Madison in the Sixties. The third week of August, 1969
Tension between the minority community and the all-white police department has now even spread to the two citizen policy and oversight commissions, as the Police and Fire Commission attacks the Equal Opportunities Commission Director the Rev James C Wright over something he never even said.
The drama starts when PFC President Stuart Becker and commission secretary Edwina Miller tell the other commissions they heard Wright say in an interview on WISM radio that the police department finally got two African-American applicants, and that they were “highly qualified.” “This premature announcement from Rev. Wright is exactly the kind of report that causes differences and distrust,” Commissioner Richard Lent says as the PFC formally directs Becker to tell Wright of the commission’s “concern.” They also want Wright to meet with them, “in an attempt to prevent future premature reports and unqualified rumors.”
But Becker and Miller are mistaken – it wasn’t Wright who used the phrase “highly qualified,” it was a WISM announcer. All Wright said was that the applicants had been military policemen, which he noted “gives them experience to go into police work with the proper police training.” The PFC does not apologize.
Police with proper training will definitely be needed next week when former Secretary of State Dean Rusk comes to campus to speak to a conference put on by the Graduate School of Banking. Radical activists are calling for a large turnout to “rout Rusk,” whom they call “a war criminal and political murderer who should be treated as such.”
And there were too many police without proper training when the Mifflin Street Block Party turned into a riot earlier this year. That’s according to some startling testimony from the officer in charge that first weekend in May. Yes, there was excessive police reaction, Lt. Donald Mickelson says, revealing that he reprimanded several officers during the disorders which rocked downtown and reverberated across the country. Mickelson also tells the special three-man committee Mayor William Dyke appointed to investigate the disturbance that he’s had second thoughts about the police response. “I have thought that if we had packed up and got out, nobody would have gotten hurt and they could have had their dance.”
But police chief Wilbur Emery disagrees. “If we had let them have their dance, then what?” he asks the committee. “What’s next?” Emery also cites the riot that broke out during the demonstration against the Dow Chemical Company in October 1967 to defend the use of a large force, decked out in riot gear, to respond to a noise complaint. “I learned a very strong lesson” from Dow, he testifies. “To be sure I had enough men to carry out my mission.” And he flatly rejects the notion that such an overwhelming police presence might provoke, rather than deter, a confrontation. “An honest, law-abiding citizen should have no fear, but feel pleased, if there are 100 policemen standing out there instead of one,” he says. The committee hasn’t set a schedule for writing its report, but chairman George Currie hints it will not find the police without blame. The former Supreme Court Chief Justice says it appears some officers taunted and provoked the partygoers, “and hit back in a way not proper for policemen to act.”
Is it proper for a mayor to act in a way which would thwart the express will of the people? That’s the question which arises over Mayor Dyke’s handling of the looming crisis in the city’s mass transit system, which teeters on the verge of chaos after the shareholders of the Madison Bus Co. vote to dissolve the company and go out of business on November 10. Although the company can’t shut down until the Public Service Commission gives it permission, the vote complicates an already confused situation. A majority of the common council wants the city to buy the bus company and operate the system itself – exactly what voters called for by approving two referenda in April, 1968.
The council directs Dyke to seek the necessary federal funds, but he refuses to do so, preferring to continue the city subsidy to the private company instead, and hope it will stay in business. Most disagreeable to Dyke – the Council adopts a resolution by radical downtown alder Paul Soglin directing the mayor to provide a written report every two weeks on the status of the federal application. And the clock continues to tick, with no resolution in sight.
Bus controversies are even affecting school children, as parents on the far east side announce plans to boycott the bus company rather than pay a new thirty cent charge for each trip to and from Robert M. La Follette high school. Students at La Follette used to ride at no cost, under the school board policy of providing free transportation where public bus service is unavailable and students live more than a mile and a half from the school. But in late July, the Madison Bus Co. announced it would start a special bus service route for the school, for a fee which works out to $54 dollars a year per child. Now the neighborhood association is proposing that parents form car pools to ferry pupils to and from the school.
Dyke is also thumbing his nose at the city’s clear and long-standing policy of trying to build a municipal auditorium. The city has had a formal Auditorium Committee every year since voters approved a $4 million bond issue in 1954 to build a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed auditorium on Law Park. But in the four months since he took office, Dyke hasn’t appointed any members, so the committee has ceased to function.
And the mayor has also upset his department heads by requiring them to grade the job performance of all employees on a 5-point scale, ranging from unacceptable to excellent. Public works director Edwin Duszynski complains the written forms “don’t clearly specify the objectives of the system.” And city attorney Edwin Conrad has legal concerns, warning that the new form “might well be slanderous,” and will likely lead to lawsuits.
And former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi scores a financial touchdown when the Madison-based development company Public Facilities Associates is acquired by the Scholz Homes company of Toledo Ohio. As the owner of 12.5% of Public Facilities, which was founded by Wisconsin Democratic politician David Carley and his brother Jim, Lombardi will collect about $1.8 million in Scholz company stock.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning, vaccine-taking, mask-wearing WORT News team, I’m Stu Levitan.
Photo of Mayor Bill Dyke.