Around noon on March 31, 1912, a crier waved a red banner down Fifth Street. “The public is invited to Seventh and B Streets at 2:30,” the banner announced, “to attend the funeral of Michael Hoey, who died in the cause of Free Speech.”
A large man chased the crier down, hooked him around the neck, and slammed him to the pavement. Then the man loaded his mouth with saliva and spit on the “emblem of anarchy.”
At 2:30, the doors opened at Johnson, Connell, & Saum’s Mortuary. Harry Daggett emerged first. He wore a frayed, three-piece suit and hoisted a red flag. Behind him came 20 IWW “Wobblies.” As six men carried Hoey’s casket two blocks from the mortuary to the vacant lot at Seventh and B, angry onlookers assembled on the sidewalks.
“That’s how contemptible they are,” said a sailor from the USS Maryland, “using the sanctity of death to protect them.”
“Too cowardly otherwise,” added another.
When the cortege reached the vacant lot, free-speech supporters awaited them. Daggett stepped to the side.
“Get the fellow with the red flag,” someone shouted. “That’s too much!”
Detective Harvey Shepherd raised a hand: “Don’t interrupt the service,” he said. “I’ll get him.”
At the station, Daggett told police he didn’t know what the flag meant. He’d become the “color bearer” because Mike Hoey was his friend “and a good man.” Asked if he was a Wobbly, Daggett said no, but he believed in most of their principles and would let better minds than his plan solutions. When Daggett left the station, wrote the Union, he had to run a gauntlet of “hisses, hoots, and jeers from the crowd outside.”
Gray-haired Michael Hoey was an IWW veteran of free-speech fights in Spokane and Fresno. Arrested during the first week of protests in San Diego, Hoey spent 40 days in city jail. Although they denied it, Hoey swore that three officers — rookie patrolman Irwin, in particular — clubbed and kicked him repeatedly in the groin. Cramped with over 100 prisoners in a cell built for 60, Hoey had to sleep on a cement floor and eat inedible food. “When I asked Dr. Claude Magee [the police surgeon] for a laxative, he gave me an emetic, which caused such violent vomiting that I became seriously ill.”
On March 21, Magee sent Hoey, a man in his mid-60s, in an ambulance to Agnew Hospital with a note: the patient is in “practically normal condition,” but suffers from an old rupture. Seven days later, Hoey died.
A coroner’s jury diagnosed bronchial pneumonia and found “no evidence of violence.”
Dr. Deville of Agnew Hospital disagreed. Hoey died from unsanitary conditions at the jail, Deville told the San Diego Sun, and “police brutality.”
On March 31, Hoey’s gaunt body lay stretched across a cloth-covered catafalque at the vacant lot. Laura Payne Emerson, IWW member and wife of a local jeweler, gave a eulogy. Hoey, she said, was “an offering on the altar of free speech.” She quoted him: “I have nothing to give but myself, and life is not worth living when all liberty is gone.” In the last two months, she concluded, the test of an illegal ordinance had swelled into “threats of vengeance, from quarters unexpected.”
During Hoey’s days behind bars, violence by police and San Diegans escalated from denial of wrongdoing to overt, “patriotic” action.
“Although San Diego had less to fear from the Wobblies than either Spokane or Fresno,” writes Melvyn Dubofsky, “it nevertheless acted more savagely to repress free speech…. No brutality proved beyond the imagination of San Diego’s ‘good citizens.’”
On March 18, the Union reported that police stopped “a gang of dynamiters whose sinister plots included the wrecking of San Diego buildings and industrial plants.” Police chief Keno Wilson said that A.E. Hawley, owner of a gun store in Santa Ana, couldn’t account for a half-ton of dynamite stored in a barn. At first, police assumed Hawley was pro-IWW, since he’d sent a dollar “to buy the boys in the San Diego jail tobacco.” But he denied any affiliation with the Wobblies and with Jack Whyte, the alleged ringleader.
Whyte became notorious for telling the First Baptist Church men’s club that he recognized no flag, no law, no constitution, and did not believe in God or any country.
Two days later, Councilman Dodson announced that the dynamite hadn’t disappeared, after all. An inventory erred when weighing the load.
Judge Sloane sentenced Whyte anyway: six months and a $300 fine for conspiracy. At his trial, Whyte exploded: “The indictment is a lie…. You cowards throw the blame upon the people, but I know who is to blame and I name them: it is [Joseph] Spreckels and his partners in business, and the court is the lackey of that class, defending the property of that class against the advancing horde of starving American workers.”
Although the dynamite scare was unfounded, the original announcement prompted formation of the Citizens Committee of 1000. They volunteered to help police protect the city and take “undesirable characters to the county line and assist them northward, by more or less impelling force.”
The Union applauded giving protesters the “most effective assistance” out of town. What the Union didn’t say: the “Vigilance Committee” made public what had been done in private from the start.
The March 22 Incident
The city and county jails held over 250 inmates. On March 22, Chief Wilson announced that, from now on, police would make “selective arrests” — just leaders of the movement — and deport those in jail to the city limits.
On March 23, rumors spread that the night before, several trucks had driven prisoners to the train station at Sorrento Valley. Unmasked civilians, calling themselves the new Vigilance Committee, ordered handcuffed captives to form a single line. What followed was a “going-away party.” Vigilantes beat the men with clubs and axe handles, then told them to walk to Orange County.
Chief Wilson denied knowledge of the incident. The Union said he “was inclined to laugh” at the allegation. Chief of Detectives Myers, labeled a “Cossack” by protesters, said that, for all he knew, the prisoners “merely started on their way.”
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