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William Gorman

Unions Should Organize
Defense Against Attacks

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 4, 24 January 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The most noteworthy fact about the recent anti-Semitic violence in New York City is the attitude of the police. William Herlands, commissioner of investigation, in a report, sampling fifty cases, said that the police were negligent in twenty-five per cent of the cases. But even this does not tell the whole story.

Ever since the rise of an arrogant Christian Front movement in New York the police force has built up a shameful record of indifference to anti-Jewish attacks, while carefully protecting the life and health of Father Coughlin’s followers.

This pattern is familiarly tragic, to the Jewish people of Europe. In Czarist Russia, Poland and Germany the police always arrived late when Jews were attacked, let the assailants get away, and hurried to arrest the Jews who defended themselves.

The police of New York have not yet arrived at such perfect cooperation with the anti-Semites, but the alarming tendencies in that direction are already apparent.

Before the War

In 1939, tens of Coughlinites were peddling their hate-sheets on New York street corners. The New York police made every effort to see that their anti-Jewish propagandizing would go on unmolested.

In May, 1939, a girl carrying an anti-Coughlinite sign in Times Square was arrested for “disturbing the peace.” At least ten Coughlinites were selling Social Justice in Times Square that very day.

At a Coughlinite meeting in that same month, Professor Gill of Union Theological Seminary made an unsympathetic remark. He was immediately attacked and beaten. The police intervened – and arrested Professor Gill. Two salesmen of an anti-Coughlinite magazine were arrested that same evening.

A Nazi Bund demonstration in Madison Square Garden was protected by a cordon of police. The demonstration outside, led by the revolutionary socialists, was attacked by the police, who were determined to preserve law and order for the Nazis. Inside the Garden, a member of the Jewish War Veterans challenged one of the vicious lies that Fritz Kuhn was orating in best Hitlerian style. He was immediately assaulted by uniformed storm troopers. The police ran up – only to carry his bloody body outside.

Thus no one was surprised when various inquiries conducted among the New York police showed that the number of sympathizers of the Christian Front ran into the hundreds. But Mayor LaGuardia, very brave in his speeches against Hitler, who was thousands of miles away, did not care to come to grips with the anti-Semites in his own police force.

Six Months – 150 Assaults

There were at least 150 assaults on Jewish lives and property in New York City in the last six months. In approximately ONE OUT OF EVERY FOUR CASES the police failed to make any serious effort to arrest the anti-Semitic attackers.

One particular story in the Herlands report shows what kind of “protection” the Jews of New York can expect from anti-Semitic policemen. A Jewish watchman at the Inwood Center was abused and attacked by anti-Semitic hoodlums almost every night between the 26th of March to the 3rd of May in 1942.

He called the police frequently, but finally gave up since the police would either arrive too late or not at all. After a while his phone calls were accompanied by the chanted advice of the hoodlums: “You’re wasting your time. The police won’t come.” The pogromists were obviously well acquainted with the “defenders of law and order.”

The Drew Case

We bring the story up to date with some details on LaGuardia’s miserable, squirming defense of a well known Christian Fronter in the Police Department, Patrolman Drew. Drew admitted contributing money to the Christian Front and keeping anti-Semitic literature in his home but was later cleared by Police Commissioner Valentine. The Jewish labor and liberal organizations, stirred by the recent anti-Semitic wave, protested strongly.

Mayor LaGuardia promised another investigation of Patrolman Drew. For this task he appointed three old political wheelhorses, who, without publishing a report, simply echoed Valentine’s decision. But their clumsy, transparent whitewash was no great help to LaGuardia.

Acting to defend his own political prestige, the Mayor defends the anti-Semitic members of the police force. Drew was invited to speak on the radio and beg for sympathy. So this friend of Christian Front Chief Joe McWilliams made a short speech saying he was a father of five children, that he didn’t hate Jews and ended by apologizing for any trouble he might have caused.

Anyone acquainted with Drew’s record could have asked some very pertinent questions. What did he do with the anti-Semitic literature in his home – use it to light the furnace? And the contribution to the Christian Front, did he perhaps mistake that organization for the Anti-Nazi League?

But it was all LaGuardia’s show, and he made sure to ask no questions which would embarrass Drew or the anti-Semitic elements in the police department. In this manner, LaGuardia is crudely trying to pull the curtain down on this tragic farce.

Workers Defense Guards

The unreliability of the New York police only further encourages the anti-Semitic hooligans. But there are at least 100,000 Jewish members in the trade union movement in New York united with all the other union workers of every creed and nationality. These workers could organize groups of defense which would stop the Christian Front dead in its tracks.

The situation in police departments and the professional politicians’ preoccupations with their “positions,” call for the use of Workers Defense Guards without delay. This will prove to be the only effective way of protecting all persecuted minorities from fascist attacks.

The anti-Semitic hooligans are really cowards. They roam in gangs, beating up individual Jewish victims. At the sight of flying squadrons of Workers Defense Guards, these anti-Semitic rats would put their tails between their legs and run back to the holes where they belong.

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