Lawrence My Hometown
Clarence Darrow, F. Lee Bailey and Morris Ravitch
By Richard E. Noble
I have written about this event in my mini-novel A Summer with Charlie, but now here’s “the rest of the story.”
The Salisbury police busted into our little castle on Old Town Way and threw a bunch of us into the pokey. Those of us who were the victims of this brutality on the part of the Salisbury police decided that we would take this group of ruffians to court. After all, we were all mature, responsible adults at the time of our arrest and it was unanimous that these make believe, wannabe flatfoots had grossly overstepped their authority. Who did they think they were dealing with here - a bunch of kids? So what if we had a few beers and were a little rowdy. We were old enough to drink – most of us. We paid for our booze. We paid our cottage rent. We contributed to the financial success of the 5 O’clock Club, and the Normandy, and the Kon Tiki, Mac Jenney’s, the Edward’s Hotel and the Bowery and everywhere man! We were a positive attribute of the Salisbury economic community. We should have been treated with some respect! We weren’t a bunch of punk kids sitting out on the corner no more. We were adults and should be treated accordingly. We worked for a living. We collected paychecks. We were big boys now. We had this same cottage for the last three years in a row. We didn’t get thrown out. The place had not been condemned or anything like that. We decided to contest our fines and seek damages for being abused, mistreated, manhandled, harassed, and humiliated. We got a court date.
In the weeks before our day in court, we decided to solicit character witnesses from our beach neighborhood on Old Town Way. Most of the neighbors agreed that we had not caused a disturbance on the night in question. Of course, many of them were guys we knew who were also from Lawrence or Lowell or Haverhill and had rented their own cottage. Nevertheless a number of them agreed to come and testify on our behalf.
This was all well and good but we needed a “credible” witness. There was good old George and his family who lived across the way and few doors down. He was a nice guy. We had him and his wife over to our place many times for a beer and some pizza or an Italian Hogie from Lena’s or Tony’s (Papalardo’s) Subs. He was not only a real person but also a retired cop from Haverhill. We decided to go over and talk to him about our situation.
When we told him that we had been arrested for disturbing the peace he was shocked. He was right there in his cottage that night and he never heard a thing.
“Would you come to court and testify for us, George?”
“You are darn right, I will! These guys down here aren’t even real police. They’re a bunch of part-time bozos who want to be important. I don’t know how they get off arresting you guys.”
“All right, George!”
When our day in court finally arrived, we gathered up all our buddies and went and got George. As we wandered, nervously around the court house, who do we bump into? Why, none other than the most famous barrister in all of Lawrence, Morris Ravitch.
When Morris found out that we were defending ourselves in this endeavor. He shook his head sadly and said, “That could be a big mistake, boys. You know the old saying; A man who is his own defense often ends up with a fool for his attorney. If I were you guys, I wouldn’t go in there without a lawyer.”
“Yeah, but we can’t afford no lawyer.”
“What the heck are you talking about? How many accused do we have here?”
“There’s six of us.”
“Okay, you got ten bucks each?” We all began shuffling through our billfolds and we each gave Morris ten bucks.
“Okay boys, you’re all set. I’ll see you in court.”
“Don’t you need to know about our case?”
“Oh yeah, what happened to you guys anyway?”
We told Morris our whole story and introduced him to George and all the rest of our witnesses.
The Salisbury cops gave their side of the story first: We were loud and noisy. All the neighbors had been calling. We were all drunks. We were out in the middle of the street waving beer bottles around. We were sitting on top of cars. We were yelling and screaming and using abusive language. We had the radio blearing. There were half naked, underage girls everywhere, and yeahti, yeahti, yeahti – the same old same old we had heard a million times.
We were all dressed in our Sunday best. One by one we told the judge of the physical and psychological abuse that had scarred our personalities – probably for the rest of our lives. We showed the judge the marks still on our wrists from the handcuffs. We contested the drunken issue and why shouldn’t girls be half naked – this was Salisbury Beach for god’s sake. Everybody is half naked at the beach. If any of the girls were under age they weren’t under by much and they had never mentioned it to any of us. Yes we may have been sitting on cars but they were our cars, parked in our parking spaces. But we took a special exception to the noise accusation. At this point Morris started calling the neighbors to testify.
The judge didn’t seem to be buying a word of it until Morris brought up old George, the retired Haverhill policeman. The Judge even knew George. Morris asked George if he had heard the aforementioned social disturbance.
“I’ll tell ya, I didn’t hear a thing. These kids are all great. I live right across the street. I have even been over to their cottage. These are all good boys.”
“You didn’t hear a lot of screaming and yelling?”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“You didn’t hear anything?” Morris emphasized. “You live right across the street and you didn’t hear any noise? You didn’t hear the alleged loud music? You didn’t hear boys and girls screaming and yelling?”
“Nothing! I didn’t hear anything.”
“My god, are you deaf or what?” one of the accusing cops burst from his seat.”
“Well,” George said. “I have been having a little trouble lately. The doctor says that my right ear is completely gone but my left ear is still working at about 50 percent. I don’t hear everything these days. I have to keep the TV volume up pretty high. But I’m getting by.”
The judge fined each of us forty bucks apiece. We didn’t get any jail time though. Thank-you Mr. Morris Ravitch, attorney at law.
Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published six books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry -parts of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle.