Sections Above and Below This Page:

Afterwards, Emmett and Billy went down to Fillmore Street for some barbecue. While they were ordering, the twenty-block area of Fillmore was sealed off from Fulton to Geary streets. They took their paper plates of food with them and stood outside the eatery, watching the surreality of the paramilitary operation unfold on the sidewalks where children had been playing only moments before. They got caught up in a crowd of black people who were trying to get back to their homes, and it felt strange being white but nobody said anything.

Some kids started throwing bricks from the vacant lot at an official car that was passing, and suddenly someone hollered, "Lock 'n load!" Fifty cops immediately dropped to their knees and jacked shells containing pea-sized charges of buckshot into the chambers of their riot guns. Everyone scattered in hysteria, as a sergeant called, "Bag that kid in the red sweater!" The kid was pinched and thrown into a squad car.

The crowd re-formed with everyone muttering about the insanity of fifty loaded shotguns on a city street. Their faces were all flushed with anger and the heat--the heat that made the tar on the streets soft and sticky and the apartments too hot to stay in. It took most of those people over two frustrating hours to get back to their own places, only to spill back out onto the street again until 3 or 4 A.M.

Billy returned with Emmett to his room and they were hassled by cops and soldiers all the way. By the time they arrived, they were pissed off and bent on vengeance. They made a brace of Molotov cocktails with a couple of half-filled bottles of turpentine and went up to the building's roof. Down below passed personnel carriers with armed national guardsmen patrolling Fell Street. Both of them knew that if they dropped the fire bombs onto a truck, they wouldn't be immediately suspect, because they were white. They also realized that it would touch off a murderous, repressive onslaught by the soldiers, in which black people would suffer a far more devastating and wholesale oppression than they did already. They looked at each other and quietly decided it wasn't their play to make. They hid the rag-wicked bottles in a corner of the roof, and drank up the rest of the beer in the icebox downstairs.

The insurrection simmered down and the newspapers claimed that it was caused by the "cancer of discrimination," and they gave notice that President Johnson had ordered an investigation into the severe unemployment of black San Franciscans. The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Cyril Magnin, immediately announced [end page 243]


Creative Commons License
The Digger Archives is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Cite As: The Digger Archives ( / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0