TALES FROM THE BLUE LINE 8

Abraham Lincoln was, by all accounts, a genius. He specialized in the law and was considered to be brilliant. He understood the law, and how it needed to operate and be enforced. He was also the 16th president of the United States. But he made his bones, as they say these days, through his experiences as a lawyer.

That said, many, many places of glory in America have been named after him, from The Land Of Lincoln (Illinois) to streets and bridges in virtually every municipality. Among the sacred places named for him are schools. There is one high school in Milwaukee named Lincoln High School. It was built in the 1930s in one of Milwaukee’s elite neighborhoods. The kids there were smart, hard working, good athletes. Many received scholarships to universities.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Lincoln High School produced some of the finest basketball teams the state has ever seen. They won state championship after state championship. By that time the neighborhood had blended with African American families. Every one of the state championship teams was filled by young African American players. They were brilliant athletes, and excellent students. Almost all of them received scholarships and played at major universities. A few of them went on to play in the National Basketball Association. One of those players went on to be a federal court judge.

There’s more, but as time swiftly moved on, there became less. The neighborhood had deteriorated, and a gradual lessening of both academic and behavioral standards began to take over. It was a classic abandonment of housing and business structures as they grew old. The 1960s came and the influx of drugs that exploded during that decade was quick and massive. Everyone everywhere was affected. Part of the youth scene had became a veritable burning bush of marijuana cigarettes, pipes, bongs and anything else that was usable.

DisForPolice departments in major cities were inundated with illegal drug investigations. Drugs were being sold everywhere, on the streets, in the bars and, tragically, in the schools. No one knew how to deal with it. It was all learn-by-doing for the cops, especially young cops, because of the youth of the users and dealers. Young guys could look like and pretend they were dopers. They could – and did – make lots of drug arrests.

In Milwaukee the neighborhoods surrounding the high schools were mobbed with teen-agers walking around during their lunch period, cutting through yards and alleys and smoking dope. At any given high school during the lunch hour, there often were as many as one hundred such students involved in this activity. It was madness for the school officials who had classrooms filled with students high at least on marijuana, for the citizens whose properties were being polluted with substance polluted youngsters, and of course, for the police departments with districts containing high schools.

In 1974 things were as bad as they would ever be. I was one of four young Milwaukee cops who were assigned to the undercover section of the narcotics squad, dressed in ragged street clothes, and drove out in our private vehicles to school after school after school. We quickly learned to hate it. We were badly outnumbered and forced to police the outer sections of the lunchtime dopers. We’d arrest kids with dope – small amounts – place them in the back seats of our own cars, and drive off. We quickly became known at every school and had to change cars and get-ups in order to avoid being attacked. We were attacked a lot anyway, and made plenty of arrests on that basis.

One can imagine what a pain in the ass that duty was.

But we hung in there and received the admiration and accolades of our commanding officers.

This brings me back to Lincoln High School – a place named for perhaps the greatest American in history.

One day we young, School Patrol officers were divided up into two private automobiles. It was Lincoln High School’s turn to be surrounded and lose a few students from the classrooms to the nearest juvenile holding cell. And for said students to lose their stash of dope.

We got there just before lunch time on a sunny, mild autumn day. We chatted with each other a bit on the handie-talkie radios, as they used to be called, and set up to watch the school’s doors. The bell rang. (Always a sickening sound, we knew that the ill behaved ones were soon to explode out of all exits.) As usual, it wasn’t long before we saw a small group of teenaged boys huddle together in an alley a block away, light up and pass a marijuana smoking bowl. A “pot pipe,” for the experts who don’t like the unhip, official description of the smoking device.

“Smoke a bowl and lose control,” I remember saying to myself. I remember it because it was my personal ritual to at least think the words every time I watched a gathering of ne’er do wells begin their illegal indulgence.

The four of us narcs watched with binoculars, and when we were satisfied that they’d all smoked from the bowl, we drove up to the youngsters from both directions to where they stood in the alley. Of course, well observed the odor of marijuana and had probable cause to search the group. 95% of the time the kids were so flummoxed they froze in place and gave up. We confiscated the dope, and the kids, and took them to HQ. (Head quarters, which I’m sure you all knew, but we shortened it up while communicating on the street.) Sometimes they struggled a bit, often times they started crying and begging to be let go. Sometimes they said, “Fuck you pig!” and ran.

Guess what happened this time?

delinquentsThey ran. The four of us did the thing we hated most – we ran after them. The leader of their pack ran to the school and entered. We were surprised. His compadres followed. Huh. They were trapping themselves. Oh, well. Teenaged dopers weren’t all that hardened.

Thus, the real fun began. The boys were gone from our sight by the time we got into the school. I personally couldn’t identify even one of them. I followed my partner who could. We checked the boys’ rooms. Nothing. We checked closets and anything that might look like a hiding place. Nothing. A janitor – who I suspected of being “on the booze” a bit – told us that students weren’t allowed to run around in school. We looked at each other and laughed. We looked at the – I’m certain – drunken janitor, shook our heads, and kept running around the school. We saw no students.

The bell rang again, and those who’d left the school poured back in. One young girl walked toward us, stopped, and pointed to a classroom. She turned her head and walked away. We waited until things settled in the classroom, and slowly entered. I had no idea who we were looking for. But one of my partners did. He looked in the back and saw one teenager slumped in a chair.

Bingo!

One problem. The teacher watched us with a burning stare and fiercely folded arms. She was African American, about five feet tall, middle aged.

“Who are you? “ she shouted.

I flinched. The trouble we were facing with (hopefully) making an arrest, assuaging school officials, calling for a conveyance wagon, and writing lengthy detailed reports, was all I could think of.

“You!” my partner said, pointing at the boy.

We all showed our badges to the teacher and one of us began talking to HQ on the handie-talkie. She accepted our identification without question. She looked at the boy my partner was pointing to, pointed to us, and said, “These are Milwaukee police officers! Freeze!”

The diminutive teacher literally pushed past us and approached the boy. “Keep your hands where I can see them!”

We stood near to the blackboard at the front of the classroom, and began to follow her.

“You are under arrest!” she shouted.

By this time she’d reached him in his chair. “Get up!” she said.

The boy quickly and quietly stood. The teacher waved to us while staring at the hapless student. When we got to her she clasped her arms together and stepped back.

“What did he do?” she asked.

We told her.

“Well, then, cuff him and take him outta here!” she yelled.

I fumbled for my handcuffs and placed them on the child. The four of us narcs silently looked at the teacher.
“One of you come with me to the office and explain what he did,” she said, as we all walked out the door.

Three of us walked with the handcuffed youngster to the exit. We were all speechless. Stunned is a more accurate word. Being the senior officer, I followed the teacher to the office. She explained everything to the principal, interrupting herself at times to ask me questions about the arrest.

“Good job,” she said to me while I was leaving. “I’ll call Mayor Maier first chance I get.”

I quietly left the school and joined up with my partners and our prisoner. He eventually told us who his accomplices were.

To this day I scratch my head when I think about who really made that drug arrest at Lincoln High School, back in 1974.

ROb2This is the 7th 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.

Rob is published by Orange Hat Press

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