Revisionist History Presents: The Limits of PowerRevisionist History
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- 2 Jun 2020
Malcolm has been writing about race and policing for a very long time, going back to the killing of Amadou Diallo in 1999. Sometimes, it is useful to take a step back and consider policing in a broader context. Here we present a chapter from Malcolm's book David and Goliath, which includes an analysis of a riot in Northern Ireland in 1970. Many miles and many years away. About divisions of religion and class and not divisions of race. But the core questions to be asked in 1970 and 1999 and today are the same: if you have power, what does it mean to use it, and use it wisely? And what are the consequences if you don't?
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company. Audiobook production by Hachette Audio.
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Hello there, Malcolm Gladwell here, many people have spoken up over the last few days very eloquently about the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis. It says something about the country we live in. But the most powerful things I've heard have come from mayors and preachers and rappers and talk show hosts and countless ordinary people on Twitter while the White House turned off its lights and the president hid in an underground bunker. Sometimes words fail me.
As those of you who have followed my career now, I've been writing and thinking about race and policing for a very long time. The final chapter of my second book, Blink, was about the 41 shots fired at a young African immigrant named Amadou Diallo by New York City police officers in 1999 as he stood on his front porch and reached for his wallet to show them his ID. My latest book, Talking to Strangers, starts and ends with the tragic encounter between a young African-American woman, Sandra Bland, and a highway patrolman on the streets of Prairie View, Texas.
So I wanted to add my voice to the chorus and share some of that work. And what I decided on is a portion of the audiobook version of my book, David and Goliath. It was published in 2013. And this chapter is about a riot that took place in Belfast in Northern Ireland. It's about a situation from miles away and many years ago and about the divisions of religion and class and not the divisions of race. But sometimes I think it's useful to take a step back and consider policing in a broader context.
What happened in Northern Ireland 50 years ago and what is happening now on the streets of the United States are not all that different. The core question in both is, if you have power, what does it mean to use it wisely? And what are the consequences if you don't? So here we go from David and Goliath, Chapter seven, Rosemary Lawler. When the troubles began in Northern Ireland, Rosemary Lawler was a newlywed, she and her husband had just bought a house in Belfast.
They had a baby. It was the summer of 1969. And Catholics and Protestants, the two religious communities that have lived uneasily alongside each other throughout the country's history, were at each other's throat. There were bombings and riots, gangs of Protestant militants, loyalists, as they were called, roam the streets, burning down houses. The lawyers were Catholic, and Catholics have always been a minority in Northern Ireland. Every day they grew more frightened. I come home at night, Lawler said, and there would be writing on the door tags out tags is a derogatory word for an Irish Catholic or no pope.
Here are the night we were there. We were very lucky. A bomb came into the backyard and didn't explode. One day I went to knock on my neighbor's door and I realized she was gone. I found out that day that a lot of people had gone so. And my husband Terry came home from work. I said, Terry, what's going on here? And he said, we're in danger. We left the home that night. We had no phone.
You remember, this is in the days before mobiles. We walked out. The fear was in me. I put my son in his pram. I gathered up best we could, pieces of clothes for him and ourselves. There was a tray at the bottom of the pyramid. We stuffed them all in the tray. And Terry says to me, Right, Rosie, we're going to walk straight out of here. I'm going to smile at everybody. I was trembling.
I was a teenage mom, a teenage girl who got married, 19, married, new baby newworld, new life taken away from me like that, you know, and I have no power to stop it. There is an awful thing. And I remember being really, really scared.
The safest place they knew was the all Catholic neighborhood of Ballymurphy in West Belfast, where Lawlor's parents lived, but they had no car. And with Belfast in turmoil, no taxi wanted to venture into a Catholic neighborhood. Finally, they took to cab and stopping by, saying their baby was sick and needed to get to a hospital. They shut the car door and Terry told the driver, I want you to take us to Ballymurphy. The driver said, Oh, no, I'm not doing that.
But Terry had a poker and he took it out and he placed the point against the back of the driver's neck and said, You're going to take us. The cab driver drove them to the edge of Ballymurphy and stopped. I don't care if you stick that in me, he said. I'm not going any further. The lawyers gathered up their baby and their worldly possessions and ran for their lives. At the beginning of 1970, things got worse that Easter, there was a riot in Ballymurphy, the British army was called in a fleet of armored cars with barbed wire on their bumpers patrolled the streets.
Lollywood would push her pram past soldiers with automatic rifles and tear gas grenades. One weekend in June, there was a gun battle in the bordering neighborhood. A group of Catholic gunmen stepped into the middle of the road and opened fire on a group of Protestant bystanders. In response, Protestant loyalists tried to burn down a Catholic church near the docks for five hours. The two sides fought locked in deadly gun battle. Hundreds of fires burned across the city by the end of the weekend.
Six people were dead and more than 200 injured. The British home secretary responsible for Northern Ireland flew up from London, surveyed the chaos and ran back to his plane. For God's sake, bring me a large scotch, he said, burying his head in his hands. What a bloody awful country. A week later, a woman came through Ballymurphy, her name was Harriet Carson, she was famous for hitting Maggie Thatcher over the head with a handbag at city hall.
Lawler said, I knew her growing up. Harriet was coming around with two lids of pots and she was banging them together and she was shouting, Come on, come out, come out. The people in the lower falls are getting murdered. She was shouting it up and I went out to the door. My family was all there and she was shouting, they're locked in their houses, their children can't get milk and they haven't got anything for a cup of tea and there's no bread and come out, come out.
We need to do something.
The Lower Falls is in all Catholic neighborhood, just down the hill from Ballymurphy, Lawler had gone to school in Lower Falls. Her uncle lived there, as did countless cousins. She knew as many people in the lower falls as she did in Ballymurphy. The British army had put the entire neighborhood under curfew while they searched for illegal weapons.
I didn't know what curfew meant, Lawler said, hadn't a clue. I did say to somebody, what does that mean? She said they're not allowed out of their houses. I said, how can they do that? I was totally stunned. Stunned? What do you mean? The people are locked in their houses. They can't get out for bread or milk while the Brits, the British army were kicking in doors and aragón and ruining and searching. I was what the biggest thought in everybody's mind was.
There are people locked in their houses. And as children, you have to remember some houses had 12, 15 kids in them. Do you know that's the way it was? What do you mean? They can't get out of their houses? They were angry. Rose, Mallala, is now in her 60s, a sturdily built woman with ruddy cheeks and short white blond hair swept to the side, she was a seamstress by trade and she was dressed with flair, a bright floral blouse and white cropped pants.
She was talking about things that had happened to half a lifetime ago, but she remembered every moment. My father said, the Brits, they'll turn on us, they'll say they're in here to protect us. They'll turn on us. You wait and see. And he was 100 percent right. They turned on us and the curfew was the start of it. The same year that Northern Ireland descended into chaos. To economists Nathan Ladies and Charles Wolfe Jr. wrote a report about how to deal with insurgencies.
Ladies and Wolf worked for the Rand Corporation. The prestigious think tank started after the Second World War by the Pentagon. Their report was called Rebellion and Authority in those years when the world was exploding in violence. Everyone read Ladies in Wolf.
Rebellion and Authority became the blueprint for the war in Vietnam and for how police departments dealt with civil unrest and for how governments coped with terrorism.
Its conclusion was simple. Fundamental to our analysis is the assumption that the population as individuals or groups behaves rationally, that it calculates costs and benefits to the extent that they can be related to different courses of action and makes choices accordingly. Consequently, influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy nor mysticism, but rather a better understanding of what costs and benefits the individual or the group is concerned with and how they are calculated. In other words, getting insurgents to behave is fundamentally a math problem, if there are riots in the streets of Belfast, it's because the cost to rioters of burning houses and smashing windows are high enough.
And when leaders in Wolf said that influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy nor mysticism, what they meant was that nothing mattered but that calculation. If you were in a position of power, you didn't have to worry about how law breakers felt about what you were doing, you just had to be tough enough to make them think twice. The general in charge of the British forces in Northern Ireland was a man straight out of the pages of rebellion authority.
His name was Ian Freeland. He served with distinction in Normandy during the Second World War and later fought insurgencies in Cyprus and Zanzibar. He was trim and forthright with a straight back and a square jaw and a firm hand. He conveyed the correct impression of a man who knew what needed to be done and would do it when he arrived in Northern Ireland. He made it plain that his patience was limited. He was not afraid to use force. He had his orders from the prime minister.
The British army should deal toughly and be seen to deal toughly with thugs and gunmen. On June 30th, 1970, the British army received a tip there were explosives and weapons hidden in a house at 24 Balkan's Street in the lower falls. They were told. Freeland immediately dispatched five armored cars filled with soldiers and police officers. A search of the house turned up a cache of guns and ammunition. Outside, a crowd gathered. Someone started throwing stones. Stones turned into petrol bombs.
A riot started by 10:00 p.m.. The British had had enough. An Army helicopter armed with a loudspeaker circled the lower falls, demanding that all residents stay inside their homes or face arrest.
As the streets cleared, the Army launched a massive house-to-house search. Disobedience was met with firm and immediate punishment. The next morning, a triumphant Freeland took to Protestant government officials and a pack of journalists on a tour of the neighborhood in the back of an open flatbed truck surveying the deserted streets like as one soldier later put it, the British Raj on a tiger hunt. The British army went to Northern Ireland with the best of intentions, the local police force was overwhelmed and they were there simply to help to serve as a peacekeeper between Northern Ireland's two warring populations.
This was not some distant and foreign land. They were dealing with their own country, their own language and their own culture. They had resources and weapons and soldiers and experience that dwarf those of the insurgent elements they were trying to contain.
When Freeland toured the empty streets of the Lower Falls that morning, he believed that he and his men would be back home in England by the end of the summer.
But that's not what happened. Instead, what should have been a difficult few months turned into 30 years of bloodshed and mayhem in Northern Ireland. The British made a simple mistake. They fell into the trap of believing that because they had resources, weapons, soldiers and experience that dwarfed those of the insurgent elements they were trying to contain. It did not matter what the people of Northern Ireland thought of them. General Freeland believed, ladies and Wolf, when they said that influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy nor mysticism.
And ladies and Wolf, we're wrong. It has been said that most revolutions are not caused by revolutionaries in the first place, but by the stupidity and brutality of governments, Sean Stefan, the provisional IRA's first chief of staff, once said, looking back on those early years, well, you had that to start with in Northern Ireland. All right. The simplest way to understand the British mistake in Northern Ireland is to picture a classroom. It's a kindergarten class, a room with brightly colored walls covered in children's drawings.
Let's call the teacher Stella. The classroom was videotaped as part of a project at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and there is more than enough footage to provide a good sense of the kind of teacher Stella is and the kind of classroom she has. Even after a few minutes, it is abundantly clear that things aren't going well. Stella is sitting in a chair at the front of the room, she's reading out loud from a book that she's holding up to one side, seven slices of tomatoes, eight juicy olives, nine chunks of cheese.
A girl is standing in front of her reading along and all around her. The class is in chaos, a mini version of Belfast in the summer of 1970. A little girl is doing cartwheels across the room, a little boys making faces much as the class seems to be paying no attention at all. Some of the students have actually turned themselves entirely around, so they have their backs to Stella.
If you were to walk in on Stellas class, what would you think? I'm guessing your first reaction would be that she has a group of unruly children. Maybe she teaches in a school in a poor neighborhood and her students come from troubled families, maybe her students come to school without any real respect for authority or learning.
Ladies and Wolf would say that she really needs to use some discipline, children like that need a firm hand. They need rules. If there is no order in the classroom, how can any learning take place? The truth is, though, that Stellas school isn't in some terrible neighborhood, her students aren't particularly or unusually unruly. When the class begins, they are perfectly well behaved and attentive, eager and ready to learn. They don't seem like bad apples at all.
They only start to misbehave well into the lesson and only in response to the way Stella is behaving.
Stella causes the crisis. How so? By doing an appalling job of teaching a lesson. Still ahead, the girl from the class reading alongside her as a way of engaging the rest of the students, but the pacing of the back and forth between the two of them was excruciatingly slow and wouldn't look at her body language.
One of the Virginia researchers, Richard Hamri, said, As we watch Stella right now, she's just talking to this one kid and no one else is getting in. Her colleague Robert Pianta added, There's no rhythm, no pace. This is going nowhere. There's no value in what she's doing. Only then did the class begin to deteriorate, the little boy started making faces when the child started doing cartwheels, Stella missed it entirely. Three or four students to the immediate right of the teacher were still gamely trying to follow along.
But Stella was so locked onto the book that she wasn't giving them any encouragement. Meanwhile, to Stella's left, five or six children had turned themselves around. But that was because they were bewildered, not because they were disobedient. Their view of the book was completely blocked by the little girl standing in front of Stella. They had no way of following along. We often think of authority as a response to disobedience. A child acts up so a teacher cracks down.
Stella's classroom, however, suggests something quite different. Disobedience can also be a response to authority. If the teacher doesn't do her job properly, then the child will become disobedient.
With classrooms like this one, people will call what is happening a behavioral issue, Hamri said, we were watching one of Stellas kids wiggling and squirming and contorting her face and all together, doing whatever she could to avoid her teacher. But one of the things we find is that this sort of thing is more often an engagement problem than a behavioral problem if a teacher is actually doing something interesting. These kids are quite capable of being engaged instead of responding in a let me control your behavior away.
The teacher needs to think, how can I do something interesting that will prevent you from misbehaving in the first place?
The next video Pianta and Hamri played was of a third grade teacher giving homework to her students. Each student was given a copy of the assignment and the teacher in the class read the instructions aloud together. Pianta was aghast. Just the idea that you would be Korrell reading a set of instructions to a bunch of eight year olds is almost disrespectful, he said. I mean, why is there any instructional purpose?
They know how to read like a waiter in a restaurant giving you the menu and then proceeding to read every item to you, just as it appears on the page.
A boy sitting next to the teacher raises his hand midway through the reading, and without looking at him, the teacher reaches out, grabs his wrists and pushes his hand down. Another child starts to actually do the assignment, an entirely logical action given the pointlessness of what the teacher is doing. The teacher addresses him sharply. Sweetie, this is homework. It was a moment of discipline. The child had broken the rules. The teacher had responded firmly and immediately.
If you were to watch that moment with the sound turned off, you would think of it as ledes and Wolf perfectly applied.
But if you were to listen to what the teacher was saying and think about the incident from the child's perspective, it would become clear that it is having anything but its intended effect. The little boy isn't going to come away with a renewed appreciation of the importance of following the rules. He's going to come away angry and disillusioned. Why? Because the punishment is completely arbitrary. He can't speak up and give his own side of the story and he wants to learn.
If that little boy became defiant, it was because his teacher made him that way, just as Stella turned and eager and attentive student and to someone who did cartwheels across the floor.
When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters first and foremost how they behave. This is called the principle of legitimacy and legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today.
And third, the authority has to be fair. It can't treat one group differently from another. All good parents understand these three principles implicitly, if you want to stop little Johnny from hitting his sister, you can't look away one time and scream at him another. You can't treat his sister differently when she hits him. And if he says he really didn't hit his sister, you have to give him a chance to explain himself.
How you punish is as important as the act of punishing itself. Nor is the story of Stella all that surprising. Anyone who has ever sat in a classroom knows that it is important for teachers to earn the respect of their students.
What is harder to understand, however, is the importance of these same principles when it comes to law and order. We know our parents and our teachers, so it makes sense that legitimacy should matter a lot inside the home or the school. But the decision about whether to rob a bank or shoot someone seems like it belongs to a very different category, doesn't it? That's what Ladies and Woolf meant when they said that fighting criminals and insurgents requires neither sympathy nor mysticism.
They were saying that at that level, the decision to obey the law is a function of a rational calculation of risks and benefits. It isn't personal.
But that's precisely where they went wrong, because getting criminals and insurgents to behave turns out to be as dependent on legitimacy as getting children to behave in the classroom. When Laodicean, Wolf, wrote that influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy nor mysticism. They meant that the power of the state was without limits. If you wanted to impose order, you didn't have to worry about what those whom you were ordering about thought of you. You were above that. But the reason Wolf had it backwards, that was the mistake General Freeland made in the lower falls.
He didn't look at what was happening to the eyes of people like Rosemary Lawler. He thought he'd ended the insurgency when he rode around the harsh streets of the lower falls like a British Raj on a tiger hunt. Had he bothered to drive up the street to Ballymurphy, where Harriet Carson was banging the lid to pots and saying, come on, come out, come out, the people in the lower falls are getting murdered. He would have realized the insurgency was just beginning.
July in Northern Ireland is the height of what is known as marching season, when the country's Protestant loyalists organise parades to commemorate their long ago victories over the country's Catholic minority. There are church parades, Arche banner and hall parades, commemorative band parades and blood and thunder and kicked the pope flute band parades. There are parades with full silver bands, parades with bagpipes, parades with accordions and parades with marchers wearing sashes and dark suits and bowler hats. There are hundreds of parades in all involving tens of thousands of people, culminating every year in a massive march on the 12th of July.
That marks the anniversary of the victory by William of Orange in the Battle of the Boyne in 1890, when Protestant control over Northern Ireland was established once and for all. The night before the 12th, as it is known, marches around the country hold street parties and build enormous bonfires when the fire is at its height, the group chooses a symbol to burn. In past years, it has often been an effigy of the pope or some hated local Catholic official.
Here's how one old 12th did. He goes sung to the tune of Clementine. Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, stick a Catholic on the top, put the pope right in the middle and burn the fucking lot. Northern Ireland is not a large country, its cities are dense and compact, and as the loyalists march by summer in their bowler hats and sashes with flutes, they inevitably pass by the neighborhoods of the people whose defeat they are celebrating.
The central artery of Catholic west Belfast is in places no more than a few minutes walk from the street that runs to the heart of Protestant west Belfast. There are places in Belfast where the houses of Catholics back directly onto the back yards of Protestants in such close proximity that each house has a giant metal grate over its backyard to protect the inhabitants against debris or petrol bombs thrown by their neighbors. On the night before the 12th, when loyalists that bonfires around the city, people in Catholic neighborhoods would smell the smoke and hear the chants and see their flag going up in flames.
In marching season, violence always erupts in Northern Ireland, one of the incidents that began the troubles was in 1969 after two days of riots broke out when a parade passed through a Catholic neighborhood. When the marchers went home, they went on a rampage on the streets of West Belfast, burning down scores of homes. The gun battles the following summer that so tried Freeland's patients also happened during Protestant marches. Imagine that every summer, U.S. Army veterans from the northern states paraded through the streets of Atlanta and Richmond to commemorate their long ago victory in the American Civil War.
In the dark years of Northern Ireland, when Catholic and Protestant were at each other's throat. That's what marching season felt like. When the residents of the Lower Falls looked up that afternoon and saw the British army descend on their neighborhood, then they were as desperate as anyone to see law and order enforced in Belfast. But they were equally anxious about how law and order would be enforced. Their world did not seem fair. The 12th, when either their flag or their pope would be burned in giant bonfires, was only days away.
The institution charged with keeping both sides apart during marching season was the police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. But the RUC was almost entirely Protestant. It belonged to the other side. The RUC had done almost nothing to try and stop the riots. The previous summer, a tribunal convened by the British government concluded after the Protestant loyalists had torched houses that the RUC officers had failed to take effective action. Journalists at the scene reported loyalist's going up to police officers and asking them if they could borrow their weapons.
One of the reasons the British army had been brought into Northern Ireland was to serve as an impartial referee between Protestant and Catholic. But England was an overwhelmingly Protestant country, so it seemed only natural to Northern Ireland's beleaguered Catholics that the sympathies of the soldiers would ultimately lie with the Protestants. When a big loyalist march had run through Ballymurphy in the east here before the Lower Falls curfew, British soldiers had stood between the marchers and the residents, ostensibly to act as a buffer.
But the troops faced the Catholics on a sidewalk and stood with their backs to the loyalists as if they saw their job as to protect the loyalists from the Catholics, but not the Catholics from the loyalists. General Freeland was trying to enforce the law in Belfast, but he needed to first ask himself if he had the legitimacy to enforce the law. And the truth is he didn't. He was in charge of an institution that the Catholics of Northern Ireland believed with good reason, was thoroughly sympathetic to the very people who had burned down the houses of their friends and relatives the previous summer.
And when the law is applied in the absence of legitimacy, it does not produce obedience. It produces the opposite. It leads to backlash. The great puzzle of Northern Ireland is why it took the British so long to understand this. In 1969, the troubles resulted in 13 deaths, 73 shootings and eight bombings. In 1970, Freeland decided to get tough with thugs and gunmen, warning that anyone caught throwing gasoline bombs was liable to be shot. What happened?
The historian Desmond Hammil writes, The IRA retaliated by saying that they would shoot soldiers if Irishmen were shot. The Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force, an extreme and illegal paramilitary unit, quickly joined in offering to shoot a Catholic in return for every soldier shot by the IRA. The Times quoted a Belfast citizen saying, Anyone who isn't confused here doesn't really understand what is going on.
That year, there were twenty five deaths, two hundred and thirteen shootings and 155 bombings, the British stood firm, they cracked down even harder. And in 1971 there were hundred and eighty four deaths, 1020 bombings and 1756 shootings. Then the British drew a line in the sand. The army instituted a policy known as internment civil rights in Northern Ireland, where suspended the country was flooded with troops, and the army declared that anyone suspected of terrorist activities would be arrested and held in prison indefinitely without charges or trial.
So many young Catholic men were rounded up during internment that in a neighborhood like Ballymurphy, everyone had a brother or a father or a cousin in prison. If that many people in your life have served time behind bars, does the law seem fair anymore? Does it seem predictable? Does it seem like you can speak up and be heard? Things got even worse in 1972, they were 1495 shootings, 531 armed robberies, 1931 bombings and 497 people killed.
One of those 497 was a 17 year old boy named Ayman. Aymen was Rosemary Lawlor's little brother. Even appeared at my door, Lawler said, he said to me, I'd love to stay here for a day or two, and I said, Why don't you? He said, Ma would have a fit. She would go ballistic. Then he confided in myself and my husband that he was getting harassed by the British army every time he was out every corner.
He turned everywhere he went. They were stopping him and they threatened him. Was he actually working with the IRA? She didn't know and she said it didn't matter. We were all suspects in their eyes, she went on, that's the way it was. And a man was shot, shot by a British soldier, him another fellow. We're having a smoke. And one shot rang out and Aymond got it. He lived for 11 weeks. He died on the 16th of January.
At 17 and a half years of age, she began to tear up. My father never worked again at the dock, my mother was destroyed, heartbroken. It's 40 years ago this year. It's still rough. Lawler was a young wife and mother living what she had expected would be a normal life in modern Belfast, but then she lost her home. She was threatened and harassed. Her relatives down the hill were imprisoned in their homes. Her brother was shot and killed.
She never wanted any of it nor asked for any of it, nor could even make sense of what happened. That was my life, my whole new life, she said, and then this was forced upon me and I go, this is not right, you know, here are my people I grew up with in school being burnt out of their houses. The British army that came in to protect us has now turned on us and is wrecking and ruining.
I became hooked. I don't mean that flippantly. I became that way because I can't sit in the house while this is going on. I can't be a nine to five mother.
People call it the troubles, she continued, it was war, the British army was out there with armored cars and weapons and you name it, that's a war zone we lived in. The British army came in here with every means that they had available to put us down. And we were like rubber dolls. We'd just bounce back up again. Don't get me wrong, we got hurt on the way down. A lot of people had heartache. I suffered from anger for a long, long time.
And I've apologized to my children for that. But the circumstances dictated that it wasn't how I was. I wasn't born that way. This was forced upon me. When General Freeland's men descended on the lower falls, the first thing the neighbors did was to run to St. Peter's Cathedral, the local Catholic Church, just a few blocks away, the defining feature of the lower falls, like so many of the other Catholic neighborhoods of West Belfast, was its religiosity.
St. Peter's was the heart of the neighborhood. 400 people would attend mass at St. Peter's on a typical weekday. The most important man in the community was the local priest. He came running. He went up to the soldiers. The raid must be done quickly, he warned them, or they would be trouble. Forty five minutes passed and the soldiers emerged with their whole 15 pistols, a rifle, a Schmeiser submachine gun and a cache of explosives and ammunition.
The patrol packed up and left, turning onto a side street that would take them out of the lower falls. In the interim, however, a small crowd had gathered, and as the armored cars turned the corner, a number of young men ran forward and started throwing stones at the soldiers. The patrol stopped. The crowd grew angry. The soldiers responded with tear gas. The crowd grew angrier. Stones turned to petrol bombs and petrol bombs to bullets.
A taxi driver said he'd seen someone carrying a submachine gun heading for Balkan's Street. The rioters set up roadblocks to slow the Army's advance. A truck was set ablaze one block away, blocking the end of the street. The soldiers fired even more tear gas until the wind had carried it clear across the lower falls. The crowd grew angrier still. Why did the patrol stop? Why didn't they just keep going? Lingering in the neighborhood is exactly what the priest told them not to do.
The priest went back to the soldiers and pleaded with them again. If they stopped the tear gas, he said, he would get the crowd to stop throwing stones. The soldiers didn't listen. Their instructions were to get tough and be seen to get tough with thugs and gunmen. The priest turned back towards the crowd. As he did, the soldiers fired off another round of tear gas. The canisters fell at the feet of the priest and he staggered across the street, leaning on a window sill as he gasped for air.
In a neighborhood so devout that 400 people would show up for mass. On a typical weekday, the British army gassed the priest. That was when the riots started, Freelon called in reinforcements to subdue a community of 8000 people packed into tiny houses along narrow streets. The British brought in 3000 troops and not just any troops to a fiercely Catholic neighborhood. Freelon brought in soldiers from the Royal Scots, one of the most obviously unselfconsciously Protestant regiments in the entire Army Army helicopters circling overhead, ordering the residents by megaphone to stay inside their homes.
Roadblocks were placed at every exit. A curfew was declared and a systematic house by house search began. 20 and 21 year old soldiers, still smarting from the indignity of being pelted with stones and petrol bombs, forced their way into home after home, punching holes in walls and ceilings, ransacking bedrooms. Listen to one of those British soldiers looking back on what happened that night.
A guy still in his pajamas came out cursing, wielding a lamp and whack Stan across the head stand, dodged the next one and ducked the bloke with his rifle. But I knew full well that a lot of the lads were taking this opportunity to vent their anger over things already done. Heads were being cracked and houses trashed from top to bottom everything. And the houses became a mass of rubble. But out of a blur, little sharp details still cut through school photos, smiley family pictures, cracked trinkets and crucifixes snapped kids crying, crunching on the glass of the pope's picture.
Unfinished meals and bad wallpaper colored toys and TV noise and radio crackle painted plates, shoes, a body in the hall flattened against the wall. This is when I did feel like we had invaded. 337 people were arrested that night, 60 were injured. Charles O'Neill, a disabled Air Force veteran, was run over and killed by a British armoured car as his body lay on the ground. One of the soldiers poked a bystander with a baton and said, Move on, you Irish bastard.
There were not enough of you dead. A man named Thomas Burns was shot by a soldier on the Falls Road at 8pm as he stood with a friend who was boarding up the windows of his store when his sister came to pick up his body. She was told he had no business being on the street at that time. At 11 pm, an elderly man named Patrick Elliman thinking the worst was over, went out in his bedroom slippers and shirtsleeves for a pre bedtime stroll.
He died in a burst of army gunfire. One of the neighborhood accounts of the curfew says of elements death. That very night, British troops actually entered and quartered themselves in the shop man's home, the distraught sister having been moved to the other brothers up the street. This tasteless intrusion into the abandoned home was discovered the next afternoon during the interval in the curfew when the brother, with his daughter and son in law went down to the house and found the door broken down, a window broken kit lying on the floor, shaving tackle on the city and used cups in a scullery.
Neighbors informed them that the soldiers had dust down in the upstairs rooms as well. A door broken down, a window broken, dirty dishes left in the sink. Ladies and Wolf believed that all the counts are rules and rational principles, but what actually matters are the hundreds of small things that the powerful do or don't do to establish their legitimacy, like sleeping in the bed of an innocent man you just shot accidentally and scattering your belongings around his house.
By Sunday morning, the situation inside the lower falls was growing desperate, the lower Falls was not a wealthy neighborhood. Many of the adults were unemployed or if they were not relied on piecework, the streets were crowded and the homes were narrow, cheaply built, 19th century terraced red brick row houses with one room to a floor and bathrooms in the backyard. Very few houses had a refrigerator. They were dark and damp. People bought bread daily because it grew moldy otherwise.
But the curfew was now 36 hours old and there was no bread left. The Catholic neighborhoods of West Belfast are packed so tightly together and linked by so many ties of marriage and blood, that word spread quickly from one to the next about the plight of the lower falls. Harriet Carson walks through Ballymurphy, banging together the lids of pots. Next came a woman named Mary Drum. She had a bullhorn. She began walking to the streets, shouting out to the women, come out, fill your prams with bread and milk.
The children haven't gotten any food. The women started to gather in groups of two and four and 10 and 20 until they numbered in the thousands, some people still had their rollers in their hair and their scarves over their head, Lawler remembers. We linked arms and sang We Shall Overcome. We Shall Overcome Someday. We got down to the bottom of the hill, she went on, the atmosphere was electric, the Brits were standing with their helmets and their guns already.
Their batons were out. We turned and went down the Grosvenor Road singing and shouting. I think the Brits were in or they couldn't believe that these women with prams were coming down to take them on. I remember seeing one Brit standing there scratching his head, going, what do we do with all these women? Do we go into riot situation here? Then we turned on the street where the school was, my school and the Brits were there. They come flying out of the school and there was hand-to-hand fighting.
We got the hair pulled out of us. The Brits just grabbed us, threw us up against the walls. Oh, I, they beat us like and if you fell, you had to get up very quickly because you didn't want to get trampled. They came out with brutality. I remember standing up on top of a car and having a look at what was going on in the front. Then I saw a man with shaving cream on his face and putting his braces on and all of a sudden the soldiers stopped beating us.
The man putting his braces on was the commanding officer of the State Street checkpoint. He might have been the only voice of sanity on the British side that day, the only one who understood the full dimensions of the catastrophe unfolding. A heavily armed group of soldiers was beating up a group of pram pushing women coming to feed the children of the lower falls, he told his men to stop. You have to understand the march was still coming down the road and the people at the back had no clue what was going on at the front, Lolla went on.
They kept coming. Women were crying. People started coming out of their houses, pulling people in because there were so many injured. Once all the people started coming out of their houses, the Brits lost control. Everyone came out on the streets, hundreds and hundreds of people. It was like a domino effect. One street that come out. Next thing you know, doors are opening on another street, another street and another street. The Brits gave up.
They had their hands up, the women forced. And we forced and we forced until we got in and we got in and we broke the curfew. I've often thought about it. God, it was like everybody was jubilant. It was like we did it. I remember coming home and suddenly felt very shaky and upset and nervous about the whole episode. You know, I remember speaking to my father about it afterward, I said, Daddy, your words came true.
They turned on us and he said, true British army. That's what they do. He was right. They turned on us. And that was the start of it.