From Jay Belsky, Davis, Calif.: Thank you so much for putting in one place a story that has been neglected—really forgotten—for so long. As a freshman at Georgetown I intended to participate in the shut-down-DC event on May 3—after hearing Rennie Davis speak at the University the night before, reminding the audience about “good Germans” who stood by in the ‘30s and thus became complicit in Hitler’s atrocities. To this very day, perhaps due to my Jewish ancestry, I can still recall the electricity that shot through my body upon hearing those words, convincing me I had no choice but to join the protest and go to jail if need be, miss a final exam and risk failing a class at the School of Foreign Service as a result.
But after seeing how violent things were by the Key Bridge very early in the morning, I decided, with a few friends, not to participate and go back to campus. So we walked up to a cop to ask if we could cross the street. He directed us to stand against a wall with others, which we did, only to discover we were stuck, would be put on a bus—this is 7:00 AM—and driven through the tear-gassed city to become the first people imprisoned in the high-walled DC prison yard—till darkness; then bussed to a precinct in the non-white part of town and crammed into a cell with many others for several hours before being released after paying bail. Up until that point—some 20 hours since standing by the wall—no one knew where we were—or even who we were. After hearing Martha Mitchell on the radio say we should all be shot and knowing about the massacre of students in Mexico not too long before, there was concern in that prison yard that anything could happen.
I still have my bail receipt because, also apparently, the pages were torn out of the police blotter that recorded it (and many others). It has always been my plan to pass it on to my children—and to theirs—as evidence of what my father would say from time to time, as a first generation American Jew: ”Don’t think it can’t happen here”. Portland has proven once again that citizens can be swept off the street without regard to their civil rights. One cannot help but be reminded of two well known quotes:
—The only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. (Author unknown)
—The past is never dead; it’s not even past. (William Faulkner)
4 thoughts on “Up against the wall”
On Jay Belsky’s jail receipt, you can see that he, like thousands of others, checked the box saying that he intended to “stand trial” for his arrest. But virtually no one ever did stand trial, because the courts recognized that the Mayday police dragnet and mass arrests were illegal.
Jay Belsky is Robert M. and Natalie Reid Dorn Professor of Human Development at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of The Origins of You: How Childhood Shapes Later Life (Harvard University Press 2020). https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674983458
I’m going to write my story. Meanwhile, is there going to be a 50th reunion?
Hi Kevin, there will be some virtual meetings and conferences about Mayday as the 50th anniversary approaches. I’ll be posting them on the News & Events page of this site. Stay tuned.