1974-milwaukee-skylineThe Milwaukee lakefront drug parties that flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s were a sight to behold. The group of people attending on weekends during decent weather were little more than a wakeful, hallucinatory bad dream. I worked undercover at dozens of them. People were there for one reason: To get high and to make connections with drug dealers for a regular supply of their favorites – from marijuana to heroin.

Unfortunately, some local community leaders, including some from the mainstream news media, didn’t catch on very quickly. Instead, some of them celebrated the new style of get togethers, where young people from all over the area could go to make friends and improve their lives. Or something. The Milwaukee Journal newspaper had a special photo page during that era, and their editors published a closeup photograph of a young man lighting a pot pipe on a sunny, sunday afternoon at a rock concert at the lakefront.

Parents across the city couldn’t believe the naivete – sorry, I called it arrogance then and still believe that to this day – of some working at a main, national newspaper to virtually promote drug use. Swift action was called for. City leaders were embarrassed. Now, that was forty years ago, and the people running the show then are gone now. Things have definitely changed.

But we undercovers were swept into action on many succeeding weekends and made literally hundreds of drug arrests. And arrests for resisting an officer. And arrests for Battery To A Police Officer. And we were criticized in so-called professional editorials for picking on the kids, when there were banks being robbed.

Speaking of photographs, one was taken of an undercover officer by the publishers of an “alternative” news source that emanated from the hipster side of the city. It was posted on the front page, a full page photo. The paper was available in all of the stores on the East Side of the city. Threats poured in against the officer. The mainstream news sources decried such actions by lawbreakers, but the people who read the off beat “street sheets” and newspapers weren’t the type to follow the real news, so it had little affect among the violators.

We served a search warrant at a drug dealers house shortly afterward and the photo of the officer was posted prominently on the living room wall. The people we arrested said the picture was in all the drug houses through out the neighborhood.

The majority of the people who consistently attended these drug parties in the parks were, obviously, of low intellect and morality. They didn’t care about poisoning themselves, and the only reason they cared about being arrested was because of all the hassle. We arrested many of them several times – they had come to know who we were and used drugs in front of us, anyway.

The hardcore partiers went to the parks on any given day of the week. Why not? They were shiftless, unemployed, and looking for some hallucinogenic fun. During the week there were relatively small groups, but we were assigned to check them all.. And by golly, we made drug arrests every time we went to the park.

There was one group in particular that hung out together in one of the smaller sections of the lakefront park, a place beneath a tall, majestic and beautiful bluff. Perfect place to fuck up. During one dismal and unbelievable streak we arrested some of the same people three times in the week – for using drugs
the first time we visited, and for disorderly conduct and fighting with us when we arrested them the next times we visited.

Sometimes a uniformed patrol car would drive past and notify the dispatcher of the goings on, who would then notify the narcotics squad. Then off we’d go. Upon arrival we’d always be amazed at seeing the same people we’d arrested only a day before. They recognized or vehicles when we arrived and gave us the finger while waving at us. One time a park visitor whom we did not know signaled to us that some people had gone off together to some the bushes beneath the bluff.

Two members of our group (I was not among them) walked there only to witness a teenaged girl providing oral sexual pleasure to a teenaged boy. They were arrested. In fact, that day those two were the only people we arrested at the park. You throw out the line and pull in whoever takes a bite. Or at least nibbles a little.

Another time we arrested a group of about eight boys and girls (older teenagers) for smoking marijuana. They were loaded on THC to be sure, but other stuff to boot. No mere Buddha beaters get as feisty as this crew became. They fought and screamed and yelled – females included – and we literally dragged some of them to the waiting “meat wagon” as we used to call the police prisoner conveyance van.

A few days there were no lawbreakers. None that we saw, because by this time most of them were regulars who, as previously stated, knew our vehicles and ditched the dope before we got too close. Sometimes they were too high to notice us, and they paid the price.

One day we pulled up, got out of our vehicles, and a tall slim-but-muscular young man with bright, mid-back length blond hair, stood from where he was sitting at a picnic table and, while shouting one of our names, declared that the named person provided donkeys with oral sexual pleasure. Now, he used different words, but you get the idea. We all looked at each other and simultaneously said, “He’s under arrest.”

We approached and he sucked down the rest of a can of beer he’d been drinking, and squared off, as though he were ready to fight. We reached him and laid hands upon him, and fight he did. None of us could believe it. We later all agreed we’d never seen an individual knowingly pick a physical fight with a half dozen police officers.

See what drugs and booze will do to you?

Unbelievably, the group of five or six people he’d been enjoying marijuana and beer with joined in to help him. Two of them were teenaged girls. Of course, they were all arrested and charged with Battery To A Peace Officer. Only one of them had pot – a small amount – in their possession. We handcuffed them and had to literally drag them to the prisoner wagon. They were all screaming and yelling the whole time.

It gets far more bizarre.

The following morning my partners and I were in municipal court to testify against the – how do you say? – the evil doers. They’d all been processed and released the day before and were all in court on time. The city attorney asked the judge if the group could be tried together, to get things over with more quickly. The judge agreed and allowed the “mass trial.”
The city attorney was an older, quirky fellow, who no one could believe was actually an attorney. But I digress.

One of our officers was chosen to be the main complaining witness. He stepped to the docket, squared his shoulders, and stood tall. Professional. The city attorney quickly instructed that the tall blond man, who’d begun the trouble at the park, be the first witness for the defense. The man stood at the defense table.

While pointing at the defendant the quirky city attorney asked the officer: “What did you see that man or hear that man do?”

The officer answered: “He said that Officer (fill in the blank) – and here is where I will screen the language – ‘provided oral sex to donkeys’.”

The courtroom was full and quiet, and many people gasped in shock at the language and imagery it supplied.

“And as far as you know, officer (fill in the blank) doesn’t do that, does he?”

“Not to my knowledge, no sir,” the officer quickly replied.

The city attorney was a short, spry man, who leaned toward the officer, wearing a stern look on his face. He made a small smile.

I, personally, affected a large smile. So did the rest of my partners, where we all stood behind the testifying officer. The fill in the blank officer hung his head.

At first, the courtroom went silent. An instant later it burst with the sound of high pitched, uncontrolled laughter. The defendants standing at their desk doubled over with laughter.

The judge then said loudly, into his microphone, that all such activity should cease immediately, which it kind of sort of did. In a way. A little bit.

The questioning continued, as did bits and pieces of laughter. The defendant was found guilty on all charges. The judge poignantly asked the young man, “Why did you say that to the officer?”

“Because I don’t like him,” the just convicted man replied.

The simple truth about human disaffection was explained in words spoken by an eighteen-year-old, drunken drug addict who openly picked fist fights with the police.

The judge rapped his gavel. “Next case,” he said.


ROb2This is the 19th in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.

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