Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 28, 1962

Guest post by Samanvay Kasarala, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

On April 28, 1962, the Indianapolis Recorder published an article about police brutality called “Aide Balks During Brutality Probe.” This article reports on the police brutality of a man named John A. Matthews while he was locked up and at the General Hospital where he was taken for the injuries he sustained. Richard Pipkin, an x-ray technician and a key witness, told the Recorder that at a hearing a week earlier he had not divulged all of the facts about the case. The article quotes him saying that “he had only assumed police had beaten Matthews because he was ‘loud’ and ‘boisterous’ when they first took him into an x-ray room and ‘subdued’ when they brought him out. He added that Matthews told him afterwards that police had beaten him while in the x-ray room.” Pipkin continues saying, “the officers asked that the prisoner be given a skull x-ray, contending that he had fallen and cut his head…when Matthews became ‘loud’ and ‘boisterous’ one of the officers took out his billy club and hit Matthews over the head.” Pipkin quoted the officers as saying, “If we had you in Georgia we’d make quick work of you.”

This article is particularly interesting to me because it shows what police brutality was back in the 1960s and what it is now. What we have seen in the past few years is an increase in reports of police misusing their powers. In some cases, there have been allegations of racist motivations. What is shown in this article is how this was a much more open practice. Open racism seems to have been the modus operandi for police when dealing with people of color as is presented in this article. However, what has surprised me was the nature of tolerance displayed by those surrounding the situation, except for Richard Pipkin.

Further reading of the article reveals that a third officer came in and harassed Matthews, and that all three then took Matthews into a backroom and beat him. Pipkin alerted a nurse who gave him no reaction to the situation. The article says, “Pipkin asked a doctor if there wasn’t something he could do about the incident, but he said the doctor told him ‘you’d better give him another x-ray when they’ve finished.’” This is a clear presentation of a tolerance of injustice. It shows that some police misused their power for racially motivated assault. What is interesting about this is that it’s not all too uncommon now. We’ve seen so many cases like this in this day and age, and all it really came down to is race. It’s interesting to point out how things surrounding this has shifted. However, this also points to a bigger situation wherein lower-income housing was being targeted by the 1949 housing act. In the time between 1949 and 1968, 425,000 units were razed and 125,000 units (mostly luxury) were constructed. Only 10,760 units of public housing was built. What this shows is a general lack of care for lower-income citizens, and most of these lower-income citizens were immigrants or people of color. So, when looking at this article about police brutality, it’s easy to see where this concept comes from and how it impacts our entire social fabric. We see that people showed an indifference in the way they treated police brutality cases, and we see that federal housing and development plans showed an indifference of lower-income neighborhoods.

The article goes on to mention the account of an African-American employee. He said, “Many, many Negroes are beaten here every Friday and Saturday night throughout the year.” Pipkin later said “he did not tell all the facts because he felt the other witnesses involved had let him down.” This is the general air of the entire article and shows how everyone involved is showing a complete irreverence to justice for the victim. The three policemen didn’t get a conviction, and the case was closed. 

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