Full Circle

Old Style Boston Police Cruiser as I remember from my childhood. Only the blue light is different

When I was very young, I lived in a triple decker in Dorchester that my parents owned. It was down off of Savin Hill Ave. For those of you who don’t know the area, that neighborhood known as Savin Hill was also once known as Stab and Kill. I was young when I lived there. I had a friend my age, Tommy, who lived next door. He lived on the second floor of his three decker. He was Irish and he and his family spoke with a very pronounced Irish brogue. 

One day, he called me a “FOOKIN BAHSTID”. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was wise enough to figure it was not a term of endearment. I immediately took my wagon home and asked my mother what “FOOKIN BAHSTID” meant. My mother was never one to be uppity, but she was taken aback when I spoke those words. Needless to say, I never used those words again after that day. At least not until my high school days.  Well, such was my education during my younger years. 

Unfortunately, my friend’s father was a drunk, and an ugly drunk at that. Whenever he drank, one of his favorite activities was pouring water on people who happened to be walking by his house on the street below. This didn’t exactly endear him to his neighbors. Also when he drank, he became very abusive to his wife. And, he drank often. 

The police were called to his house regularly, and when they were the same scene usually played out while the rest of us neighbors watched while sitting on our front steps. The evening would begin when, after an afternoon of drinking, a loud row would begin between him and his wife. By that time, everyone in the neighborhood would know that the old man was drunk and he and his wife were going at it. Unfortunately, this was not unusual. As the fight got louder, and it began to sound like the wife was getting a good beating, someone (I never knew who) would call police. 

One thing that must be understood about this neighborhood, was that the police were rarely if ever sent for. There were certainly problems that cropped up from time to time within the neighborhood that had to be “handled”. Perhaps a bully, had gotten out of control, or maybe someone who had been labeled weird, or a person who was known to act inappropriately around women or children, needed to be dealt with. In any case, the folks in that neighborhood would never, ever summon the police. These were considered neighborhood problems, to be dealt with within the neighborhood. That’s just the way it was. Normally, cops would be considered interlopers, an unwanted / unneeded entity. That was just the way it was in the 50’s and early 60’s in those parts of Boston. 

However, the one exception I remember to those unwritten rules occurred when Tommy’s  father’s drunken tirade turned into what sounded like a serious beating to his wife. We all saw what the wife looked like the next day after her husband sobered up, and everyone was concerned for her well being, even if no-one would socialize with her. As a result, on some of these occasions, many occasions, the police would be called. 

Each time when the police arrived, pretty much the same scenario would play out in public. A serious brawl involving husband, wife and police would take place, always ending with the old man being carted away to jail. Never without a good fight.

The police, upon arrival, would cautiously walk up the steps leading to the front door, that is until the missiles started to fly. From the second floor, at the top of the stairs, furniture, garbage, dishes and anything else that wasn’t nailed down started to rain down on the cops. 

If the old man wasn’t in such an inebriated state, he might have reasoned that this behavior instead of deterring the cops, would only cause them to charge up the stairs into his apartment with a vengeance. Once upstairs, the fight would grow to include the six or eight cops that were now on the scene. The street would be full of the old Blue and Gray Boston Police cars, with their single forward facing blue light on top of their cars blinking on and off. 

 As the fight would ensue, inevitably, the father would be dragged down the stairs out into the street. The father always fought all the way down, and believe me, he got his shots in. However, he would get a solid, old time ass kicking for good measure from the cops. This was, at the time, universally accepted justice for fighting with the cops and beating his wife. No one on that street particularly liked cops, but everyone nodded they heads up and down both in sympathy and support for this ass kicking as the blows began to rain down upon the old man as he fought. 

After all, even in Savin Hill, there were certain lines that one doesn’t cross. Not without earning or expecting a good thrashing from the police. And, everyone knew, that if you put your hands on a cop who was on-duty you’d get a good pummeling. Truth be told, most of us had no problem with that concept. We looked at those things like, ‘well, what do you expect? You fight with the cops, you get a good beating.’ In many ways, that’s how the peace was kept in neighborhoods where I grew up.

Of course, when sent for, the cops always came to the wife’s rescue. Each time they would arrest and berate the husband for putting his hands on his wife in the first place. Inevitably, the wife would always turn on the cops, and suddenly, the cops became the enemy. 

So, Tommy’s Ma was now chasing the cops, who were dragging her old man down the stairs. As they were attempting to “subdue” the drunken batterer, she started to throw various items at the retreating cops! As she did so, she would unleash a long litany of obscenities and curse them for taking her husband away. “OOHHH MY JESSUSS IN HEAVEN SAVE US” she would yell skyward, in her thick Irish brogue. All while punching, kicking and hitting cops with cups and bottles. Amazingly, I never saw her getting arrested, but the old man, always lost when he fought the cops. I suspect that even more “catch-up” was played by the police once the old man got to the old Station 11. But I never knew about that stuff then. My family always treated Cops with respect, and as a result the cops treated us respectfully. But to me, watching this play out on a regular basis, was the greatest show on earth. Better than whatever may have been on TV at the time. 

I watched this street show regularly, and pretty much everyone in the neighborhood had no sympathy at all for him. One elderly neighbor would always declare it was good, and Tommys father deserved what he got and more, while nodding her approval. In the end, he would be hauled away in the back of a police wagon, and the wagon would head out to drop off it’s combative, bruised  passenger, so it could go on the next wagon run. In those days, their next call could be anything from a shoplifter, to a heart attack victim, a dead body or the remnants of some poor soul who jumped in front of the subway at the Fields Corner MTA Station. The filthy BPD wagons doubled as Bostons City ambulances during that time. 

I was young, but watching these scenes play out, I developed a heathy respect for the police. They always came when called. They fought, restored order and even tried to instill some of their own brand of street justice. These unpleasant nasty brawls were my first exposure to cops. As more police cars would arrive sirens screaming, blue lights flashing, I saw them as the good guys coming to the rescue. I thought they were real life heroes,  brave, tough, and not afraid of the bad guys. Not afraid of anything. As I look back, I realize the die was cast for me so, so long ago.

So now we fast forward through life to sometime in the early 90’s. I am working on the job in Manchester, NH, midnights in patrol. I get sent as back up to a loud party call at about 230 AM. Naturally, the officer I was backing up, Brian, arrived first, because he was closer to the call. Brian was a good guy, a boxer that came from Lowell. He had a great sense of humor, but took the job, and all that went with it very, very seriously. Over the years I’ve discovered that there are people who think they are tough guys, and others who really are tough guys. 

Brian was a real life tough guy. He was tall and stocky, but not fat. He was a great guy to have on your side in a fight. Brian could look tough, even menacing when he arrived at a tense scene, but as soon as his face cracked and broke into his friendly grin, everyone around him couldn’t help but to relax and tensions often faded.   

At one point during his career, he had a K-9 for a partner. One night, some years after the call I’m about to tell you about, he was sent to a loud party call on the far west side. Turned out, the party was in some type of a frat house for Saint A’s college. The frat house was located in a normally quite residential area. When Brian got out of his cruiser, he was attacked by several drunken college students. Brian was carrying an old Motorola portable radio, and it was big, and heavy, and we called them “bricks” to distinguish them from the other type of Motorola radios we used, called Sabres. Sabres were more modern, smaller than the bricks and lighter to carry. 

During this attack, the drunks managed to get his radio from him and then commenced to beat him with it, repeatedly about his head and face. Brian was not very far from his cruiser, and his K-9 partner knew what was happening, and went absolutely nuts inside the cruiser. Luckily for this group of shitheads, and unfortunately for Brian, try as it may have, the K-9 couldn’t get out of the car to help Brian. 

Well, Brian took a good beating that night, and because of this incident, MPD installed locks on all their K-9 cars that could be remotely unlocked and rear doors opened releasing the K-9. The officer carried a small switch on his belt and he could activate it anytime. That didn’t help Brian on that night, but a K-9 officer at MPD never found him or herself in that situation again.

Continuing on about the call that Brian and I were sent to. The call was at a six family tenement north and east of downtown. When I arrived, I saw Brian, at the top of the 2nd floor stairway. He was at the door, ordering someone who is inside to show him his hands. He shouted the command several times. I was at the bottom of the stairway, and as I looked up I could see Brian grab at someone, and it looked like he was pulled into the apartment, and suddenly he was out of my sight. I headed up the stairs taking two or three at a time. I entered the apartment through the open door and I found Brian and the guy who lives there are rolling around on the floor. I dove into the fray, no questions asked, and after a brief but violent battle, we had him handcuffed. 

So it seems that when Brian made contact with this guy, the guy came to the door holding a partially filled 1.5 liter bottle of vodka behind his back, but he held it in a threatening manner.

Now, we have the suspect on the floor, and I realize there are about 10 other belligerent drunks in the apartment, along with our guy’s girlfriend. She is screaming to let her sweetie go, and the others are telling us we aren’t taking him anywhere as they close in around us. I call for help on the radio, but don’t hang around to wait. I grab our new prisoner by one wrist and with my other hand grab a fistful of his shoulder length hair. Brian takes him by his feet and away we go. Down the stairs, our prisoner’s butt and shoulders bouncing along with us. We may be fleeing for our lives, but we weren’t about to lose our prisoner .

Meanwhile, the girlfriend is in hot pursuit, throwing bottles, cans whatever at me. She tried to tackle me, so I have to let go with one hand and try to fend her off and block her blows with the other. She latches on to me, trying to separate me from my prisoner. Fists and limbs are flying and swinging about wildly, as well as cans, bottles and whatever else. During this time I am trying not to let go or drop our prisoner. I have little sympathy for him, but the last thing we need is for him to crack his head on the stairs. The four of us tumble out through the front door, down the porch steps onto the sidewalk below. We hit the ground, and hit it hard. It must have been quite a sight to anyone who may have been watching. A big pile of arms, legs and heads and swears. The other ten drunks were also in pursuit.

I can hear that wonderful sound, the distant wail of sirens closing in from all directions, but they weren’t there yet. Fists are flying, my prisoner gets sprayed with pepper spray, as well as the girlfriend who I finally subdue and handcuff after a wild wrestling match. We were still battling as the Cavalry started to arrive and join into the melee. Soon, the street was filled with police cars. 

Arrests were made and order was restored, but not until after a brief but pretty rowdy battle. Finally, our prisoners were deposited into the wagon. By now, we are all coughing and gagging from the pepper spray dispensed from all directions during this shitstorm. As I was catching my breath, cleaning myself off, I realized that life had come around full circle for me. I remembered  those days so long ago when I watched the cops battle with Tommy’s old man on Maryland St.

Only the Irish brogues were missing, and although we got our shots in, our prisoners were surely treated much better then Tommy’s Dad. It was over 30 years ago and maybe 60 miles away, when I’d sat on my steps in Dorchester watching this part of life play out. This time, I wasn’t a spectator. This night I lived it. I was one of the good guys. Like those cops I watched as a kid, I ran up the stairs to confront whatever trouble was occurring. I traveled a long winding road to get here. Life had come full circle, I thought. I also thought it was pretty cool at the time. And I still do.

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