• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

On April 20, 1912, police chief Keno Wilson sent a letter to commissioner Harris Weinstock, who was investigating San Diego’s infamous Free Speech Fight. “In no instance,” wrote Wilson, “has any police officer of this city assaulted, abused, or maltreated in any way, any person whom he has taken in charge, either as an IWW or otherwise.”

A few days later, Weinstock interviewed Julius Tum, a tailor from Germany. The “poor, inoffensive, harmless young man” — Weinstock’s words — had come to San Diego and joined the local union. After a long search, on March 26 he landed a job with J.W. Brem, a prominent tailor, and, says Brem, did “satisfactory work.”

His second day on the job, Tum wore a red tie. Within the hour, police arrested him. When Chief Wilson asked why red, Tum replied, “Why do you wear a blue one?” Convinced Tum hadn’t heard of the IWW or socialism, Wilson let him go. On his way home, out of curiosity Tum stopped at IWW headquarters at 13th and K, and bought some ten-cent pamphlets.

The next time he wore the red tie, on April 4, three policemen burst into the shop. “You’re wanted at city jail,” blurted one, as the others cuffed and dragged Tum out the door. This time, Wilson said, “Give him the same as the rest.”

Officers shoved Tum into the back seat of a patrol car. On the ride north, two rifles were pointed at his chest. Other cars — police and civilian — carried other prisoners. The caravan drove to the city limits at Sorrento Valley, where vigilantes awaited them at the police substation.

A large American flag hung from a long beam. “Kiss it,” one ordered Tum.

“I had no objection,” Tum told Weinstock, “and said I would.” But as he stepped forward, a club bashed the back of his head so hard, he thought his skull had split. “Then others crowded around and showered blows with clubs and stones on my body. They aimed at my head and face and rarely missed. This beating lasted for about 20 minutes.”

Feeling the fog of at least one concussion, Tum dragged himself off. Behind him, he heard grunts and cries and the crack of breaking bone.

Vigilantes herded their prey into cars. They drove to the county line at San Onofre, where an even larger mob — of police, constables, and civilians — searched them and took Tum’s money.

From photos shown him later, Tum identified several vigilantes. Francis J. Bierman, a writer for the San Diego Union, was “in command,” Tum said, which explained why they called him “Captain.” Officer Charles de Lacour and detectives Joe Myers and Harry Sheppard stood close by, as did J.M. Porter, Walter P. Moore, and Ed Walsh — “the last three,” Tum told the Los Angeles Express, “are real-estate men.”

R.J. “Ed” Walsh had instigated the free-speech fight in January, when he drove his car into a crowd at Soapbox Row.

They threw Tum, “dripping with blood,” into a cattle coral. For at least 90 minutes, prisoners marched two-by-two in a large circle, holding their hands in the air. Then they had to sleep on piles of manure.

The next morning, an officer told Bierman that Tum “isn’t an IWW.”

“Well, I don’t like his face,” Bierman retorted. “Give him the same dose as the rest.”

The officer led Tum and the others to the railroad tracks, where a mob, standing in two long rows, awaited them “armed with blackjacks, black snakes, and clubs.”

Someone ordered Tum to kneel down and kiss the flag. When he did, a boot kicked him into the gauntlet.

“I made a run for it, but was knocked down and so badly beaten that, when I finally escaped, I lay in the grass for two days before I had the strength to move.”

Tum had left money, clothes, and a job in San Diego. A few weeks later, a friend told him that, since Tum wasn’t IWW, he could go back. But when his boss saw the welts and bruises, he was afraid to rehire him. Tum found work in another shop.

Though not part of the free-speech fight, Tum was living evidence of brutality. Assistant District Attorney McKee tracked him down. He ordered Tum to promise he’d never sue the city for what he’d suffered. Tum refused.

The next day, police again arrested Tum. Detective Sheppard handcuffed him to other prisoners, “like a felon.” Sheppard ordered the group to trudge 19 miles to Sorrento Valley in a driving rain.

“You are free men,” the officer said, as he unlocked their cuffs at the substation. “You can defend yourself against the citizens.”

Tum saw the familiar and terrible sight: twisted faces, irate eyes, rolled-up sleeves; clubs, axe handles, and wagon spokes, many smeared with blood. Though he’d hobble-walked in mud for over four hours, Tum made a dead run for his life.

“I had profited from my former experiences,” he said, “and I lit out for the mountains. They yelled at me to come back and shot at me. I was wet through and through and numb with cold.”

He eventually reached Los Angeles and vowed to tell his story to the highest authorities, which included Commissioner Weinstock and later governor Hiram Johnson.

In his report, Weinstock wrote that Tum’s “sacred rights…were trampled under foot by men who, in the name of law and order, proved themselves to be the bitterest enemies of law and order.” Weinstock compared the treatment to “despotic and tyrannic” Tsarist Russia.

Weinstock had conducted open hearings in the grand-jury room of the courthouse April 18–20. His report, and comments about Tum, came out a month later. By then the free-speech fight had added new chapters.

Days after Weinstock left San Diego, District Attorney Utley drew up a 14-page “memorial” to governor Hiram Johnson. Worried Johnson would send troops — or that Weinstock would expose ongoing vigilante violence — the document justified San Diego’s right to defend itself without state intervention: “We believe that it is our duty…to maintain and uphold good order within the boundaries of this city at any cost…and we have the right to resist the invaders to the utmost.”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 7 | Part 8

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


dwjacobs June 30, 2012 @ 6:21 p.m.

San Diego has always been something of a country of its own... with the roots of public actions usually quite deeply hidden, the trunk and branches a bit more visible, while the leafy public pronouncements veil almost everything. It's also interesting to review this material, and see how common and global these vigilante techniques of terror turned out to be. You can see some form of the righteous "1000" (or its equivalent) coming to life in so many different countries in the first half of the 20th C. Good citizens doing good things to put things back in "order"... to set things "right." The results are often an astonishing manifestation of lawlessness... while protecting that lack of respect for law and order onto the "Other."

Aeschylus tried to wrap his art around this 2500 years ago. Have we gotten anywhere? It suddenly crosses my mind... on hearing of King's assassination just before a public speech in a poor black Indianapolis neighborhood, after being deserted by his police escort, Robert Kennedy got up on a flatbed truck and gave the mostly black crowd the sad news, and then quoted Aeschylus:

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget / falls drop by drop upon the heart, / until, in our own despair, / against our will, / comes wisdom / through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Here's a link to RFK's speech. Audio

Indianapolis remained peaceful as other cities blew up, so this is an interesting example of rhetoric that gives us pause, as contrasted with rhetoric that inflames.

Two months after this speech, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.


Jill Ballard July 2, 2012 @ 4:09 p.m.

We need to resurrect an opposition to the wage-slave system!


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!