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Date: Sun, 06 Oct 2002 21:27:27 -0700
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Kill all the niggers you can,' said the cop. So they made him mayor
'Kill all the niggers you can,' said the cop. So they made him mayor
Ex-policeman on trial for complicity in murder during American race riots
Ed Vulliamy in York, Pennsylvania
Sunday October 6, 2002
The blast that gunned down young Lillie Belle Allen was so strong it blew
her out of her shoes. Her assailants pumped another 100 rounds into the car
from which Lillie had emerged, while she tried to crawl across the Tarmac,
dying by the railroad line.
Lillie had had the temerity to venture with her sister Dickson on to the
white side of town. Dickson, driving, saw a sniper's barrel pointing at her,
panicked and froze. Lillie took the wheel and opened the passenger door to
move round. 'Don't shoot! Don't shoot!' she screamed. The fusillade
continued until a police armoured van arrived and a man stepped out of it.
'It's me,' he said, apparently the man in charge, 'Charlie.'
That was July 1969. But only last week has 'Charlie' faced his accusers in
court - along with two of the armed white gang he greeted - charged with
Lillie's murder. The trial - following others in Alabama and Mississippi
over the past eight years - forms part of America's attempt to stare a past
of racist violence in the face.
But the case of Charlie Robertson is different from others. This was no
'Mississippi Burning'; this is not the formerly segregated South, this is
the industrial North: York, Pennsylvania, a heavy manufacturing town, the
home of Harley Davidson motorcycles. And Charlie is no backwoods redneck or
Ku Klux Klansman.
He was a cop at the time of Lillie's murder, then became the popular mayor
of Harley town, the 'White Rose City' of York. His arrest in May 2001 came
just before primary elections that would almost certainly have led to a
third term in office.
The York City Council voted last week to ask the US Justice Department to
investigate further police involvement in the murder. But one of those who
voted against the motion was its leader, city president Mary Bacas - seen as
loyal to Robertson - who said the mayor had been unduly singled out.
The all-white jury in this 96 per cent white town sat stone-faced as the
prosecution read out its case; so did Lillie's family, up from South
Carolina. Her sister, Jennie Settles, shed a tear.'
The police of the predominantly white police force made an uneasy alliance
with the white gangs in town,' said prosecutor Thomas Kelley, pointing at
the man in the dock. But the mayor is charged with more than forging an
alliance with racist murderers - he is charged with complicity in the murder
This - gleaned from the trial thus far - is what happened on the night of 21
July 1969, the subject of collective amnesia in York ever since
A young black boy died of burns and the African-American community blamed
the police - wrongly, as it happens, but the incident was a spark to ignite
decades of frustration and repression.
On the third night of rioting, a young patrol officer, Henry Schaad, was
shot dead. Next day, a rally of white mobs was addressed by Robertson, who
led a chant of 'White power!'
That, says his defence, is all he did. 'He did some dumb things but it's not
murder,' insisted lawyer William Costopoulos.
But the evidence of Robert son's co-defendants - as well as the prosecutor's
account - suggest he did more than whip up the crowd. After the rally,
Robertson drove to a cigar shop that was a meeting point for the Newberry
Street Gang, one of those whom police officers had advised to arm up to help
'protect' their neighbourhood.
There, he is accused of having given out ammunition to the vigilantes and
other residents, urging them to 'kill as many niggers as you can - the score
'I got the impression from Mr Robertson's actions that we were kind of in
the right, and we had somebody backing us up,' said Stewart Aldinger, one of
Another, Fred Flickinger, said Robertson told him: 'You know, if I weren't a
cop, I'd be out leading commando raids in the black neighbourhoods.'
This was the tinderbox Lillie Belle Allen and her sister drove into as they
turned down Newberry Street.
Robertson had been little liked as a policeman and was promoted only twice
in 29 years. He made no bones about his hatred of blacks and was reprimanded
for slapping a black woman he was taking into custody. He was and is a
religious man, and decided his devotion to sports made it impossible for him
He won his popularity through involvement in baseball and basketball. Teams
were named after him: 'Robbie's Chargers' and 'Robbie's Racers'. By being
elected mayor, Robertson achieved his only ambition in life. He did the job
well, they agree in York's pizza parlours.
For 30 years, the toll of the riots was buried and forgotten. Robertson
himself gave the brutally candid assessment of their forgotten history
shortly after his arrest: 'Everyone knew who had been involved, but everyone
just thought it was even. One black had been killed, and one white. Even.'
But 1999 arrived: the local paper, the York Despatch, put together a
thirtieth anniversary riots issue. Reporters from the paper tried to trace
the Newberry Street Gang, and kept bumping into the name of the esteemed
On the basis of the reports, the district attorney's office reopened the
files on the Schaad and Lillie murders.
Three of the Newberry Street Gang had committed suicide, but a fourth, Mark
Barr - suffering from terminal cancer - agreed to talk. Another, Donald
Atland, settled down into a stable, churchgoing life, told the investigators
little, but all that night his wife heard the full story.
Next morning, he drove to a favourite fishing spot on the Susquehanna river
and shot himself. Soon after, a detective and state trooper asked the mayor
for an appointment. A month later, York's first citizen was led from his
office in handcuffs.
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