By Michael G. Glab
— Forty-five —
Anthony Pontone has seen the evidence that Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was assassinated. He has seen Cook County State’s Attorney Eddie Halloran announce the Chairman’s death in triumph and glee.
Who can blame Anthony for thinking the world has gone mad? Since the spring of 1968 he’s seen Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy rubbed out. He’s seen the black ghettoes of more than a hundred cities around the nation go up in flames. He’s been whacked over the head three times by officers of the Chicago Police Department as they carried out their sacred duty to serve and protect. (To be fair, he can’t remember any of the whackings — what with the resultant concussions he suffered.) He’s seen a city official break his neck trying to tackle a protester during the Days of Rage and then he has watched as the cops took the protester into custody and charged him with attempted murder.
Anthony is only human — all too human, his wife Anna might assert — so his dedication to the Cause of Justice and the Toppling of The Man have flagged. This revolution business is liable to scramble your brains — or worse. Only six months ago, Anthony was reinvigorated after meeting that magnetic young black man, Fred Hampton, from suburban Maywood. But this morning that young man was summarily executed by the Chicago cops. Or J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI men. Or whomever — all anyone really knows, as Sister Deborah said, was they were Pigs.
The radical attorney Barry Paulsen drops Anthony off at the North Side office of The Seed, the underground newspaper where Anthony works, earning less than some of the Outfit kids in his adopted Galewood neighborhood make in weekly allowance. He’s stuck with The Seed for all these lean months because for it, he can write articles that can Change the World. But now Anthony wonders if the world can ever be changed — and at what cost.
At The Seed office, Anthony learns that some Weathermen are heading toward the Town Hall police station, the headquarters for the 23rd District, the city’s smallest. The little station was plunked down a couple of blocks west of the lakeshore on Addison Street late in the 19th Century when the swells who occupied the nearby mansions and exclusive apartments demanded extra police protection from the rabble who were beginning to agitate for crazy things like fair wages, 40-hour work weeks, and — horrors! — social justice. The Weathermen aim to storm the station because…, because…, well, just because. It doesn’t matter why; it matters only that the Weathermen are on their way.
Still in a daze, Anthony heads toward the station at the intersection of Halsted and Addison, not far from Wrigley Field. As he nears the intersection on foot, he notices some shopkeepers hammering sheets of plywood over their front windows as if a hurricane is on the way. He sees squad cars racing toward the station. He runs his hand over his head, feeling underneath his hair the vestiges of three lumps. He stops at the corner of Halsted and Cornelia, one block south of the station. He won’t go any nearer the place. He figures, Three lumps are plenty for anybody.
But Anthony can see enough from this vantage point. Dozens of Weathermen are running around in a dance with dozens of blue-shirted Chicago cops. And those cops…, those cops — Anthony feels his scalp again.
The Town Hall Station House, Today
Of course, three whacks on the head from a policeman’s nightstick are nothing compared to having your brains blown out. Anthony was willing to take those three whacks. He may even be willing to suffer one or two more. But he’ll never be willing to be killed for Freedom, Justice, and Changing the World.
His hesitance to risk his life for The Cause isn’t based on some lofty precept. Nor is he able even to rationalize it. The great philosopher Bertrand Russell, for instance, once said he wasn’t willing to die for his beliefs. He reasoned: “What if I’m wrong?” Anthony’s hesitation is borne of a more immediate consideration. He is afraid to die.
So what? So is every sane human being on this planet. Some of them, though, can overcome the imperative for self-preservation. Live free or die. I regret I have only one life to give for my country. I may not get there with you. Stirring, lovely sentiments all, but that impending nothingness, the looming loneliness, the imagined blackness of non-existence, the emptiness — it’s all too terrifying.
Martin and Bobby and Chairman Fred, they all soldiered on, suspecting — no, knowing — they were going to die. Weren’t they afraid? Were they supermen who could overcome the icy terror? Anthony wonders, Why can’t I?
He only knows he hasn’t got the stomach for it anymore. We shall not overcome. I shall not overcome. Some revolutionary.
So, as Anthony watches the revolution from a block away, he understands he is now the former gonzo journalist and young man on the make who’s going to Change the World.
At this very moment, as the Weathermen and the Chicago cops pirouette around each other in their whirling dervish dance, three ear-shattering blasts emanate from the direction of the Town Hall station’s motor pool. Three bright orange-yellow balls of gasoline flame engulf three blue and white squadrols. The brilliant flares rise to twenty feet in the air and become three distinct mini-mushroom clouds.
As Anthony stands riveted, watching this pyrotechnic display, there come within his field of vision three young Weathermen, arms thrust skyward, fists clenched, faces crimson, mouths agape, three animal screams — “Yeah!” — issuing from deep within them, three triumphant players whose team has just scored the winning touchdown in the Big Game.
Later, watching the ten o’clock news, Anthony would learn three homemade pipe bombs had been placed under three police cars at Town Hall.
Now as Anthony watches the three dash madly, victoriously, off into the alleys and gangways of East Lakeview, he begins to weep, for this phase of his young life is finished. Even though he is afraid to die, he has willingly taken one step nearer the end.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.