Why Are Our Politicians So Fond of Cop-killers?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Why are our politicians so fond of cop-killers? This past week we saw the disturbing attitude expressed in Albany and here in Croton.

Our televisions were filled with the beaming smile of Judith Clark, who was a getaway driver (armed with a 9mm handgun) for the 1981 Brinks robbery, where her fellow self-described “revolutionaries” killed Nyack police officers Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly Brown, along with Brinks guard Peter Paige.

Edward O’Grady, “Chipper” Brown, and Peter Paige will never walk the streets of Nyack again but Judith Clark is being paroled to walk the streets, having been granted clemency because Governor Cuomo chatted with Ms. Clark and came away smitten with “a sense of her soul… almost transparent as a personality.”

Governor Cuomo is more transparent than Croton Mayor Pugh. In his official “Mayor Brian Pugh” Facebook post last week, Mr. Pugh put up a clipping about the Italians striking at New Croton Dam 119 years ago, together with an FDR quote praising “immigrants and revolutionists.” Having grown up in Croton, Mr. Pugh ought to be familiar with the April 1900 incident at New Croton Dam.

History is a messy thing because the people who make history happen are complex. In the case of New Croton Dam, Mr. Pugh is well aware that this was no labor action or “strike” in the sense we use the term today.

At the Dam, “revolutionists” murdered a cop in cold blood while hiding in the darkness of night. Afterward a cheer rolled through the hills of Croton as news of the assassination spread across the worker’s encampment.

croton dam strike.jpg

The workers who built New Croton Dam were rough men (plus a few women) living in a rough time. They were poorly paid and overworked, as was common at that time. There was a lot of fighting and even murder, fueled by anger and alcohol: the Croton of April 1900 had some very dangerous neighborhoods. There were also tensions between the skilled immigrant laborers and their less-skilled countrymen. Tensions existed between immigrants working on the Dam and immigrants who made their living supplying goods and services to the construction project.

Immigrants at the Dam were oppressed and oppressor—sometimes the same person was both.

The NY State wage and hour law changes of 1900 resulted in a serious financial problem for the companies building the Dam under a government contract which did not anticipate such legislation, as Albany ultimately recognized with a 1902 law resulting in the builders being able to retroactively recover a large amount to recoup for increased labor costs.

Robert Douglass was a Westchester County Deputy Sheriff, a native of Mt. Vernon called up as a Sergeant in the NY National Guard. Douglass was a law enforcement officer doing his job, shot down by a coward hiding in the forest. He was on duty there because some of the workers at New Croton Dam had taken knives and clubs, beating workers and vendors who did not support the strike.

Most importantly, Robert Douglass was there because the strikers had made explicit threats to use explosives on buildings and even threatened to blow up the Dam itself.

Neither the employers nor the workers at New Croton Dam in April 1900 were as one-dimensional as today’s Croton politicians would have us believe. That does not change the fact that Robert Douglass was a human being, killed because he was a law enforcement officer doing his job here in Croton.

Why are our politicians so fond of cop-killers? This past week we saw the disturbing attitude expressed in Albany and here in Croton.

Mr. Pugh’s choice of the FDR quote from 1938 is offensive on several levels. April 19 is the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. Back in 1938 it was common to commemorate that event, which is why President Roosevelt was speaking to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and why he referred to “immigrants and revolutionists.”

There is a big difference between the shot heard round the world in April 1775 and the cowardly shooting of Sergeant Douglass at New Croton Dam in April 1900.

FDR’s speech did not commemorate cop killers. His Patriot’s Day speech to the DAR in April 1938 commemorated “immigrants and revolutionists” at Lexington and Concord who established what is now the United States of America.

Today the commemoration of April 19, 1775 known as “Patriot’s Day” is primarily celebrated in Massachusetts on the third Monday in April. It is the reason the Boston Marathon is run on that day. Many of us only know of Patriot’s Day because of the eponymous movie documenting the 2013 attack by the Tsarnaev brothers. For Mr. Pugh to take portions of any Patriot’s Day speech to celebrate people who killed a cop is more than historically tone-deaf; it has painful resonance in our own time.

The Tsarnaevs regarded themselves as immigrant revolutionists, but I don’t think that we would apply the FDR quote to them, despite the fact that the Tsarnaevs assassinated Officer Sean Collier after blowing up bombs at the Boston Marathon.

A century from now, will a future Mayor of Croton use the FDR quote about “immigrants and revolutionists” to apply to the Tsarnaevs? Will a future Governor of New York speak of the Tsarnaevs’ “sense of soul?” I don’t know.

I do know that just because you call yourself a revolutionary does not justify killing a cop.

Let Croton political leaders celebrate “immigrants and revolutionists” who killed a Westchester police officer at New Croton Dam. Croton residents should celebrate the man the revolutionists murdered in the night: Sergeant Robert Douglass.

Paul Steinberg