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OPINION | History being re-written at law enforcement memorial
On Tuesday, May 15, National Law Enforcement Day, law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty will be honored with a day-long series of events. Among those whom the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association will honor for the first time will be C. Arthur Lyman, who was killed on May 22, 1934. Lyman was a so-called "Special Deputy," who was given a badge and a club by the Hennepin County Sheriff and whose assignment was to club down striking truck drivers in the City Market during the historic 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes.
Many of the "Special Deputies" who turned out on May 22 were upper class businessmen eagerly volunteering to beat up striking workers. They can be identified in historic photos of the battle in the market by their polo clothes, jodhpurs and boots.
Two "Special Deputies" were killed in hand-to-hand combat on that day, Lyman and Peter Erath, a construction contractor. No member of the Minneapolis Police Department was killed nor any other employee of any other law enforcement agency.
Nonetheless, the MNLEMA has chosen to include Lyman in their list of fallen heroes. In fact, Erath was honored at an earlier ceremony in 1991 and his name placed on the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Lyman's name will be placed on it this year.
The historic consensus for over 75 years has been that the violence in the strike came from the intransigence of the employers, who refused to recognize Teamsters Local 574 as the bargaining agent for truck drivers and inside workers in Minneapolis, and utilized their control of city government to direct the police department to break the strike. Two strikers were killed by police gunfire on "Bloody Friday," July 20, 1934. But the MNLEMA website says:
"During the summer of 1934 there were a series of deadly union riots in Minneapolis. Teamster truck drivers (Minneapolis General Drivers and Helpers Union) went on strike in early May and staged a series of progressively violent demonstrations."
By extending this grateful recognition to Lyman and Erath MNLEMA is saying implicitly, if not explicitly, that the strikers and their union bore the onus for violence and that the two "Special Deputies" were heroes attempting to preserve public order. "Public order," if the strike had been defeated, would have meant no union, no contract and no wage increases for the truck drivers. It would have meant that the union-busting Citizens Alliance would have continued to enforce their non-union Open Shop policy through intimidation and terror. And by extending this honor, MNLEMA is saying they were right.
The "Special Deputies' " status was universally recognized as a fake in 1934, and it is no more legitimate today. But the recognition and honors extended to Lyman and Erath are an insult to the thousands of Teamsters who battled in the streets for their basic rights as workers, especially to those like Henry Ness and John Belor, who died as a result of the shootings on Bloody Friday, and to the 60 other unarmed workers who were shot, mostly in the back, on that day.
It is an insult to the self-sacrificing fighters like Jack Maloney, Harry DeBoer and many others, who took blow after blow, but persevered and went on to help carry the strike to victory and make Minneapolis a union town.
Dave Riehle, historian and retired railroad worker, lives in St. Paul.
CORRECTION 5/15/2012: "Lyman was a so-called "Special Deputy," who was given a badge and a club by the Hennepin County Sheriff and whose assignment was to club down striking truck drivers in the City Market during the historic 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes."
© 2012 Workday Minnesota