which led to the back entrance of the ghetto known as O’Brien’s Block. Lying in wait was a patrolman whom with 5 of his fellow officers, had been on the receiving end of a vicious beating at the hands of Black Mike, his 2 brothers, my grandfather and his younger brother, Mad Jack. Mad Jack was a Hell’s Angel. President in fact. And the cops wanted him to take off his colors. Black Mike stated his son could wear whatever the hell he damn pleases, especially on St. Paddy’s and fists flew from there. That night in ‘79, the cop in the alley began clubbing Black Mike with his nightstick until his head cracked open like a melon. And he continued to beat my great grandfather mercilessly, until a mentally retarded boy in the neighborhood went into Zigler’s Market (the 7/11 of the time and area) and Old Mr. Zigler came out and caught the cop in the act, tackling him to the ground while yelling “Sweet Jesus, someone call for a Doctor, Black Mike’s in hatches!!”. The Doctor came…as did Father McDonough from St. Mary’s…Black Mike, the proud Irishman who survived the potato famine, the trip to America, World War I, the train yards, raised nine children, faught many men….finally succombed and died of his beating in that dirty alley, holding hands with the Good Father, asking only for his Mother. He was 82 years old. And, of course, the cop was never prosecuted…and ultimately was promoted to Sergeant, Lieutenant and finally Detective 2nd Class. This sworn “peace officer” beat an elderly man to death, yet was above the law even back then.
Therefore I get to my point…On St. Patricks Day while most get mangled on good whiskey, green beer and wear “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirts, I fondly recall the Great Patriarch of my Family, My Grandfather’s Father, being murdered in cold blood by a policeman who took an oath to ‘Serve and Protect’…and it angers me. There is some public outrage now, in 2015…the statistics issued by the Dept. of Justice are staggering, almost baffling. Some 7 in 10 police shootings are unprovoked and unjustified yet go unprosecuted. There are over 2,972 cases of police brutality and/or excessive force in Boston’s Internal Affairs Division alone; all “pending investigation” with little to no punishment pending for the perpetrators. Atrocities at the hands of cops are headline news Nationwide, so common that some 9 to 11 new videos flood Youtube, Facebook and Twitter every single day. Typically, at least more often than not, the officer assailant is not prosecuted, not indicted, nothing except maybe a paid suspension for a few days. With very few exceptions. Police of today are outfitted as good, if not better than the military and most of the yahoos in uniform are ready, willing and able to club, taze and/or shoot anyone who doesn’t conform. And if they don’t kill the subject, they’ll make damn sure, by all sorts of treachery, that the prosecution has a solid case to send the poor fucker to jail for no good reason at all. Its an exclusive club of liars, egomaniacs, adrenaline junkies and power freaks whom are coming for all of us I fear. The Police State is one signature away from becoming a reality, a swipe of a pen across an executive order and we’re all going to be piled into cattle cars at South Station, while Amtrak gives us a lift to the nearest ‘for profit’ penal colony or ‘undisclosed location’ of a few dozen internment camps. Yet where is the public outcry? With Social Media being what it is, all that’s out there is rhetoric and piles of evidence. With next to nothing being done to protect our freedoms. My Great Grandfather thought America was the greatest place in the World, because of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. He actually believed in the American Dream and was proud that his Son, my Grandfather was living a small portion of it as a moderately successful businessman. After he was beat to death like a dog, many people wanted to lash out against the police, but back then just like know, it wasn’t so unusual of an occurrence and there was no public outcry. At least not heard by the right people.
The American People have a duty to themselves, their children and their neighbors….its time to stop watching from the sidelines. Voices must be heard, signatures must be written, something must be done so that the impending doom of the Police State can be stopped…or, I fear, the dwindling, gasping American Dream will almost certainly suffer a tragic death; more than likely beaten to a pulp by a cop with a baton.