January 09, 2010
By Ken Krayeske • 10:15 PM EST
The cover page, typed, in blue ink, courier. From 1966. Found in the UConn Law Library. A window in the world of protest on Asylum Hill in 1966.
Wandering around the stacks of the UConn law library during a study break recently, I chanced upon a slim volume entitled "The Welfare Incident: A Lost Opportunity." Intrigued, I picked it up.
Published on February 28, 1968 by the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the report details the events of September 14, 1966.
On this date occurred the so-called "Welfare Demonstration Incident" in front of the offices of the Commissioner of the State Department of Welfare, 1000 Asylum Avenue, Hartford. The following report, to me, seems apropros, considering that Sunday, January 3, 2007 was three years to the day that I was thrown in jail by members of the Hartford Police Department and the Connecticut State Police for suggesting protest activity.
I understand that Asylum Hill in the turbulent 1960s was a hotbed of radicalism. Some long-time Hartford residents who read these pages may recognize the events, and if they do, I would love to hear from you.
Having never heard of "The Welfare Incident," and being extremely partial to and curious about any event referred to as an "Incident," I opened the report on "The Welfare Incident." According to the first page, written by Arthur L. Green, then the Director of CHRO, the report represents months of study, more than one hundred interviews and review of film and tape taken during the incident.
The report begins with an introduction, which I shall reprint much of, as it presents an excellent, short summary:
"On September 14, 1966, a march was made to the offices of the State Welfare Commissioner. The march was generally composed of minority group persons, both Negroes and Puerto Ricans, many of whom were welfare recipients and other poor persons.
"The marchers also included clergymen, college students and others who work with poor and minority group people of who identified with the purposes of the march. In addition, there were some representatives of civic and public services organizations.
"The march had been publicized in the press, and was announced at least as early as August 22, 1966. Extensive discussions had taken place between Captain Goldstein of the Hartford Police Department, Dr. Frank Simpson, representing Commissioner Shapiro's Office, and spokesmen for the marchers, Reverend Charles Pendleton and Mr. Fred Harris.
"The purpose of the march was to emphasize well-known, long-standing complaints of deficiencies within the Welfare Department and this purpose was clearly defined in the prior discussions with Captain Goldstein and Dr. Simpson. There was full opportunity for preparation of a modus operandi by the Welfare Department, the State Police and the local police for their respective involvements in the meeting with the marchers which was to take place at Commissioner Shapiro's office.
"What actually did occur, setting aside charges and countercharges or the respective parties, was a melee, subsequent arrests and no meeting whatsoever between the marchers and the Commissioner."
The Introduction notes the purpose of the report is not to probe the truth of charges or countercharges, but to "evaluate the incident as an agency of state government concerned with human rights and opportunities, in order that the analysis may serve as a guideline for future methodology."
The report from CHRO is set out in three main chapters: first, the setting of the incident; second, recommendations based on the players in the incident, a conclusion, and finally an addendum.
The recommendations section begin with allegations of police brutality, and are bolstered by several minutes of video and audio tape from news reporters on the scene. The report notes: "There was a loud verbal claim by front members of the demonstrators that Captain Goldstein of the HPD slapped Louise Harris (a member of the protestors)."
A police barricade blocked the protestors from entering the Welfare Commission offices. The Commissioner offered to meet with representatives of the group, rather than the whole group. Fred Harris presented the question to the protest, and the protest said "No."
A retired cop, Andrew Raubeson, who was on duty at the march, was a valuable source for the report. The officers "with raised clubs (and other actions contrary to normal mob control technique, according to Mr. Raubeson) then cleared, and afterward blocked the entryway to the narrow hall leading to the commissioner's office door."
Raubeson himself suffered cracked ribs in the incident at the hands of a fellow cop, but he said "he believed it [excessive force] was appropriate for the incident." This excessive force included a cop grinding the face of Rev. Pendleton into the ground, and allegations of beatings just short of torture by Fred Harris and others. HPD, in the investigation, evaded these accusations.
The Report comments: "This is not the first charge of cruel physical beatings by police. It will not be the last."
The Report provides analysis and recommendations for all other players, from Commissioner Shapiro, to the state police, to the protestors, on which it notes, "What we now refer to as a "protest demonstration" is an exercise in democracy. It is a gathering of citizens to symbolize their dissatisfaction with, or their approval of, things that are happening to them or for which they feel responsible.
"There is an undeniable tendency on the part of police officials to consider such protest demonstrations, however, merely as a threat to public order. Beginning with such a hypothesis, techniques are usually adapted toward limiting such demonstrations with respect to the constitutional freedoms of movement, speech, and the right to petition the government for grievances.
"In a democracy, hot tempers, loud voices, impassioned speeches, and active, indeed militant, citizen participation are the lifeblood of the nation. The Commission is suggesting that we have lost sight of our democratic concepts in dealing with protest demonstrations, and, in an attempt to maintain public order, have repeatedly so offended persons whose intentions were not criminal, but rather the most graphic demonstration of citizen participation, that we have in fact created a danger to public peace and security."
My favorite, though, is the subsection on "The Fred Harrises."
The Report, again: "Mr. Harris' name is not unknown to persons in high places. Neither are the attitudes of the State and Hartford Police toward the Fred Harrises in the state unknown. Like it or not, we must decide to deal with the Fred Harrises. Large numbers of people identify with such leaders.
"Marytring such persons is, in the present tinderbox atmosphere, not only immoral. It is reckless and foolhardy. Further, we cannot but accept as reality what the President, the Congress and others in high places have said in various places, at various times, in various forms.
"There is a predominantly Negro ghetto sub-culture in this nation which white persons have created, and that sub-culture is human. It hates. We must deal with that hate. It is in many ways remarkable that persons living within the ghetto have the patience and faith to conintue to seek peaceful change."
The Addendum notes that on September 27, 1966, two weeks after the incident, representatives of the marchers and the Welfare Commissioner met in a serious vain, with a structured agenda. As the Addendum notes: "It was felt by all participants in this meeting that it had been highly successful and productive."
The next paragraph from the Addendum explains the delay in the publication of the report. This should surprise no one. "The Hartford Police Department and its Corporation Counsel completely frustrated the [CHRO] staff's attempts to gather information on the grounds that such fact finding activity would somehow prejudice the state's case against some of the demonstrators that had been arrested."
Many of the recommendations in the report were implemented, including the establishment of a Community Relations Unit within HPD.
More than 40 years later, has any of this worked? Are we worse off now? Does our democracy still have a lifeblood in it?