July 4, 1976: The Bicentennial of the U.S. My story…

I was living in Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty.

I spent the night of the 4th in a Philadelphia jail, after squinting too closely at the badge number of one of Philly’s Finest, who was in the process of dropping a series of f-bombs on a poor foreign tourist couple who barely spoke English and who had the audacity to appear to have been asking the cop for directions. Welcome to Amerika…

The cops, of course, had been ordered by Hizzoner Frank Rizzo to round up all the radicals and hippies, who he said were planning on blowing up City Hall, Independence Hall, or both. Police in riot gear ringed City Hall, which is where the unfortunate foreign couple and myself had our little run-ins with them. My cellmate for the night was the Chief of Staff for New Jersey Congressman James Florio. I forget the guy’s name right now, but I actually still have the business card he gave me around here somewhere. He said they brought him in for walking the wrong way down a one-way street. Yes, you read that correctly… WALKING the wrong way down a one-way street. Again, welcome to Amerika… welcome to Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty….

Of course, in the morning they just turned us both loose. No hearing, no trial, no lawyer, not even any charges. Just pull us in because they didn’t like our looks (and to fill up the jails so Hizzoner wouldn’t look like a paranoid fool when the riots he’d been predicting for months never happened), whack us with billy clubs a few times, hold us overnight, then turn us loose.

We did file complaints and, so they tell us, got reprimands placed in the cops’ records. But I never saw any reprimands. I suspect they were just talking out their you-know-wheres to shut us up. (And, yes, I made a point to MEMORIZE the damned badge number during my ride in the paddy wagon….)

I was not yet 22 at the time, and I remember thinking I’d have something interesting to tell my grandchildren sometime when I got older. They would be studying about the Bicentennial, and I’d say, “Kids, do you know what I did on the Bicentennial?”

Now I have those grandchildren… so now you guys know how Grandpa spent the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. And in Philadelphia, no less.  🙂

So that’s my 4th of July story. Just remember that your liberty is far more fragile than you realize. And that the biggest threats to it are generally internal rather than external.