Alas, some years are all about change, whether anybody wants it or not. 1974 was surely one of those years. It was a time in which extremes seemed the norm. The most obvious change in the air in 1974 had to have been the investigation of, and the resignation of, President Richard Nixon. The whole culture […]
Alas, some years are all about change, whether anybody wants it or not. 1974 was surely one of those years. It was a time in which extremes seemed the norm.
The most obvious change in the air in 1974 had to have been the investigation of, and the resignation of, President Richard Nixon. The whole culture shifted that year, as tastes in music, clothes, politics, movies, drugs, and you-name-it, took off in new directions.
In 1974, being into social causes promptly went out of style for the glib and trendy cats. Going into that year, no one would have guessed the most popular gesture of group defiance on campus — the protest march — would morph into spontaneous gatherings to cheer on naked people as they ran by. Yet, in the spring of 1974, streaking on college campuses became a national phenomenon.
Richmond’s police chief announced that his officers would not tolerate streakers — students or not — running around in the city’s streets, alleys, etc. But the VCU police department said if it took place on campus, streaking was a university matter and would be dealt with by its personnel.
The relationship between Richmond and VCU was still somewhat awkward in this period. And, leading up to this point, there had been an escalating series of incidents on or near the VCU campus; police dogs had been set loose in crowds and cops had been pelted with debris.
So, the City’s Finest and had some history with what might have been seen as the anti-establishment crowd based in the lower Fan District, leading up what happened on the 800 block of W. Franklin St. on the night of Mar. 19, 1974.
Several groups of streakers had made runs before four streakers rode down Franklin in a convertible at about 10 p.m. The crowd of 150-to-200 cheered as the motorized streakers waved. The mood was festive. I was in that crowd, at the time I worked a block away on Grace St. at the Biograph Theatre.
Seconds later a group of about 50 uniformed policemen stormed in on small motorbikes and in squad cars from every direction to arrest those four streakers in the car. No VCU cops were involved.
After a lull in the action, the Richmond cops inexplicably charged into the crowd. Bystanders were dragged into the middle of the street. One kid was knocked off of his bicycle and slammed repeatedly against the fender and hood of a police car. Others were beaten with clubs or flashlights. It was a shocking. It was a riot — a police riot.
When the dust settled 17 people had been arrested. Most of them were not streakers. They were taken randomly from among the peaceful, decidedly apolitical crowd that had been watching the adventure from the sidewalk.
While I’ve seen some clashes between policemen and citizens over the years at anti-war demonstrations and a few brawls, up close, what happened that night on Franklin St. was the most out of control behavior I’ve ever seen from a large group of uniformed officers of the law.
Richmond’s city manager, Bill Leidinger, promised me there would be an investigation into the conduct of the local police on Franklin St. on Mar. 19 by an outside organization.
In exchange for that promise, I didn’t go to the press with some volatile charges being made by a guy who said he had photos of the beatings. Unfortunately, he may have talked about his evidence too much.
He showed up at the theater, claiming the prints and negatives had been stolen from his car — while he was in a store, briefly — on his way to deliver them to me. It was strange; I had offered to put the stuff in the theater’s safe, because he told me he felt paranoid about it. The cat got so scared he left town.
Leidinger did not make good on his promise. Eventually, Richmond’s police department held an in-house investigation of its own dirty doings on Franklin St. It found that it had done nothing wrong. I regretted trusting Leidinger.
1974 was a great year for movies. At the Biograph we premiered “Chinatown,” a superb film about corruption. We got it and several other mainstream Hollywood productions that year because Paramount and Neighborhood Theatres were having a feud. It’s still my all-time favorite feature.
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– Art (illustration done in 1984) and words by F.T Rea