The following is an article written by anarchist Emma Goldman on Jun 15, 1917 after a confrontation between police and anarchists at a “No-Conscription” rally during the First World War.
What the police termed “the tamest anarchist meeting ever held in New York” was held by the No-Conscription League in Hunt’s Point Palace, 163d Street and Southern Boulevard, last night. The meeting had been advertised as one of protest against the selective draft law, but it turned out to be a very lame denunciation of the Government, of militarism which, all the speakers said, was about to grip America about the throat, and utterances along similar lines. Not one of the speakers advised anybody not to register today, nor did they ask their followers to refuse to join the colors, if they are drawn in the draft.
More than 15,000 persons were massed in the streets outside the building, but at least half of these were there through curiosity and not through sympathy with the I.W.W. anarchist propaganda.
It was after the meeting that the one big row of the evening occurred. It practically amounted to a riot for about fifteen minutes, and was precipitated when several anarchists and other agitators jeered a passing detachment of unarmed National Guardsmen. Some one shouted that the guardsmen were “a lot of bums,” and then others began to shout “Hit them!” The fighting followed, and when it was all over ten men and one woman were under arrest for the part they played in the demonstration. In nearly every instance the man arrested was of conscript age.
Those taken to the Simpson Street Station were Samuel Cohen, 26 years, 229 East Eleventh Street; Jacob Newman, 23 years, 157 East Seventy-eighth Street; Aaron Cohn, 26 years, 202 Washington Street, Jersey City; Samuel Gunsberg, 21 years old, 1,621 Madison Avenue; Leiger Klinetzsky, 27 years old, 69 East Twelfth Street; Peter Wolff, 22 years old, 814 East 163d Stret; Maurice Marks, 23 years old, 531 Kesciusko Street, Brooklyn; Jacob Axelrod, 383 Cooper Street, Brooklyn; Otto Hoffman, Harry Fritz, 33 years old, of 383 Elton Avenue, the Bronx, and Rose Rolys, 26 years, 809 Crescent Street, Brooklyn. Earnest Greenbaum, 22 years old, 442 West 164th Street, was also arrested during the evening for disorderly conduct in trying to force his way through the police lines into the hall while Emma Goldman was speaking. An old woman who tried to circulate pamphlets urging men not to register today was also in custody for a few minutes. She was released at the request of the Federal officials, who said they did not consider that she was responsible for what she was doing.
In the Men’s Night Court Magistrate Corrigan fined Greenbaum $1. Klinetzsky was sentenced to six months in the Workhouse. Rose Rolys was remanded for forty-eight hours for investigation by the probation officer after she had pleaded not guilty.
Crowd Packs Boulevard.
The crowds began to gather before dark and by 7 0’clock, when the doors of the Hunts Point Palace were thrown open it was estimated that at least 10,000 persons were jammed into Southern Boulevard for a distance of three blocks on either side of the meeting hall. To handle the crowd at that time Chief Inspector Schmittberger and Inspector Edward Walsh, the Bronx police commander, had on hand 150 uniformed policemen and about fifty detectives, in addition to an automobile searchlight detachment of four machines.
The police had anticipated a crowd of about 5,000, but when fully three times that number appeared Inspector Cray ordered out all the reserves from the Alexander Avenue, Simpson Street, and Morrisania stations. By the time these reserves arrived the crowd had forced its way forward in a shouting mass, those in the front ranks struggling with the twenty-five policemen who, with drawn night sticks, stood in front of the entrance to the hall and shouted the order “Stand back!” For awhile it seemed that the police would be overwhelmed, but the first of the reserves, those from the Alexander Avenue station, arrived in the nick of time and forced their way to the rescue of their comrades in front of the hall. Five minutes’ later 100 reserves arrived from the Simpson Street and Morrisania stations, and slowly the great throng began to give way.
Inspector Schmittberger ordered the boulevard cleared for two blocks on either side of the auditorium. To do this the little police automobiles which mount the big electric searchlights were called into action. Like “four little tanks” the machines started in. Two advanced toward Westchester Avenue and two went south toward Simpson Street. The searchlights were turned on, and the great shafts of light were focused on the faces of the protesting thousands. Behind the “tanks” the police infantry advanced, all the men with drawn sticks. The crowd realized that the police meant business, and what had at first been a slowly forced retreat finally became a rout. By 8:30 o’clock the boulevard zone was clear of disturbers, and the police formed a line through which only those persons who could show credentials were permitted to pass.
Inside the hall under Police Inspector Cray were 100 policemen and detectives drawn from all parts of the city in addition to a force of about 150 guardsmen from the Eighth Coast Defense Regiment. At the press tables with the reporters were Captain William M. Offley, Chief of the Department of Justice, Secret Service of the New York District; Assistant United States District Attorneys John C. Knox and Harold A. Content, United States Marshal Thomas D. McCarthy, and District Attorney Francis Martin of Bronx County.
The audience inside was for the most part made up of young men and young women, nine-tenths of whom, according to the police, were foreign-born. But not every one in the audience was an anarchist, a fact that was proved on several occasions when the speakers approached the danger line and seemed about to say something which would have resulted in the arrest of the speaker. But the great majority was friendly to the Goldman-Berkman school. The applause was always loudest when the speaker said something disparaging of the man who wore the uniform of the United States Army or Navy.
Chairman’s Speech Mild.
Leonard D. Abbott, who has figured in I.W.W. activities for several years past, was the Chairman and also the first speaker. He looked very defiant as he stood up to start off. The Government stenographers who were present to take down the speeches set themselves to take down the no-conscription utterances that everybody was certain Abbott would make. But nothing of the sort happened. He said that “anarchists are not afraid to go on the firing line,” whereupon everybody, except the loyal hundred in the gallery, yelled and stamped his or her approval. He was very careful not to advise any one present not to register.
Peter Kane, Jr., was the next speaker. He is of conscript age, and seemed to be sorry because of it. On one occasion when he shouted “Give me liberty or give me death,” somebody in the gallery dropped an electric bulb on the stage. The bulb exploded with a bang and Peter acted as if he had realized the last part of his wish. As Kane jumped a soldier in the gallery, said to have been a regular from Fort Totten, shouted, “Three cheers for the Stars and Stripes.” A few cheered, but a large number hissed.
As Kane was warming up in his harangue another bulb came through the air from somewhere up stairs and struck him on the shoulder. As did the first it exploded with a bang and again Kane leaped into the air.
“Will law and order give me safety?” he shouted at the police.
“I thought it was liberty or death you wanted,” a soldier yelled back. Kane ended by asserting that he was a conscientious objector, and that his conscience would not permit him to slaughter his fellow-men.
Robert H. Hutchinson, introduced as the headmaster of a liberty school up-State, came after Kane, and, like him, he is of draft age. He, too, gave conscription, that is the resisting of it by others, a wide berth. The authorities present took his name, and if his name is missing from today’s returns he will be asked for an explanation. The authorities also made a note of the fact that Kane is liable to conscription.
An old woman, introduced as “Mother” Yuster, spoke in Yiddish after Hutchinson finished. She does not believe in the selective draft law. Alexander Berkman, so excited that he learly lost control of himself on more than one occasion, came after “Mother” Yuster. Everybody was certain that he would say something about the No-Conscription League and its work, particularly as he is one of the founders. But, like all those who preceded him, he devoted his time to other subjects. He is very proud of the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates in Russia. He said so several times. At one point in his speech a soldier in the gallery shouted to him to go back to Europe where he belonged, and then another rude person threw a lemon at him. Berkman stopped a minute later.
Then came Emma Goldman. Even the Government officials present had an idea she would say something about conscription. Instead she told of her girlhood in Russia and how she has hated militarism ever since she was 9 years old. She said that the soldiers present had been sent to the meeting to break it up and that she was surprised that the police did not arrest them. She ended as did the others by denouncing militarism and intimating that the Government of the United States is worse than that of Germany. Her last words was a plea for contributions from the audience.
“Let us all sing the International,” she shouted in conclusion. But nobody sang.