On Friday, June 23rd, 1967, in the beginning of what came to be termed ‘The Summer of Love’, I, alongside my brothers, my friends, and tens of thousands of other citizens marched in Century City to protest the war in Vietnam. What ensued was a shocking and horrifying example of law enforcement going berserk. In the immediate aftermath, the media shamelessly turned the riot on its head, blaming the demonstrators. Sadly, this historic and tragic event is seldom mentioned today. I was at ground zero, however, and remember it as if it were yesterday. Here is my story…
We Are But a Moment’s Sunlight
President Lyndon Johnson arrives by helicopter.
Jimmy, Patrick, and I rode to the event in my best friend Mike’s coffee-colored VW, the one with the peace symbol white washed on the side. Jimmy’s and my older brother, Johnny, and his fiancé, Judi, followed in his black ’55 Bug with the small rear window. As we rolled west on Interstate 10, I imagined we were a humble Beetle motorcade for peace. President Lyndon B. Johnson was being honored with a thousand dollar-a-plate fete at the Century Plaza Hotel, and we were traveling the eighty miles from Redlands to West Los Angeles to voice our opposition to his war in Vietnam.
When we arrived at Cheviot Hills Park that Friday afternoon, we were surprised by how festive the gathering was. Vendors were selling hot dogs and lemonade. Giggling children romped and played on the grass as kites bobbed overhead in a summer breeze.The good vibes reminded me of the Monterey Pop Festival which Jimmy and I had been to exactly one week before. But whereas that happening reflected a burgeoning counter culture, this one had a distinctly middle class face. The crowd, mostly white, was multigeneralization. It included people of all ages, from little tots to grandparents. I remember thinking,“This could be a Fourth of July Picnic. Hell, it could be a Norman Rockwell painting!”
At the park before the march. From left: Patrick, Jimmy, unknown, Danny, unknown, Johnny, Mike. Judi is behind the camera.
The rock band that was set up on a stake bed truck was putting out some solid sounds. The lead singer, an African American, had a soulful voice which reminded me of Stevie Winwood. I noticed they were performing a lot of songs that featured the word ‘Love’, like the Deon Jackson tune, Love Makes the World Go ‘Round, and the Beatles’ The Word. It seemed ‘Love’ most definitely was the word on people’s lips.
I was digging on the music, when Jimmy tapped me on the shoulder. “Look, there’s that couple we saw at the Peace March in San Francisco!”
I turned and recognized the middle-aged hippie couple who were dancing at the edge of the crowd.The man’s dark eyes and eyebrows matched his long black hair and mustache. He was wearing black tights and pantaloons, a black shirt, and high heel shoes with silver buckles. A bright red cape which he swung theatrically was draped over his shoulders. The image brought to mind Captain Hook, or perhaps Salvador Dali. His partner was dressed in a mid-calf cotton skirt and peasant blouse, and wore a feather headband around her long, graying blond hair. The silver bangles around her wrists glistened in the sun. While the man’s wild and jerky movements were decidedly unfunky, the tall, willowy woman seemed to float like a hanging sheet in the breeze.
A TV camera crew was soon Johnny-on-the-spot to catch the action.
“Guess who’s going to be the public face of this demonstration,” Jimmy predicted.
“WILD HIPPIE PROTEST!” I pronounced in quasi news anchor tones. “Film at eleven.”
“Yes,” remarked Mike. “We can always count on the establishment media to keep us informed.”
“The medium is the message,” Patrick added, with air quotes.
Men of Words
As the sun began its plunge to the horizon, the speeches commenced. First on the roster was Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famed pediatrician and peace activist. He was my grandmother’s age, yet here he was taking a stand against the war.
“We do not consider the Vietnamese people, North or South, to be the enemy,” the dignified, bespectacled Spock said. “They wish no harm to the United States. The enemy, we believe in all sincerity, is Lyndon Johnson.” Oh, did this ever get the crowd fired up.
When the next speaker was introduced, he was immediately met with roaring acclamation. The Champ jumped on to the stage waving and smiling to the crowd. Muhammad Ali was the country’s most famous conscientious objector. His words that evening — off the cuff and from the heart —were a plea for peace and for justice.
Before saying good-bye, he added,”I hope there’s no trouble, but if there is, I know it won’t be coming from you.”
Muhammad Ali inspired the crowd with his message of nonviolence.
The Champ’s affirmation of nonviolence reflected perfectly the spirit of the crowd, which responded with wild applause. He smiled and extended his arms as if to embrace us all. To feel wrapped in his brotherly hug gave one courage,and we all yelled and cheered at the top of our lungs.
“Damn!” Johnny said. “Isn’t he somethin’?”
After Ali, H. Rap Brown addressed the audience. His was a very different message.There were nods of agreement as he made the correlation between the fight against racial discrimination and the struggle against the war. But when, further into his speech, he said, “If the pigs meet us with violence they can expect us to respond with violence.” the audience reacted with an audible “No!” Brown, taken a bit by surprise, paused to look out at the sea of faces, shaking his head and smiling, as if to say, You poor saps!
“Y’all may have some hard lessons in store for you,” he declared.
C’mon People, Now!
When evening began to fall we marchers prepared to take off. Our group of five was positioned fairly close to the head of the procession. As I stood waiting, a young woman approached me. “Weren’t you at the Monterey Festival?” she asked.
I returned her smile. “Yes, I was.”
She said she had seen me doing my crazy-legged dance in the middle of a drum circle.
“My friend and I thought that was really cool,” she said.
I had actually felt a little embarrassed about that impulsive raving moment, but was flattered by the compliment.
Her name was Lauren, and with her medium-length, sandy blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, she was an attractive girl. She was wearing a sleeveless top, with a long skirt, and a flower in her hair. I learned she was from West L.A. This was her turf. I felt a bit like a small town boy beside her aura of calm self-assurance.
“I love this,” she said, pointing to the bright yellow sunshine button pinned to my shirt. “Where’d you get it?”
I told her that my thirteen-year-old sister, Patsy, had crafted it out of paper mache. “It’s become a kind of talisman for me, a reminder to tap into the flow of positive energy.”
Suddenly Johnny, who with his cavalry hat and moustache looked very much the leader, called out “Let’s go, Danny! Time to march.”
“Do you mind if I walk with your group?” Lauren asked me.
“Of course not. The more the merrier!” I responded.
The plan was simple: We were to walk from the park to the hotel where we would respectfully file past its opulent facade on Avenue of the Stars, and return by way of Santa Monica Boulevard. The organizer’s had gotten a city permit, so no one expected any trouble. After all, this was Southern California, not Selma, Alabama.
We walked north on Motor Avenue. To the west the last vestiges of sunlight had all but disappeared. The bells around Lauren’s ankle jingled with every other step of her sandaled feet, producing a cheerful, uplifting sound. As we marched, we were cheered on by scores of normal-looking folks hanging out of their doors and windows. Many of these people spontaneously joined our ranks. I was struck by the empowering thought that we were fifty-thousand strong, united in a common purpose, and on a mission to deliver our message of peace. Who could ignore such a throng? Oh, what a glorious summer evening it was! We made a right onto Pico Boulevard.
There was such exhilaration among the marchers. Folks carrying signs or American flags proudly held them high and pumped them to the cadence of our tramping feet. Jimmy began singing the title song from the Beatles’ new album. “We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” he sang; “We hope you will enjoy the show.” Patrick and I joined in and soon our whole group was singing at the top of our lungs. Our spirits were sky high. After a short distance we swung left onto Avenue of the Stars.
As the 20th-century Modern structure of the hotel appeared on the hill up ahead, butterflies began dancing in my stomach. Drawing nearer, I could see that there was a strong police presence. White helmets were everywhere. I tried to calm my nerves by reminding myself how cool the Monterey police had been.
The Hard Lesson
Everything went without a hitch until we got to the bridge which extends over the Olympic Boulevard underpass. There, the police had closed off three of the lanes, and were funneling everyone into a single lane on the right. The pace slowed to a crawl. We were about three-quarters of the way over the bridge when the march came to an abrupt halt. We waited. I truly believed that it was probably a traffic snafu of some kind. “Be patient,” I told myself; “they’ll soon sort it out, and we’ll be on our way.” We were just short of the hotel. We could have filed past and been done in ten minutes.We continued to wait.The elegant fountains that bisected the avenue up ahead filled the summer air with a fine misty spray. Meanwhile, more and more marchers streamed in, swelling the ranks.
“They’ve completely blocked the street,” I heard someone say.
An eerie murmur rolled through the crowd for about half a minute before we started to sway. The motion grew with violent crescendo until we were rocking like a turbulent sea. The sound of a thousand gasps and cries was overwhelming. People were packed so tightly that at times both my feet were off the ground and I felt as if I was caught in an undertow. Lauren fell. I reached out my hand. She grabbed it and I pulled her back to her feet.
Then came a sudden, violent surge from the left side as if we’d been slammed into. High pitched shrieks of terror and screams of pain pierced the air. I could hear what sounded like dozens of baseball bats bouncing on a field, and my stomach turned at the realization that each ‘clunk’ was a nightstick whacking a human skull or shoulder. I got on my toes and stretched my neck . A phalanx of white helmets was just a few yards away, and alongside each helmet was a swinging baton. We were under attack! The cops were stepping over the wounded to penetrate the next layer of humanity. Clubbed heads splashed a fine bloody spray. For a moment I was frozen with disbelief at what was happening.
“They’re going to kill us!” a woman shouted.
A voice within my primitive brain cried out, Run! Run for your life! But there was nowhere to run to. We were flanked by cops on our left and in the front. To the right was the bridge railing and a precipitous drop, and to the rear more marchers kept coming. We were boxed in! Trapped!
Relentlessly, the L.A.P.D. carried out their vicious attack, prodding and pushing us back against the railing. As we gradually inched forward beyond the bridge they channeled us down a steep dirt embankment on the right to a vacant bean field that lay at the foot of the hill. Scores of folks, including seniors, and mothers with children, were pushed or slipped and tumbled down the slope. How the seven of us managed to descend unscathed will always be a mystery to me.
The bean field offered no respite from the onslaught. In fact, the situation there was even worse than above. Cops, high on the adrenalin of the chase, were running people down and beating them mercilessly. I thought I saw a figure fall from the bridge. We watched in horror as three motorcycled officers riding in ‘V’ formation intentionally plowed into a group of people. It was a surrealistic, nightmarish scene beyond my wildest fears. People lay bleeding on the ground, as traumatized children bawled. The seven of us huddled close to one another and kept moving forward. It sounds strange to say, but It almost felt as if we were invisible as we made our way through the pandemonium and horror.
We passed a middle-aged housewife with a badly skinned knee and elbow. She’d gotten back up and was brushing the dirt off her torn and blood soaked dress when she suddenly sank her face in her hands and began weeping uncontrollably. It was all just too much — the pain, the terror, the humiliation. Her husband wrapped a consoling arm around her.
The police had formed a continuous line that snaked down the hill, around the bean field, and far out along the underpass. They stood with billy clubs in hand, sneering and making mean comments to the passing protesters who were forced to walk this gauntlet. On angry impulse, Johnny aggressively approached the line of white helmets.
“Johnny, no!” Judi screamed.
My brother, seething with rage, got up close to a cop and, pointing an accusing finger, shouted, “Fascist!”
Beneath the helmet, the young face flinched and his bottom lip quivered. I could see that he was frightened, just like the rest of us. In an instant, Jimmy grabbed Johnny by the shirt and whisked him away before something terrible happened.
The Angels Cry
The return trip was a solemn one — the slow retreat of the defeated.People moved as if in a sleep-walk, and the sibilant sound of whispers and sobs washed through groups of marchers. Lauren and I walked with arms around each other’s waist. The bells at her ankle now rang a sad knell.
Back at the park, the band on the truck was playing a song which I hadn’t heard before nor heard since. Perhaps it was an original. Its refrain repeated the word ‘Love’ every two bars. People in the crowd began chanting along. Lauren and I clung to each other and swayed to the beat as I closed my eyes and joined in the chorus. ‘Love’ – I sang with heavy heart -‘Love’. The word echoed back to me like a forlorn plea.
“Hey, look who’s here!” Jimmy exclaimed. It was Kathy, a good friend from Redlands who was a student at UCLA. What a welcome sight! We all gave her a hug. She and her boyfriend invited us over to his apartment in Westwood after the rally wound down.
Just then, dozens of black-and-whites with sirens screaming and red lights flashing, began converging on the scene, intent on adding insult to injury.
“Fucking pigs!” I heard myself say.
“We’ve got to split, you guys!” Johnny shouted.
Lauren and I looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, then hugged and kissed. This had been an extraordinary way to meet someone, and we both wanted to see each other again under happier circumstances. She offered her phone number but there was nothing to write with. The cops were already rousting people, and we needed to fly. I told her I’d commit it to memory.
She recited the number and I repeated it back to her twice. My friends were waving me to come.
“Good-bye,” I said.
“Good-bye,” she whispered back.
I was sprinting away when she called out to me. I turned and repeated the number one last time.
We got in our cars and beat it. Just in the nick of time, too, for the police were corralling everyone in the park. We soon put distance between ourselves and the barbarians and headed for Westwood.
“God! I thought we were going to be killed!” Mike said, gripping the wheel with hands trembling.
“Yea, so did I, “Jimmy responded. “I now know what they mean by ‘police brutality.'”
Mike paused for a moment in thought, then continued. “Most of those people at the rally were just citizens, just regular middle-class people. And the cops tore into them with absolute savagery. Can you imagine what they would have done had we all been black?”
We Were Talking
Kathy and her boyfriend, Rod, welcomed us at the small apartment. Everyone gathered around the kitchen table to look at photos they’d taken at Monterey, while in the distance, sirens wailed through city streets. Someone switched on the eleven o’clock news, and suddenly there was footage from the afternoon in the park. Captain Hook appeared on the tube, rocking back on his heels as the missus willowed in his wake.
“Shit! I knew it!” Jimmy exclaimed.”What’d I tell you?”
Everyone laughed, but when the reporters went on to describe the event as a riot by protesters, the mood turned to anger.
“What march were they at?” Mike shouted.
Judi’s jaw dropped. “It was the police who did the rioting!”
“Don’t you know?” Johnny quipped. ” If it’s not on the TV, it didn’t happen.”
Suddenly there was a clip of Police Chief Tom Reddin congratulating his men on a job well done. “Thanks, Chief.” replied the men-in-blue with pride.
“It’s just a fucking football game to them!” said Patrick.
“Yea,” I added “and they just won one for the Gipper!”
One of us noticed a copy of the Sgt. Pepper’s album lying on the coffee table. Kathy picked it up and passed it around. The cover held the sweet, pungent smell of marijuana.”Have you heard this tracked all the way through on a great stereo system?” she asked.
None of us had.
“Prepare to have your minds blown!” she exclaimed.
We smoked a couple of joints and lay on the floor as Kathy put the disc on the turntable. For the next thirty-seven minutes or so, I was in a different world, and not for a second did the terror of the police riot enter my mind. It was amazing! Just a short time before we had been in fear for our lives, and now here we were mentally waltzing with Henry the Horse. No one but the Beatles could have carried us away like that.
“And the time will come when you see we’re all one,” George Harrison sang as I entered a mild hallucination. I was peering out through the window of a space capsule. The Earth below was achingly vibrant in swirls of blue and white. I saw a world with no boundaries, no divisions. We were all connected —my family, my friends, all of humanity. At the close of the last track, A Day in the Life, as the E chord on the piano slowly faded away, I felt the urge to call out, Please don’t leave. Don’t let this end. I longed to stay in this musical universe. The needle entered the looping inside groove, and the speakers hummed with a warm, scratchy sound.
So much had happened that day. My mind was overwhelmed. The rally in the park now seemed like a distant memory, an idyllic moment fading in the waning summer light. I remembered fondly how that light had sparkled in Lauren’s eyes.
On the turntable the needle continued its loop.
A replay of the attack suddenly flashed through my brain like a blur of white helmets. I clenched a fist in anger as I recalled the brutality and stupidity of the act. Why did they have to do it?
Kathy made her way to the stereo and lifted the hinged acrylic top.
“Hey, Kathy,” I said. “Play it again!”
Additional Editing by: Kathryn Albrecht
Special Thanks to: John Mack Faragher, Jimmy Faragher, Mike Fouch, Patrick McClure, Kathryn Albrecht
Graphic Design by: Bryan Faragher