Freedom of Speech

“So, what do you think? Interesting, huh?” Benson exhales a deep drag from his cigarette. “Fuckin’ different ain’t it?” We’re on the escalator taking us up to the street.

“I don’t know what to think.” I reply. “I didn’t sign on for this.”

“We’ll see soon enough.” He glances at his watch. “It’s scheduled for noon. Ten minutes to go.

We’re both in plain clothes. We exit the subterranean garage and turn into the park.  Benson stops at his post, a bench, “Keep your powder dry,” he quips.

”No kidding. Don’t forget to cover my back, Dickhead.” I continue to my assigned
post. The park is pretty filled with people on this beautiful day in May. I’m conflicted in a
way I never imagined.

The guest-speaker is escorted from the underground parking structure. His escorts are
five men in their twenties, impeccably attired in Nazi uniforms. Clean cut, and closely
shaven, their uniforms consist of a tan military jacket, black Gestapo trousers pinched
smartly below the knees, where black spit shined boots meet. To finish the ensemble, black formal caps with glistening plastic visors shade their eyes, a shining eagle centered above the visor. Spit shined leather belts surround their small waists that punctuate the V’s formed by their athletic chests. On each right bicep is the indomitable red swastika, on a black background, wrapped fastidiously around each arm.

These uniformed men are really not far from being boys. In their twenties, they show no
feelings. It’s as though they are fine-tuned robots in a ‘box’ formation. The escorted
civilian, wearing a suit, white shirt and tie, is the centerpiece. They march smartly to a
bench, strategically pre-selected, in the center of the park ‘Poster Boys of the Nazi party’.

It’s a typical city park, where neighboring workers bring their lunches to eat peacefully,
read, and grab some sun. It also hosts an assortment of itinerant people from the
neighborhood. Senior citizens getting away from the concrete and asphalt: playing
checkers, chatting, perhaps seeking a temporary refuge from the city. Included are the
resident crazies, winos, homeless, and the pathetic hopeless, strewed about in various
shapes of disarray. There are many races and origins, but mostly Jews.

These thugs are going to foment the crowd by stumping for their cause right here in
the middle of Los Angeles. A year and a half on the Police Department and I’m privy to
this vomitus spectacle. In my city, Nazis in uniform flaunting themselves. The real irony is
that I’m here to protect them from violence. They represent everything I despise. Yet
I can’t remove them, or arrest them as every inch of me demands. They have City Permits
from the City Council, and the Police Commission too, which allow them to ‘speechify’
on this day, in this very park. To recruit, to proselytize, to do any little thing their hearts
desire, as long as it is short of inciting a riot. After all, this IS America. Everyone has the
Right to freedom of speech. Therefore, as Americans exercising that very freedom, they
shall be protected from person, or persons, who attempt to violate that Right.

I never knew the boundaries of what this really meant, until this very moment. Protection for the Nazis, just like the Police Department’s motto, ‘To Protect and Serve.’ I want to throw up. There are 30 other uniformed policemen secreted below the park on standby alert. Officers that could be more effective on the streets suppressing crime, instead baby-sitting these assholes. I think. The only modern accessory is that each man is wearing mirror-like sunglasses, making their eyes invisible behind the lenses.

The group stops military style at the bench, hut-two. These uniformed apparitions
startle an old lady, who occupies the bench feeding pigeons. Terrified, she reflexively hugs
her handbag, and skulks away. So out of sorts, that she stumbles over her own feet, crashes to the concrete path, and cracks open her forehead. Blood squirts through the wound, and runs down her face. Bystanders run to give her aid. Pigeons scatter from the onrush as they pursue her bag of food.

The suit leaves the pack and climbs upon the bench. A command: “Left -face,” and the
uniforms turn in unison facing forward; four forming a semicircle in front, the fifth in back facing the rear. “Parade Rest.” They spread their feet shoulder distance, and cross their arms in front. Their backs are yardstick straight, heads erect. A momentary pause allows anticipation to rise. The speaker stares upward, takes a deep breath, apparently relishing the resplendent sky.

I’m ten feet from him, having infiltrated the audience now numbering about fifteen.

Others quickly join, swelling the crowd to fifty within seconds. I know who the guy in the
suit is as I’ve been well briefed. The civilian’s name is, George Lincoln Rockwell, the
well-known leader of the American Nazi Party.

This is downtown Los Angeles, California, 1961. Specifically, Pershing Square, located
at 6th and Hill Streets, across the street from the Biltmore Hotel. (The hotel where just one
year earlier, John F. Kennedy accepted the Presidential nomination.)

I unwittingly fall into an imagery. Backwards in time, another park, year 1939. I’m
there, also living the rising terror of the Nazi onslaught. Experience complete futility,
disgust, and trembling helplessness, as I foresee the havoc that the Reich will inevitably
foist on mankind.

For this moment, I’m a Jew caught in Hitler’s nightmare. I tremble with fear. Is this a
movie. Am I dreaming? Am I living this brutal debauchery of mankind? “What’s going on
here? Isn’t this Germany? America?”

My mirage gets mercifully shattered, when an elderly man next to me shouts, “What
are these dogs doing here? This is how they started in Germany!” Like a cold slap, I am
back to the present.

Mr. Rockwell raises his arms toward the summer sky and proclaims with lofty
arrogance, “Welcome. Welcome Everyone.” A deathly scream knifes through the crowd.
The old lady who was feeding the birds faints dead-out onto the pavement. People scurry
to give aid. Another shouts, “You Nazi bastards, get out of our park.” And another. The
audience gets worked up. People, men and women crying, sobbing, reliving their own
personal nightmares. I want to wrap my arms around them all, to comfort them. Instead,
I’m alert to do my job. I’m watching everyone I can to ensure that I can stop crimes from
being committed.

I relay a pre-arranged signal from my supervisor, also dressed in plain clothes, which is
to release one squad of officers from the standby pool under the park. It is passed like a bucket brigade to the officers standing by. During this tumult, Mr. Rockwell waits
patiently for the crowd to become quiet. All he had said was the initial greeting of, “Welcome. Welcome Everyone.”

Those words lit a pile of tinder ready to explode into a conflagration. The 11 officers
appear almost immediately. A woman falls at the feet of the lead Sergeant and wraps
herself around his leg. Sobbing, screaming, “Thanks God, the police are here. Thank you
God. Get them please.” Others shout pleadings echoing the first woman. “Arrest them
Nazi pigs.” “Throwaway the key!” “Beat them like they beat us.” Frankly, I feel the same
way. I’m sure the officers responding do too. It’s unanimous. A milk carton is thrown at
Rockwell, falling short. The thrower is the 70-year-old man standing two feet away from
me. He is tormented, turns in circles, bewildered, mumbling incoherently. It’s as though
he’s trying to decide some course of action, anything. Helpless, he turns to me, “Young
man, what can we do?”

“I think that if we all leave, he’ll have nobody to talk to. You think that’s okay?”
”No.” He shakes his head helpless. “You know, I’m a religious person. But in this case,
I want to see blood.” Tears well up in his eyes. “God forgive me, please.”

The responding officers begin to disperse the mob. Perhaps 100 people are now congregated, and it is still growing. The officers push the crowd back away from the
bench, their backs to the Nazis. It is obvious whom they are protecting, and it’s not these
pitiful people. The remaining 22 officers appear on the scene, and in crowd control
formations, disperse the mob in three separate directions. The lieutenant in charge
suggests to Rockwell that he should leave also. I am five feet away from them. Rockwell’s
blond hair and blue eyes shimmer from the sunlight. His whole countenance seems to be
illuminated. I think of how much he looks like a movie star, or other famous celebrity. I
cannot take my eyes off of him.

He politely refuses, “Lieutenant, with all due respect, I have a permit to be here and
want to say what I came to say.” He speaks softly, which gives his words more impact.

“Well, sir,” the Lieutenant admonishes, “I’ll try my best to keep you safe, but I can’t
guaranty your safety. We’re getting outnumbered pretty fast.”

“I’ll deal with that,” he says nonchalantly.”

As the din becomes louder, the lieutenant makes the decision to give a formal dispersal
order. An ambulance drives into the park to tend to the old lady who had fainted. She is
bleeding heavily from her forehead. They clean and bandage her wound, then tie gauze
around her head for temporary relief. As they try to get her on a gurney, and into the
ambulance, she screams louder than before. ”No, no. I’m not going anywhere. I stay to
see them Gestapos get arrested. They’re animals.” No one could convince her to get into
the ambulance. It drives away without her, but stands by a couple of blocks away.

The crowd becomes heartened by her courage. She is lifted onto shoulders. Above the
crowd, her head heroically bandaged, she evokes another wave of shouts. “See what you
caused, you fucking brutes?” “It’s what you do, damage humans in every way.”

An ear-piercing screech from the megaphone eases the tension. I look in its direction.

The Tactical Commander is standing on an adjacent bench. “Ladies and gentlemen. I am Lieutenant Miller of the Los Angeles Police Department. I am issuing a legal order. I
deem this to be an Unlawful Assembly.” Reading from a card, all the words must be
properly cited for it to be enforceable. “Therefore, I order all of you to leave this area
immediately. Anyone remaining here after five minutes will be arrested and taken to jail.”
At that point, an ominous black paddy wagon drives onto the path with its red lights
spinning. The word ‘Police’ emblazoned on all sides.

A great shout of approval rises from the crowd. Their wish had been granted. They
believe that the Nazis were ordered to leave. On the contrary, they themselves were
ordered to evacuate the park. Either way, their wish will be granted.

Rockwell, seeing the futility of speaking to no one, or at best some returning
bystanders, who will continue to disrupt him, decides to leave. His attempt to peacefully
do his thing has been foiled. Or was it? Was it merely an attempt at intimidation?

With murmurs, shaking arm threats, and epithets, the officers finally disperse the crowd.

No arrests are made, thank God, because I would be severely challenged, morally, to do it.

The Rockwell contingent is escorted to their vehicle, and again escorted safely away
from the location to safe harbor.

The End

P.S. I had great difficulty trying to fathom the justification of the City, and the Police
Commission too, issuing permits to allow this event to take place. They knew that it
would take manpower to Police. There were 30 some odd officers assigned beforehand.
Could it have been political intimidation? Perhaps payback of some kind? I don’t know,
nor do I really care anymore.

Our Freedoms are for everyone, even the Rockwells of my nation.

In retrospect, as I sit here 40 plus years after the event, I feel a surge of pride. Not
swagger or anything boastful.

I have seen since 1961, when the event occurred, and now, what a truly great country I
live in. Despite its ups and downs, and its political ambivalence, I love the USA warts and
all.

Let Freedom Ring.

by  Peter Bruno

Select all writings of  Peter Bruno

Select biography of  Peter Bruno

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