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Authors: Thomas Mullen

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BOOK: Darktown
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Negro Officer Boggs was a few feet away, on one knee, a blue handkerchief held to his forehead.

“What these niggers do?” Dunlow barked.

Little looked up after cuffing the second man, eyes livid. He and Boggs were both out of breath.

“This one stabbed that one,” Little said. Rake didn't know much about Little, who was black as pitch and wiry thin, other than the fact that his uncle ran the local Negro paper. “And when we tried to break it up, the one who'd been stabbed threw a bottle at Officer Boggs.”

One of the men on the ground wasn't so much out of breath, Rake realized, as moaning in pain.

“Well, well,” Dunlow laughed. “That's why I always let niggers fight it out amongst themselves before getting involved.”

“There were two children and a woman with them, so we didn't think that was a good idea.”

Boggs's eyes looked dizzy. A streak of blood ran down his forehead and the handkerchief wasn't doing a good job sopping it all. He did not appear to be in a rush to stand all the way up. He managed to say, “Call an ambulance, please.”

“Ah, you look all right,” Dunlow said. “Better work on your reflexes, though.”

“Not for me. For him.”

Boggs, with the elbow that was attached to the hand applying pressure to his own wound, indicated one of the two men lying on the ground.

“Gut stabbed,” Little explained. “Pretty bad.”

Dunlow kicked at the gut-stabbed one. “Roll over, nigger.”

Rake felt he should go into the squad car and call the ambulance, yet Dunlow himself hadn't moved to do so. The door was open, the radio only a few feet away.

The stabbed Negro could not roll over on his own. So Dunlow kicked him in the ribs.

Little backed up, outraged. “He can't roll over, Dunlow, he's cuffed!”

Dunlow kicked the Negro again. The Negro howled in pain.

Boggs stood up. “Call the ambulance.”

Dunlow ignored him. Rake considered making the call himself. But didn't move.

Little carefully pulled the stabbed man to his knees, then turned him so he was leaning against a telephone pole. The car's blue lights strobed the scene. The man's howl had gone back down to a moan. He wore a white sleeveless T-shirt and the lower left-hand side was black with blood, glistening.

“Yeah, he did get you pretty good.” Dunlow whistled. He still wasn't making a move for his car radio, clearly enjoying how he could drag this out. “Why you throw a bottle at an officer of the law come to help you, boy?”

Judging from the Negro's scrunched eyes and locked jaw, he was in too much pain to talk.

Boggs took a ginger step and said, “
call the ambulance.”

“Don't you go near my car, boy,” Dunlow warned.

They stared each other down. Rake was behind Dunlow and he could see the look on Boggs's face, the anger there. Pain and the blood seemed to have washed a certain veneer from the preacher's son.

Then Dunlow kicked the stabbed Negro directly in his wound.

The man screamed and at least one of the Negro cops yelled, too.
Dunlow laughed. Rake realized one of his own hands was clasped around the handle of his billy club.

“What you think you were doing, boy, throwing a bottle at an officer of the law?” Dunlow demanded. “Or maybe you don't think they're
officers of the law, do you?”

The Negro had fallen onto his side and was gasping for air, the act of breathing too painful now.

“And you know what?” Dunlow said. “You're right.”

Dunlow loomed over the Negro. Rake was still gripping his billy club. The two Negro officers were standing exactly where they'd been before but they both seemed crouched, bracing for what might come next.

“Because, boy, if you
throw a bottle at a
officer, you'd damn well be a dead nigger right now.”

“Why are you even here, Dunlow?” Boggs asked. “We didn't call for help.”

“I'm here because this is my city, boy. I'm here because the good nigra citizens of the area called the police asking for help. That's why I'm here. The better goddamn question is why

Then Dunlow pulled at his belt buckle, as the kicking had caused it to slide a bit beneath his gut. “You want an ambulance for the nigger, you can call it your damn self.”

Rake followed Dunlow back to their car, then he said, quietly, “Dunlow, they need an ambulance.”

Dunlow stared at him. “You ain't calling one from

Rake stood there, thinking of what he could do.

Dunlow asked, “What's your damn problem, son?” He was just quiet enough so that the Negroes couldn't hear this dispute among white men. “You want to help the niggers so bad? What about your ‘better kind of segregation'?”

Rake had no answer.

Dunlow opened the driver's door and got in. “There's a call box a block away. Call it your damn self.”

He slammed his door and drove off, nearly driving over one of the fallen Negroes.

Rake felt he had crossed a line he had meant only to toe, and now he'd been abandoned.

Neither of the Negro officers were looking at him when he told them he'd call for an ambulance and a wagon. He ran to the call box as fast as he could.

For twenty minutes Little applied pressure to the man's wound while Boggs sat on the sidewalk denying that he needed medical treatment. Rake, after making the call, knew he should seek out the witnesses the officers had referred to, a woman and some kids, but this situation before him seemed plenty volatile enough and he felt the need to stay. He hadn't been able to stop Dunlow from attacking the man. Yet he needed to believe that, if something like that were to happen again, he would stop it. He would not let events outrace him like that, like they always did.

Other than the nonstabbed Negro, who occasionally chimed in with claims of his innocence and mistaken identity and this just being a spat among kin that really ought not trouble officers of the law, no one spoke for a while.

Finally the ambulance came and the three officers helped the orderlies load the injured man, whose moaning had become distressingly quieter. Rake and Little tried to talk Boggs into going in for treatment, too, but he refused.

“I don't feel like spending three hours at Grady waiting for a stitch or two. I'm fine.”

So Little climbed in as the police escort.

After the ambulance pulled away, Rake indicated the other Negro and told Boggs, “I can wait on the wagon with him if you want to get back.”

“I'm fine. You can go.”

But Boggs hardly seemed in condition to be left alone, even with his suspect handcuffed, so Rake lingered. They waited a while.

Eventually Boggs started pacing, tentatively testing out his legs. His forehead had stopped bleeding so he'd ditched the handkerchief. He looked like hell, though. Rake started pacing, too, and when they were far enough away from the cuffed Negro, Rake decided the silence was too damned awkward.

“Your first on-the-job injury?”

“First one that'll leave a scar.”

He wanted to apologize for his partner, but why was Dunlow his responsibility? What would such a gesture be worth? And what consequences would come from not vouching for his partner before a Negro he barely knew?

“It'll make you look rugged. Girls'll love it.”

Boggs's initial response was a hard look. As if he was offended and was ready to fight over it. Then he looked away.

Jesus, Rake had only meant it as a harmless tease, like he would have said to any other cop performing a thankless task. That was the thing with these Negroes; either they were jesters who wanted to make light all the time or they were so damned serious, deeply insulted by any perceived grievance. Perhaps humor had been the wrong approach.

“I wanted to ask you about that body you found,” Rake said. “Report says you searched through the trash?”

“It wasn't my favorite shift. Do you know who's working the case?”


“News travels slow to the Butler Street Y.”

“I'll let you know if I hear anything.”

“Thank you.” Boggs seemed to mull something over for a moment. “I wonder if they've talked to Underhill yet.”


“Brian Underhill. The last man she was seen alive with.”

It took Rake a second, but then he remembered the fellow who'd hit the pole on Auburn. He recalled Boggs and Smith claiming that the man had had a Negress in the car with him earlier.

“I didn't realize it was the same girl.”

“I put it in my report.”

“No, you didn't.”

“Excuse me?”

Again Rake seemed to have set off some alarm in this fellow. He couldn't tell if Boggs was always this jumpy or if it was the knock on the head or, more likely, the recent exposure to Dunlow. Rake himself was unfortunately used to that.

“I read the murder report, Boggs. There was nothing about Underhill in it. Nothing about that traffic stop at all.”

Boggs was staring. “You're sure you read the whole report?”

“Yes, I'm sure I read the whole report.” Now Rake was the one getting irritated. “All three pages. I read it tonight, and there was nothing about Underhill.”

Boggs looked away, then turned completely around, as if he was searching for something. They stood like that for long enough that it started to feel rather strange.

“What?” Rake finally asked.

“Nothing.” Boggs turned back around. “I thought I put it in there. I . . . must have forgotten.”

That's sloppy work,
Rake nearly said. Boggs wasn't the most likable fellow in the world, but he projected a professional air, as though being a good cop was the most important thing in the world. Rake respected that. The son of a reverend, never dropping his g's, his uniform pristine and the brass always shining, his posture military perfect. Hearing him admit such a mistake took some of the shine off him.

“You should refile it,” Rake said. “I don't think they have any leads.”

“You mean, you don't think anyone is working it at all.”

Boggs said that as if he held Rake personally responsible for the stonewalling of other whites.

“I guess that is what I mean. But a person of interest's name in your report would change that.”

Another uncomfortable silence from Boggs, who finally said, “I don't think it would.”


that awful night, Boggs and Smith were needed at the courthouse for a morning trial. Boggs had expected testifying to be one of his favorite experiences, yet it had proven to be the worst. Not least because of the timing: always in the morning, after their night shifts, and they were denied overtime pay—they made $196 a month, far less than the white cops. Between last night and the previous night finding the body, Boggs had enjoyed maybe five hours' sleep the last two days combined.

The first time Negro officers had been needed in a courtroom, the judge had refused to let them enter in uniform, demanding that they enter as
typical nigras.
That had not gone over well at the Y—the ­officers complained to McInnis for weeks. Only after much back-channel maneuvering by the very reluctant sergeant and after another judge's vouching for their continued “good behavior” (as if they were dogs whose ability to control their bladders was worthy of compliments), they had recently won a concession: they could now wear their uniforms at trial.

But they still couldn't wear them
on the way to or from the courthouse,
just as they weren't allowed to wear them to or from the Y. The latest policy stated that they could carry their uniforms in garment bags to the courthouse, which they would enter via the colored entrance. Then, in an old custodial closet next to the colored restrooms, they could change into their uniforms. They'd been given keys to the closet, which, though it was no longer in use, maintained the smell of mildewed mops and disinfectant. At least it smelled better than the colored restrooms.

So many of their interactions were fraught, perplexing, dangerous. There was no precedent to follow, no
Jim Crow Guide to Colored Polic
They had each survived into adulthood by proceeding warily, yet now they were expected to walk with a heavy step and newfound power through their neighborhoods. In every other part of the city, however, they were still expected to vanish, or worse.

“Your Honor,” the city prosecutor said, “the city would like to call, ah, to call . . .” and some papers spilled onto the floor. The young attorney looked like an actor in a high school play, complete with an unruly cowlick. He was someone important's nephew, surely, doing a year or two of city work to gain insight into the darkness of the human soul before settling into the family firm. “Ah, yes, here it is, the city would like to call Negro Officer Lucius Boggs.”

“If you must,” said His Honor, the troll-like and perpetually grumpy Judge Gillespie.

Boggs took the stand at the downtown courthouse and waited while a clerk found the colored Bible suitable for Boggs's hand. Boggs was asked if he would tell the truth etc., and he said he would.

He had a bandage on his forehead and three stitches that he'd received earlier that morning after visiting a Negro doctor and family friend.
Shoulda gone to Grady last night,
the physician had said, whistling when he'd seen the wound.
Lucky this isn't infected yet.
Boggs hadn't bothered to explain that the last thing he wanted to do was go to the colored hospital's emergency room, where he would have had to wait hours while surrounded by many of the people he had likely arrested or tried to arrest over the past few months.

Now he looked like a fool, half his forehead covered in white, and still dealing with a headache that the doctor assured him would pass “in a day or two.” The doctor said the scar shouldn't look too bad.
Give your face some character.

On trial was one Chandler Poe, a lanky Negro in his late forties, with reddish hair growing in mangy tufts from his narrow head, and a long nose that betrayed Cherokee heritage.

Boggs and Smith had already noticed that the white detectives who had been assigned the case did not seem to be in attendance. Also disconcerting was the presence of a dozen white civilians, all of them well dressed.

“Now, Boggs,” the kid attorney asked in his genteel Sewanee voice, “according to your report here, you and another officer arrested Poe as he was leaving his residence with several barrels of corn liquor in his possession?”

“Yes, Officer Smith and I made that arrest on June third. Mr. Poe at first denied knowing what was in the barrels, but as we waited for a wagon to arrive he admitted what he was doing.”

Judge Gillespie was a loud breather, Boggs had noticed. Each time Boggs put a “Mr.” in front of Poe's name or an “Officer” in front of Smith's, he could hear the judge's breathing grow louder.

“And what exactly did Poe admit?”

Electric fans blared and windows were open but there wasn't a shirt that hadn't been sweated through. The room was slated for air-­conditioning next year.

“Mr. Poe said he was in the business of paying wholesalers for corn liquor and then selling it to several drinking parlors.”

Boggs was bothered by the many mysterious white faces in the gallery. Even the Negro
Daily Times
reporter in the third row, busily taking notes for the next installment of his ongoing journalistic recording of the life and times of the colored cops, felt hostile somehow.

“Did Poe name any of these wholesalers?” the prosecutor asked.

“No, Mr. Poe kept that information to himself.”

Much sooner than Boggs had been expecting, the prosecutor told the judge he had no further questions. The kid had mentioned a fraction of the reams of evidence Boggs and Smith had gathered.

“Hmmpf?” Judge Gillespie said. He'd stopped paying attention a while ago and had been filling out some municipal paperwork. “Oh, yes. Ah, would the defense like to cross-examine?”

“No, we certainly do not,” replied Poe's attorney, a tall older man wearing a smart blue suit and wingtips, altogether too well dressed to be a public defender.

Boggs was dismissed, and with the prosecution prematurely resting its case, the defense attorney called a Mr. Henry Jefferson. An older white man with a shock of colorless hair falling across his forehead took the stand.

Under questioning, Mr. Jefferson explained that “Chandler” was
a docile handyman who worked a number of jobs for the family. And quite a good banjo player to boot. In fact, ol' Chandler had recently performed at a particularly grand family reunion that the Jefferson clan had held a few months ago, entertaining nearly a hundred people.

“He's a good boy,” Mr. Jefferson told the judge. “Now, I'm sure he's liable to get himself into trouble now and again, and we've talked to him about that. But he means well.”

The defense attorney thanked Mr. Jefferson for taking time from his busy schedule as vice president of the Marshall & Sons Textile Mill to come out here and offer his testimony.

“That's all right,” Jefferson said, “but I wanted to make sure Chandler wasn't punished unnecessarily for a momentary lapse in judgment. He's a good nigra and it's a shame to see the city wasting resources on a hearing like this for what's clearly just a misunderstanding between the coloreds.”

Boggs was clenching his jaw. Smith made fists in his lap.

Mr. Jefferson turned out to be but the first in a parade of character witnesses, all of them concurring in the benign nature of the accused, all of them agreeing that he posed no threat to society so long as he had a stern white hand to guide him, and all noting that the city would be much the poorer if it was deprived of his musical skills. The fact that the prosecutor cross-examined the white citizens into admitting that they could not dispute any of Boggs's evidence hardly mattered.

After the last witnesses, the judge got on with his ruling. He ­portentously informed Poe that he should tread lightly from here on out. Then he acquitted Poe of the charges, and down came the gavel.

Poe made eye contact with the Negro officers and, though he didn't actually wink or smile, something about the roundness of his eyes and the angle of his head managed to convey it all the same, an invisible wink. Then the bootlegger filed out.

Boggs and Smith approached the young prosecutor as he gathered his papers.

“First time in a courtroom?” Smith asked.

“You think I enjoyed that? I spent
on this case.” His voice had far more authority and conviction than he'd managed before the judge. “I don't appreciate my record being besmirched by shoddy paperwork, let alone having the deck stacked against me.”

He had spent
on the case? Perhaps eight or nine? Boggs and Smith had followed Poe for two months, on and off duty. Weeks of their lives had just vanished with that gavel bang, for nothing.

“Sorry we besmirched you,” was all Boggs could get out.

The young lawyer looked at the officers as if for the first time, finally seeming to realize he'd insulted them. There was a glimmer in the kid's eyes of something that Boggs realized, to his surprise, he did not hate. Some morsel of humanity, some shame at his failure, perhaps a sense that he had let down these hardworking, if inferior, police officers.

“You really want to be helpful?” the lawyer said. “Next time y'all want charges to stick on someone, make sure your Department sends in
officers to testify against him.”

“So what happened in there, fellows?” Jeremy Toon asked them in the hallway. He had been two years ahead of Boggs at Booker T. Washington, Atlanta's sole high school for Negroes. He'd been skinny then and he was skinny still. His fingers clutched a notebook and pencil, which is exactly how Boggs had always remembered him.

“You're a smart man,” Smith said. “Figure it out.”

“C'mon, now.” Toon was a reporter for the
Atlanta Daily Times.
He was a good, decent, ambitious person, and neither Boggs nor Smith could stand him. “Need some comment from you two.”

“You know we aren't supposed to be talking,” Boggs said, keeping his voice down, very aware of the lawyers and bureaucrats walking past. In a louder but polite voice, he said, “Go to our commanding officer if you need a comment.”

The scribe lowered his notebook. He was wearing a brown tweed coat that didn't match his thick black tie. “You know they don't talk to us. Look, I've been covering this since you filed your first report. Y'all had tons of evidence the prosecutor didn't use, and all the judge wanted to hear about was banjos? What do you want our readers to think?”

Smith took one step toward the reporter, halving the gap between them. “Are you asking us to call out our prosecutor in your paper? Or complain about our superior officers? Or maybe you have a pink slip in that notebook, and we can just sign our jobs away and be done with it? That'd be easier, wouldn't it?”

One of the many complications the Negro officers faced was the fact that one of them, Xavier Little, happened to be nephew of the owner of the
Daily Times.
After the officers were sworn in, the
ran an extensive interview with him. As far as Boggs could tell, Little said nothing remotely controversial in the story, yet the day after it hit the stands, McInnis excoriated them all.
Do not talk to the newspapers again, ever. You are not spokesmen for your people. You are goddamn beat cops, and that's all you will be, or you will be unemployed.
The fact that the paper had been an early champion of the push for colored officers, and was eager to chronicle their every move, made this an especially delicate dance for the eight of them.

Toon held out his hands. “I'm on
side here, gentlemen.”

“Whose side?” Smith looked in every direction. “Which side? How's that work again?”

Boggs's head was pounding and he desperately needed sleep. He was not thinking clearly. Surely that explained why he then said, “You really want to be helpful? I've got something for your paper, but you
get it from me. Understood?”

“What is it?”

BOOK: Darktown
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