How the Police Should Have Treated the Nazis in Charlottesville

Much like today, the years of my adolescence were a time of sharp political divisions in the country. The war in Vietnam was raging, as were the protests against it on the streets here at home. It was at one such protest in Los Angeles that I, more than ten years prior to my joining the Los Angeles Police Department, learned something about police work and crowd control.

One summer day there was a large anti-war march down Wilshire Boulevard, concluding with a rally at MacArthur Park, just west of downtown L.A. I was 11 or 12 years old at the time, and I rode my bicycle to the park, more out of curiosity at the spectacle than owing to any sense of political ideology. My parents would have forbidden it had they known, of course, but this was a time when kids went off to spend their summer days unsupervised, with the only instruction being to be home by dinner time.

Wilshire Boulevard, one of the city’s busiest streets, remained shut down as marchers funneled into the park, and I stopped at the corner of Wilshire and Park View, on the park’s western edge, to watch things unfold. There was a modest police presence at the time: a hundred or so LAPD officers standing here and there, some number of them military veterans, no doubt, appearing contemptuous of the marchers but doing nothing to interfere.

It was then that things got interesting. A contingent from the American Nazi Party, perhaps 50 of them, began to assemble. They were all decked out in black pants and brown shirts with the red-and-black swastika armbands familiar to anyone who had seen films from the Second World War. They formed into something resembling a military formation in the very center of Wilshire Boulevard, this in apparent preparation for entering the park, there surely to cause trouble among the anti-war protesters.

In the naïveté of my youth, I had never heard of the American Nazi Party, much less been exposed to examples of it. I regarded them as I might have a herd of some species of dangerous zoo animal: fascinating to observe while confined, but best not to have them roaming about.

Things soon got even more interesting. Roaring down Park View came a phalanx of unmarked LAPD cars – late-60s Plymouth Belvederes, to be precise – which came to a stop and disgorged what looked to be about 50 of the department’s most serious-minded cops, all of them wearing helmets and carrying batons at port arms. In a matter of seconds those cops assembled in two ranks between the Nazis and the park, sending the unmistakable message that for the Nazis the only avenue into the park would be through them.