September 10, 2012

False arrest in 1960s has lasting impact

It was a warm summer evening, and Jean was not home, so Mort Perry and I walked into the nearby Greenwich Village bar to wait for her.

We set our attaché cases down and ordered drinks. I ordered a rum and Coca-Cola.

“We don’t have any of that,” the bartender said.

“What do you mean?” I inquired, “There is some rum right over there.”

“That’s not for you,” he said.

I got the message. It was the 1960s, and things like that happened from time to time, even in the liberal north.

“I’m going to call the police,” I told Mort, and headed for the phone booth. I made the call, and we stepped outside to wait for the patrol car.

Mort and I both worked at Harper & Row, the book publishers. I was assistant production manager for children’s books, and Mort, a young African-American artist, was a book designer.

We had planned to have dinner and take Jean to the Village Gate, where John Coltrane was playing. But it looked like our plans had been changed for us.

A patrol car drove up in a few minutes. I walked over to the officer to tell him our story, but he passed me by and walked over to the bartender, where they had a hushed conversation. Then the cop returned.

“He doesn’t have to serve you,” he said. “That’s New York law. He doesn’t need a reason. Now get out of here or I’m going to arrest you.”

I took out a pen to write down the cop’s name and badge number, and he and his partner grabbed Mort and me, said, “You’re under arrest for disorderly conduct,” handcuffed us and tossed us in the back of the patrol car.

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