The King Riots—the first day

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

 –Mark Twain

Thursday, April 4, 1968 I was working the Tactical Unit out of the 018th District. My “baby furlough,” eleven days of combined regular days off and accumulated compensatory time would begin the next day.  My wife and I grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant and took in “No Way to Treat a Lady” starring Rod Steiger. On the way home we stopped by my folks… my mom was standing outside as we pulled up.

“Martin Luther King has been killed,” she said with shock and disbelief in her voice.

I stared dumbly at her, across the passenger seat and out the open car window.

“Wow!” was the brainiest comment that I could mutter. Both the immediate and the historical implications were beyond my comprehension. I had been a cop less than two years and the first several months of that was spent at the Police Academy. To say I was green would be an understatement. It would be a major news story for sure, but any personal implications were totally beyond me at that moment.

Twenty minutes later my wife and I entered our west side apartment on a quiet street directly across from Merrick Park. The phone was ringing as we entered. My wife answered.

“It’s for you,” she said. “Your sergeant.”

“Padar!” he said without any preliminaries. “Report for roll call at 10AM tomorrow in the tact office…leather jacket and helmet… figure on a 12 hour shift.”

“But I start baby furlough tomorrow,” I protested.

“Not anymore!” he snapped. “All days off are cancelled.”

“Leather jacket?” I questioned. The spring days were getting warmer and leather jackets were optional.

“Yes,” he said impatiently. “They tend to do better with bottles and rocks—see you at ten hundred tomorrow.” He hung up.

For the first time my pulse quickened just a bit. Bottles and rocks?

“What was that all about?” asked my wife.

“Ah… they’re cancelling days off tomorrow because of this King thing. I have to be at work at 10.” I didn’t mention anything about the bottles and rocks.

I called my partner John to make sure he realized we would be carpooling tomorrow. He and I had been working together for several months having started together in a beat car and then being invited to join the tactical unit as partners. We hit it off from the first time we worked together and of course we jumped at the chance to work tactical together. We had complimentary styles for working the street and that made us a better team than most.

I was newly married and John was engaged to be married the following month. The girls knew one another and more importantly they liked each other. That made it more than nice for the four of us. We would remain “police family” forever.

The next morning, the mood in the tactical office was somber. The phones were ringing madly as the brass wrestled with how to allocate manpower. With more than double the number of personnel on hand there were not enough cars available to provide us transportation. That problem was momentarily solved when we learned that the public schools were being released at 11 AM. A group of us were loaded into police wagons and transported to Waller High School (now the Lincoln Park High School) at Orchard and Armitage.

As the students left the school they were greeted by helmeted police standing in the street. We eyed each other warily, each side not knowing what to expect from the other. We attached ourselves to a cluster than began to walk south on Orchard Street. As we proceeded, individuals dropped off, apparently heading for home. By the time we reached North Avenue they had dispersed.

John grabbed me and in a moment of spontaneous genius we flagged down a passing squad and got a lift back to the station. It was genius because when we got back to the tactical office, we were given a squad and told to report to the vicinity of the Cooley High School, at Division and Sedgwick, on the edge of the Cabrini Housing projects. We had a car and a radio—we were ready for action.

As we neared Cooley High School we monitored a call of police officer’s calling for help at 1159 North Cleveland, a Cabrini high-rise. We pulled into the lot west of the building and immediately found ourselves in the company of several other officers, all pinned down by sniper fire from the building. John and I scrambled out of the squad and took cover on the far side of the car. We crouched and peered up at the myriad of windows, but outside of frightened people looking back at us, there was nothing to see. The gunfire from the building had ceased momentarily.

I squatted at the driver’s door of the squad and peered intently at the windows. I felt an arm resting on my left shoulder as another officer steadied himself and out of the corner of my eye I caught the familiar blue of a police shirt. Where’s his leather jacket I wondered to myself?

A moment later the world exploded into the left side of my head. I thought that somehow I had been shot and I reeled to my right, went down to the pavement and put my hand to my left ear, fully expecting it to have been shot off. There was no blood and side of my head felt intact, but the inside of my ear hurt badly and it was ringing loudly. The officer leaning on me had a shotgun and as he braced himself on my shoulder, he discharged the weapon just inches from my ear. He quickly moved to the hood of the car and readied himself for another shot. I felt as though I had lost my hearing in that ear, except for the ringing. Years later I would be diagnosed with classic noise induced hearing loss in my left ear, but for the moment I just wanted to get away from that building and that officer. There seemed to be a momentary pause in gunfire from the building. John and I scrambled into the car and sped north through the lot and out onto Division Street just in time to hear us being paged on the radio.

I was encouraged that I had been able to hear the radio and tried to put the ringing out of my mind. We were being asked to report to the field lieutenant at our district desk.

At the desk, our lieutenant introduced us to two young men dressed in dark suits. They were the owners of the currency exchange just a few doors west of the Cooley High School. Our assignment was to escort them to their place of business and standby with them until they emptied cash from the safe on the premises.  None of us were particularly enthused with the task, and the businessmen appeared to be petrified.

“Do you really want to do this?” we asked.

“Do you think you can help us?” they replied.

That was the wrong question to ask two young cops. Of course we could help them!

On our way to the currency exchange our squad took some rocks and bottles and I swerved to avoid them as best I could. We passed an occasional burning building with no fire department in sight. It was then we noticed that our businessmen had disappeared. We turned to find them lying atop one another on the rear floor of the car. At their place of business, I nosed the squad up on the sidewalk close to the door of their building. Strangely it was still intact. John and I peered into the back seat.

“Do you still want to do this?” we asked

They peeked up from the floor and saw the door just a few feet from the car.

“Yeah… ya think…?” they asked hesitantly.

“Get your keys ready and move when I tell you,” said John as he exited the side of the vehicle closest of the building. John went to the rear of the car with his revolver drawn and fired two shots in the air.

“Go! Go! Go!” he shouted

I scrambled out with them and they fumbled only momentarily with the keys in the relative shelter to the recessed doorway. It was going well, but my pulse was racing and my left ear was still ringing loudly. Once inside they unlocked more gates and when they reached the safe they opened it and emptied bundles of cash into a duffel bag in record time. We ran crouched back to the squad. They jumped into the back seat and promptly took refuge atop one another on the floor. John and I jumped into the front and exchanged an anxious glance. Almost done… and then, we were on our way. Back at the station we had to invite them several times to crawl out of the car.

In the station lot John and I looked worriedly to the west where black clouds of smoke rose high into the sky. Inside the station we scanned teletype messages and noted reports of widespread rioting and fires in the districts. I called my wife and learned that she was at our apartment, having been released early from work. John called his fiancé. She was in their west side apartment at the edge of the city, but just off of Madison Street.

John and I weighed the options for the girls. My apartment on the quiet little side street across from a small park seemed preferable to John’s place so close to Madison Street. The girls agreed. John’s fiancé would go to our apartment and they would stay together until John and I were released from duty.

The shortage of cars was solved by assigning four men to a car. We picked up a third man, Bennie. His partner was out-of-town. We would spend the balance of our tour as a three-man unit. Bennie had checked out a carbine rifle so we had additional firepower on board.

From the station we took Chicago Avenue west toward the projects, turning north on Larrabee Street. John was driving, I was front passenger and Bennie was in the back with the carbine. The street was littered with rocks and bottles and as we approached the 1015-1017 Larrabee building I saw a man with a shotgun in the building breezeway. He stepped forward, raised the gun and aimed towards our car. I slid to the left pushing hard into John just as he fired at us. John swerved the squad away as if he could somehow avoid the gunfire. The man fired directly at us, but he was probably over fifty yards away and the buckshot load rattled harmlessly against the side of our car as we sped north on Larrabee. We exclaimed simultaneously. Bennie wanted to go back, but the man had retreated back into the building.

We paused at the fire station at Division Street to catch our breath and allow our hearts to retreat back into our chest cavities. Inside the fire station we took a short break and called the girls to confirm that they were now together at my apartment nestled away from main streets. Back on the road, we headed north to North Avenue. We needed to be away from Cabrini for a while, at least until our pulses recovered to a somewhat normal level. We spent the next couple of hours in the Old Town area responding to sporadic incidents of looting. It turned out to be a fruitless task. Looters would flee upon our arrival, but once we left they would return. We just didn’t have the manpower to remain in any one place for long.

Dispatch put out a call for all available units to report to Oak and Larrabee, with instructions to approach from the north per orders of a Deputy Superintendent on the scene. When we arrived and looked to the south where hours before we had been fired on. It was obvious the climate had changed considerably. One lone gunman had been replaced by several hundred people milling about and looting the supermarket on the west side of Larrabee.

The Deputy called us to assemble around him and he explained that we were going to form a skirmish line and take back the street. I could not believe that he was going to commit us to such a foolhardy scheme. We were outnumbered at least ten to one. It would be absolute suicide for us. Most of us had completed riot formation training in preparation for the Democratic National Convention several months from now, but I don’t think anyone ever believed that we would ever use it, much less that it would work.

Never-the-less, we formed a single skirmish line of widely spaced men that stretched from sidewalk to sidewalk. Behind us were three wagons and about a half-dozen more men. The crowd eyed us warily. In theory, we would march at half-step with batons at the ready. The crowd would disperse, and those that didn’t would be allowed to penetrate the line only to be arrested and put into the wagons at the rear. Yes, we had practiced this at the local armory. Yes we understood the theory behind the formation. But no one expected it to work—at least not me. Well… except for the Deputy, and he positioned himself with us at the center of the line and gave the order to advance. Now I was a young man, in peak physical condition, but I didn’t think my system could take another round of hyperventilating and tachycardia. I felt I was running low on adrenaline and my left ear was still ringing loudly.

The Deputy gave the command and en masse we began to advance toward the crowd that vastly outnumbered us. The crowd just stared at us in total disbelief and then the most amazing thing happened. They scattered in all directions. Not a single one broke our line. Maybe a half-dozen bottles and bricks were thrown, but from a distance that rendered them harmless. It was classic. Just like we had practiced it in training. We took back the street and stationed a car at the supermarket. We owned the street. They always told us that the police were a quasi-military organization. Well for those few minutes on Larrabee Street we were far more military than we were quasi.

The hours wore on and we rushed from clash to clash. The ominous black clouds of smoke in the western sky were accentuated by the setting sun. We had no further phone contact with the girls and all we could do was assume that they were still together and safe.

Some thirteen hours after we had started our tour of duty we found ourselves parked at the closed gas station at Clybourn and Ogden.  A gradual relief was being effectuated and we waited for our turn to go into the station and end our tour. Things were quiet at the moment and we allowed ourselves a moment of reflection.

“John, on Larrabee, when we did that skirmish line thing… how many people were on the street?”

“Realistically? I’d say at least three or four hundred.”

“And how many live in Cabrini?”

“They say 15,000,” John answered.

I did some quick math in my head.

“So that’s about three percent, right?”

“I guess.”

A car pulled slowly into the gas station. An older black gentleman was driving, his wife in the passenger seat, three children in the back.

“Office’, can we go home now?” he nodded toward Cabrini.

We listened to the occasional gunfire. Spirals of smoke from small fires curled upwards.

“I don’t think so… especially not for them,” I said nodding toward the children.

He and his wife had some conversation and somehow settled on an alternate destination for the night.

“Thank you office’. You be safe out here, ya hear?”

We nodded as he pulled slowly out of the lot and headed north out of Cabrini.

“There’s the other 97%,” I said.

Moments later we were told to report to the station for our relief—it was about 11:30 PM. We had worked a 13½ tour on the first day of my baby furlough..

At the desk we called communications to inquire about the safety of the Eisenhower Expressway for our trek home. They told us it would be safe as long as we did not exit until we got to Central. Perfect. That was our exit. We called the girls and told them we were on our way home.

The drive west on the expressway was beyond anything we had ever seen. South of the highway in particular we saw blocks and blocks of buildings burning with no evidence of the fire department. They too had been overwhelmed and were forced to tailor their responses where they could do the most good. It was literally a war zone and it was a somber drive home. Neither John nor I had ever witnessed such devastation. We hardly spoke. We were emotionally and physically spent from the day.

The girls welcomed us with hugs and kisses and tears. The ambience of the apartment was surprisingly comforting.  The relief of being home safe was almost overwhelming. Our mood shifted. The soft warm incandescent lighting, the table set, sandwiches at the ready and of course our sweethearts. All was well. We had survived the day. We were safe and we were loved.

“You guys need to wash up,” announced the girls as they grimaced and handed us fresh towels and wash clothes.

In the small washroom John and I looked at ourselves and were surprised at the dirt and soot on our faces. We elbowed one another for access to the wash basin as we relived portions of the day.

“Those two guys in the back seat—man I thought we’d have to shovel them off the floor!”

“Not to mention cleaning the crap off the seats after they left.”

We laughed.

“And when you climbed into my lap—I thought you went queer on me.”

“Yeah, sure, you didn’t see the guy with the shotgun.”

More laughter.

“You know, you’re the only person I ever saw get knocked over by a sound.”

“Well believe it or not, my ear is still ringing. You should try it sometime.”

“No thanks, you can just tell me about it…”

More laughter. Playful shoving.

We finished cleaning up and returned to the table, but the warmth had turned to ice.

My wife was not happy.

“What’s the matter honey?” I asked, genuinely mystified.

“We spent the whole day here, worried sick about you two, not knowing what was going on” she was nearly in tears. “And now you come home and we find out you were… you were… having fun!”

Well… not really…

EPILOGUE

Later that night the midnight shift pulled the security car off the supermarket on Larrabee, the one we had retaken with our classic skirmish line. I don’t know what played into that decision, but when we returned to work the following day the store had been burned to the ground along with other small businesses in the vicinity.

John and I would work 12 hour shifts the next several days and survive without further injury. I never reported the injury to my ear, although it continued to ring for several days afterwards. We were involved in very real urban warfare and I couldn’t picture myself in an ER complaining to the doc that my ear was ringing. Specialists would later confirm that my classic “notch” hearing loss in my left ear was most definitely caused by a fellow officer with a shotgun that April day in 1968.

Some years later my wife would observe that “baby” furloughs were aptly named. In late December of 1968 our first son was born. Apparently she hadn’t stayed upset with me for long…

 

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53 Comments on “The King Riots—the first day”

  1. Kathleen Nolan OMalley says:

    We always seem to find a silver lining!

  2. Barry Felcher says:

    Jim….great story about an incredible few days. I remember them well. During those days as a young newsman, I thought urban warfare would go on for years and years. 68 was a year most of us will never forget. — Barry Felcher

    • jimpadar says:

      1968 was indeed a year to remember. The King riots were followed 5 months later by the Democratic National Convention. That spawned years of various underground movements, demonstrations, bombings and outright unprovoked murder of police officers. The Black Panthers (already in existence) became more bold, openly advocating killing police, the Weathermen demonstrations and bombings. How many times was the Haymarket statue bombed? FALN bombings in downtown Chicago. Dicey times to be a cop in Chicago.

  3. John Northen says:

    Ah, memories.

    I was working days in 011 on the morning of Friday, April 5, 1968 when it started at Pulaski and Madison. Mobs of teens from Marshall, Austin and Farragut High Schools converged on that intersection outside Goldblatt’s. The shouting quickly evolved into rocks and bottles flying, smashed windows, ubiquitous 10-1s, By afternoon, all of Madison from Pulaski west to Kildare ablaze. Looting everywhere. Endless gunfire. Worst strip for flying missiles: Pulaski between Madison and Jackson Blvd. I was scared as all hell. Unlike today, CPD camaraderie, particularly in Fillmo’, was never better. We were all BLUE! Many great stories to tell over those four extended tours from Hell.

    I look back. Eleven looters dead, all police okay. Damn! IT WAS FUN!

    • jimpadar says:

      Let me lift some phrases from your comment: Endless gunfire… Pulaski ablaze… tours from hell… scared as hell… IT WAS FUN! See? That’s exactly what pissed off my wife!

      Thanks for reading John!

    • Don Herion says:

      I was working in the Organized Crime Division at 11th & State Street when Martin Luther King was assassinated on 4-April-1968 by a sniper. The country went into a state of shock, and the next day riots broke out on Chicago’s West and South side and 125 other cities. The blacks went nuts burning buildings and looting stores. We were detailed to the patrol division and sent to the West side where everything looked like the Chicago fire all over again. We were detailed to the corner of Madison and Pulaski where a lot of looting and snipers were shooting at the police. A lot of fire trucks were also being shot at and they got the hell out of the area. The first night was a little nerve wracking with all the sniping going on, all we had were our 38′s and 45′s to return fire.
      We grabbed some of the looters and their excuse was that the stuff was going to burn anyway so they got the stuff out of the store so the fire wouldn’t get any bigger. Goldblatt’s Dept. store was smart, they volunteered to set up a command post in their store and that probably saved them from burning to the ground. Robert Hall’s clothing store was located just east of Pulaski on Washington Blvd.and had not been touched yet by looters or arsonists so we decided to get up on the roof and wait for the looters or arsonists. This time one of the guys brought his M1 rifle with him so we felt better with the extra fire power. Sure as hell two dudes came waltzing down the alley, they each had a gas can with them, they looked like they were going to burn down Robert Hall’s store. When they got about 50yds away I borrowed the M1 and was going to scare the crap out of these to dogs. I aimed at
      the biggest guys gas can and shot it right out of his hand. He yelled and his partner threw away his gas can and the were last seen running down the alley yelling obscenities. That was fun. After 12 hrs of this crap we were relieved and were told the National Guard was called and would be on the scene the next day.

      This story could go on and on but I’m going to cut it short with a comment made by our Mayor Daley and Fire Chief Quinn, Quinn was concerned that his firemen were being shot at because they were trying to put out the fires, especially white firemen. Daley called a press conference and informed the press that an order had been issued by him that the police were instructed to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in their hand because they are potential murderers.
      P.S. When we returned the next day the Robert Hall clothing store had burned to the ground.

      • jimpadar says:

        I’ve heard the story of the battle for Madison and Pulaski AND Goldblatts.

        As I recall old man Daley’s order was, “Shoot to kill arsonists and shoot to maim looters.”
        Conlisk was superintendent and he followed that up with a teletype order advising all officers to follow the state law with regard to deadly force. I can just imagine the behind the scenes conversations on that one!

        Thanks for your memories, Don.

  4. Although I didn’t come on until 1973, I think everyone still knows what they were doing on that day. Listening to WIND, we waited for my father to come home from work downtown, Dad got home about 700 that night and told a story that was hard to believe. He and another guy(who had a car) took 3 secretarys home to Oak Park and then doubled back to the Near Northwest sidewhere we lived. My father wo was the bravest man I ever knew was shaking. He said that he had never (even in WWII when crossing into Germany) had been that scared. And this man who had the bronze star and numerous purple hearts was shaking. He told us one unbelievable story after another. He didn’t know how they made it through safely. Needless to say my “date” for the night was cancelled and a lot of HS activities were suspended. I will never forget. Rest in Peace Dad……….

    • Jerry Kazynski says:

      That year I worked at a fence company near Chicago Ave and
      Kedzie, by the underpass where the Milwaukee Road crossed. My Dad,
      a conductor on his way to Union Station used to holler at me from a
      passing commuter while I was working outside in the shop yard on
      occasion. I remember some of my co-workers came to work armed,
      having come north from southern suburbs. The big RockOla plant was
      across the street, and there was some tension, but no violence. I
      used to walk to the Kedzie and Grand Avenue corner to grab some
      lunch at either the tavern or drive-in. Glad you’re here to tell
      some of the tales. Stay safe.

    • jimpadar says:

      Hi Greg… as always, thanks for your comments and thanks for being a loyal reader.

  5. John Klodnicki says:

    Jim,
    You keep getting better and better. I found myself getting anxious reading the story and I was there. My police friends from out of state also enjoy your articles. Mostly because they are true and most cities with small departments never experience this in our country. Some guys compare this type of action as times they spent in Viet Nam.

  6. Hal Ardell says:

    Thanks for the flash back, Jim. I worked as a patrol officer out of the old Maxwell St station – Task Force #4. Before the King riots, we had another event on the west side in 1965 after a prostitute was struck by a hook & ladder fire truck pulling out of the fire house at Fillmore and Pulaski. Apparently, the tiller man did not see her. She was killed. The deputy never showed up that night to lead us into the rioters. Sgt. Herman Horn took over – a natural leader, a chew of tobacco while he held his baton high in the air for all of us to see. We placed metal pie tins in our 5 point hats – helmets? What were those. That came later. Good writing, Jim.

    • John Northen says:

      Hal:
      CFD house at WILCOX and Pulaski (NW corner). We were out of FILLMO’ & Pulaski (SW corner).

    • Barry Felcher says:

      As I recall, the tiller man was not even aboard. He had been in the shower and the truck pulled out of the firehouse without him…the driver not aware he wasn’t there. — Barry Felcher

  7. Mary Leveck says:

    My husband Chuck Leveck worked at 018 and I well remember those days – we had three little boys under the age of 5 and I was worried sick that he wouldn’t be around to raise them. As MLK had marched near our home he thought the rioters might come through the neighborhood so he showed me how to shoot a Mossburg shotgun if anyone broke into our home. I have memories of that time and your report captured it perfectly.

    • jimpadar says:

      Hi Mary, thanks for your kind comment. I remember your husband and on a few occasions we worked together. Was he a regular on the wagon?

      • Mary Leveck says:

        Yes, He worked with Joe McCarthy the last 5 yrs. before retirement in 1985. He also worked a foot post when Water Tower was being built. He went right from the Academy to 018 in ’57.
        And had the Cabrini area most of the time – I only learned the every day danger once when I overheard him tell my brother about he and Joe going on a call to the “stacks” and getting trapped in the elevator and gang kids poured gasoline on them yelling “roast the pigs” – a good person called 911 and the Fire Dept. got them out. He worked the wagon when the dead had to be “declared” and then taken to the morgue, the body stripped and inventory made and he and Joe had to buy their own gloves from the hardware store. In retirement he was a volunteer at the San Antonio Children’s – we moved to TX to be near our son who was a US Border Patrol agent in Laredo.
        Keep on writing about the Chicago CPD – only those who have been “on the job” and their families truly understand how the thin blue line stands between civilization and chaos.

  8. T.McGady says:

    Whose team were you on?

  9. Bill Mages says:

    Great copy, Jim. I really get something from each one.
    Thanks much. Bill

  10. Tom Zimmerman says:

    Jim do u remember a Pepsi truck in the A&P lot that
    day, it was me. Chicago’s finest escourted us from the store to
    North Ave to get out. Thanks for the help and the
    memories!

    • jimpadar says:

      I did not remember initially, but I called my partner tonight and he says we were definitely there as an assist to the assigned unit. So that means you owe me a drink, right? …with 45 years interest! You can settle up with me at the NA meeting later this month. :)

  11. Ed Franzak says:

    Hi Jim–Belated thanks for all your columns but I especially wanted to thank you for driving us by the Cabrini neighborhood when Agnes and I were in Chicago in November. It made your “Baby Furlough” column really come alive for us. Your column on “You really don’t want to know” had such a strong sense of appropriateness –it was almost eerie. Thanks once again for driving us around Chicago and giving us the opportunity to visit with you and Durell. All the best to both of you.—Ed Franzak

  12. Lieut. (Ret.) Bill Reynolds says:

    Jim:

    Wow….what memories. I was on 018 tactical at the time working1800-0230. I believe that Sgt Tasch had recently left and we were working for Sgt. “Bilko” Harrington. I was on my roof putting a new TV antenna up at Melvina and Gunnison and I could see the smoke rising in the SE from there. My wife also made the mistake of answering the phone so off I went to report early. As I drove EB on Chicago at Sedgwick my car caught a brick from the boys at the tavern on the NE corner. (they wound up paying for it later….in a way) We wound up spending much of the early evening on Wells street protecting the “vested interests” Later that night were were moved to Pulaski & Madison area. I remember asking one of the looters coming out of a burning Robert Hall store if he had any suits in his bundle that were 42L. It was like watching films on Victory at Sea showing the final days of Berlin in WW II. Stuff we will never forget.

    I made Detective later that month and teamed up again with Ken R. who had been number ONE on the promotion list and my regular partner in uniform and when we went to tactical in ’66.

    Great memories. You’ve got a real talent with words Jim. Keep up the great work.

    Bill Reynolds
    CPD (Ret.)

  13. Silvia says:

    OMG I was on the edge of my seat. After reading your tale I was trying to remember what was happening in my part of the world (012). Pretty quite on the south end but we were all scared that the violence would move south, we were south of the ABLA homes and my father placed sheets of plywood over our windows which only made things even more scary. Years later I would drive through the west side and the buildings that you had seen burning in the distance had never been rebuilt. It’s still pretty much the same on the west side. Major changes to your came to your old district. I was confused when you were going west to get to you post when I remembered that 018 used to be on Chicago Ave. I could totally picture every single location you wrote about but am certainly glad I never had to experience anything like that during my tour. Once again keep those stories coming.

  14. Ann says:

    Strong and even-handed “I was there” account of an important historical event. Besides being well written, you give all sides a fair shake. I like how you included you and your partner’s personal lives. Thanks, Jim.

  15. jwesten says:

    1. Enjoy your stories greatly. 2. Was guarding a National
    Guard Armory in Indiana during that time. 3. About 2 AM, the fellow
    on watch with me asked when ‘they” were going to get there. 4.
    Hadn’t thought about it before then. Told him “they” weren’t
    coming. 5. Having been around the block 1 1/2 times to my partner’s
    once, was pretty sure the potential bad guys in your bailiwick had
    never heard of our little outfit in the middle of corn country. 6.
    Had a pretty good supply of Korean War vintage weaponry: A4 machine
    guns, 3.5 Inch rocket launchers, M1 rifles. But out in
    nowheresville. 7. Recall them having some trouble in Hammond, but
    Chicago was “The Big Show.” V/R JWest

  16. james patrick says:

    love your writing jim,i was in 1st grade but it was my old mans 2nd year on CFD.he was driving he tiller of truck 14.they were on the front page of the daily news .they got trapped on a roof on madison ,they were being shot at and finally some CPD came out of an alley and covered them so they could get off the roof

    • jimpadar says:

      Hey James! Thanks for your kind words. There were a lot of “rescues” during those days. They say God made police so firefighters could have heroes too. :)

      The Fire Department did a super job of saving the city under overwhelming conditions. Kudos to your dad and all the others!

  17. Tom says:

    Great story Jim, I was in 008 Tact at the time. Sent to 16th and Pulaski, I had been in the other riots the years before but this was bad. I was young and scared, sniping all over. Then I heard the call for volunteers to escort the gas trucks to refuel the fire trucks who were fighting the fires on Madison and Roosevelt Rds. Almost everyone responded. Never felt so proud and so scared that night.. Thanks, keep up the good work.
    Tom F.

  18. Bobco says:

    jwestern, I was in Hammond as an adolescent during this
    time (Hessville). These were some trying times, but not so much
    fear. EVERYBODY was armed. And most family leaders had no problem
    bringing the shotgun out of the closet, not only for personal
    protection but for unarmed (few) neighbours. Had the race riot
    trotted down grand Avenue, it would have been blood and bodies in
    the streets. Jim, thank you very much for you’re post and this
    site. I have been searching for several years For real world
    accounts from real people who lived thru these trying times,
    specifically the real World events in this part of the country. I
    wish I was around you and the great people who comment here, I
    would sit at your feet and listen to the stories like I was
    privileged to do with my Grandfather who flew 12 missions in WW2 in
    a B-17. I have a great and humble respect for all of you, and a
    hearty respect for the wives of you guys who were out there
    fighting. Honour, respect. Where did it go? God bless you
    all!

  19. John Northen says:

    Etymology of “da REAL PO-leese”:

    It was during and in the aftermath of the MLK rioting that I first heard West Side residents refer to 11th District officers as “da REAL (muthafuckin’) PO-leese”. Those proud words live on to this day. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Without a doubt, those were the most tumultous times in the history of the Chicago Police Department.

    And once again, in retrospect–IT WAS FUN!

  20. Scott says:

    Great read!! I certainly remember my Pops getting home in Cicero and seeing his tan company car at the curb, rear window bashed out, dents everywhere, windshield cracked and spidered. He worked at the old Wards on Chicago Ave at the time, told not to try to go home by the PO’s that worked “protection” but he was a stubborn old sob, bombardier on a b17 in combat and damn sure not going to be scared off by some rioters. Talked to him later after I became a copper….he almost got smoked that evening. Thanks for the memories. I will be at the corn beef dinner and honored if I can buy you a beer.

  21. John Mathews says:

    Wonderful writing and great stories. I was an infant at the
    time, but my dad was a CTA bus driver working Chicago Avenue. On
    the first day of the riots, he picked up a load of passengers at
    the Montgomery Wards buildings, put the pedal down and didn’t stop
    until he reached Austin (so he said, anyway). Funny too, that my
    family and other families also bunkered down together during the
    riots like your wife and her friend–we lived near Loretto
    Hospital, but I know that my mom and I went over to some friends
    who lived north of North Avenue. Thanks for sharing these
    memories.

  22. John says:

    My 2 brothers, sister, me and my Mom were at Douglas Pk. when the crap hit the fan. We got to a small bakery near Farragut HS, which had all the cases broken and stuff thrown everywhere. The woman in the bakery kept saying “My kids from Harrison didn’t do this.” I was about 11 then, and scared as hell (Mom was too, but didn’t say anything to us). She used the phone in the bakery and made a phone call. A little while later, an unmarked squad pulled up, my Uncle (was an A/4 Dic at the time) and 2 other coppers got out out and came into the bakery. All 3 had their guns in their hands, I remember that. My Uncle said “Annie, what the hell are you doing here with the kids?” Then they piled us all in the back seat of the unmarked (my youngest brother sitting in a coppers lap) and my Uncle and his partners got us home. Ma made them a couple sandwiches and coffee. They stayed only about 15 minutes, then said “We got to get back out there, don’t go out of the house!” We lived around Cermak – Western and I remember the big smoke clouds to the north. At the time, little did I know that I’d be wearing the same star my Uncle and his partners wore that day.

  23. John says:

    BTW, Jim, “Angels do come with lights and sirens.” They did that day.

  24. phil sangirardi says:

    Phil Sangirardi
    Jim I remember it weel. I was working Beat 151 and was assgned out there the first night. We only had revolversThe next day I took a trip to the Destroyer Escort anchored in the lake front, got a munition can with about 500 rounds of 30 cal carbine ammunition as I walked into the desk the Watch Commander asked where I was going. My replywas the West Side he replyed no your not your working the desk. I gave the ammuntion to whomever had carbines and setteled in at the desk for the duration.

  25. Barbara says:

    No police in my family except for a great-uncle years back….but I truly enjoy all your stories. We lived on the South Side, around Bowen & CVS High schools. My folks for some reason sent me to St Francis HS on the East side, I was a freshman when MLK got shot. I remember that the school dismissed us early without any real reason…my ma sent a message to the school telling me to go home with a cousin & to avoid the South Side. So a few of us girls walked down Ewing Ave, just happy & clueless as can be, out of school early!! Then we heard some woman crying that the King got shot. We had no idea who she meant! Later at my cousin’s, we got more of the news. One of my ‘bad ass’ older boy cousins drove me home, everyone was on edge. My ma worked at Sears at 79th & Stony Island, it was dicey getting home for her…just a lot of troublemakers out on the street, looking for folks to scare & hurt. When Mayor Daley got tough, we felt relief! Our police & mayor would look out for us!! Lawlessness would not win. The thin blue line would save the day.


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