Meanwhile Ed was standing under the tree. What if the Mexicans would come too late? And where in blazes were the police? Totally out of place I thought that they were never there when you needed them. I sent a quiet prayer to heaven and considered running into the mob with my gun drawn. Ed already had the rope around his neck.
Down to the present day I don't know how Jorge did it. It must have been some kind of snowball system. For me it was a miracle: Only minutes after my cry for help Mexicans started to step out their doors and roads, secretly at first, then openly. Suddenly the white Mob was encircled by 80, 90, 100 Mexicans. I also saw a few African-Americans and Asians.
The whites stopped their task. "Get lost!" shouted one of them, but it didn't sound convincingly. A stalemate situation – but one word, one ill-considered action could start a street battle.
Now two black and whites arrived, and finally the Chief's van.
Immediately it was clear who would have to take the initiative: Chief Ironside.
Quickly I had to consider my options. There weren't many, and each could mean people's lives – not only Sergeant Brown's, whose jacket I recognized under the hood of the prisoner with the rope around his neck. The situation was explosive. These men were scared. The whites - the Ku Klux Klan - were afraid of the bundled power of the colored people who had been suppressed for so long. Ultimately they were afraid of losing their privileges, and very acutely they were afraid of being arrested or worse, killed. The Mexicans had to deal with their friends in prison and the menace of a white mob which might go back to suppressing them more than ever.
Scared people were dangerous. I had to keep that in mind. The Klan was a bigger menace than the colored people, who were decidedly calmer. If I wanted to prevent the situation from escalating I had to calm down the Klan in the first place. I would have to offer them something.
Somebody who had never met Chief Ironside could not imagine the radiance of his exceptional personality. No one could resist the impact of his charisma.
"Listen, gentlemen!" He didn't mention the ladies. Probably I was the only lady here anyway, and he didn't want me in the picture. I could not risk stirring up emotions from my earlier intervention.
"Listen! There is a lot at stake for all of us tonight.
"Some of you may not know that there is a white police officer under that hood with the rope around his neck."
Probably many members of the Klan and all the Mexicans hadn't known that. I went on, "A man who dedicated his life to making the world a better place. Is this really what you want – kill one of your own? But not only his life is at stake, and not only the personal freedom of those who will be caught and sentenced for murdering him. More than the personal freedom of those Mexicans who are in prison right now for the earlier riots of this night.
"For instance we also know about the signatures which have been collected. The MISF have not stolen them."
Ok, we didn't exactly know what had happened, but the second part of my statement was true for certain.
"The freedom of the Caucasian persons who are responsible in this case is at stake as well. But that's not what I mean. If we end this night as enemies, then we miss the chance to finally become one nation of equals. Together, we can fly to the moon and further. Together, we can face our external enemies. Together, we will defeat crime, drugs and poverty. Together we can start the future today. All this is at stake now.
"I know that the ones with the hoods don't want to take them off. I offer you to leave them in place and go free, in spite of what you have done tonight. I know that the Mexicans want their friends in prison freed. They will be freed, I will see to that."
The crowd had become very quiet. After a moment one of the members of the Klan spoke up, "What you say sounds impressive. But how do we know that you will keep your word?"
I nodded. They needed proof, of course.
"Sergeant Brown!" I shouted, "Do you trust me?"
For a moment I must have been dazed, but I had well understood the last part of the Chief's speech, and I had anticipated where it would lead. But he would not do that to me, would he?! My heart beat like a steam hammer. I almost feared that the Klan members would hear it. Yet when Ironside asked his question I knew what I had to do. Ignoring the dusty hood over my head I shouted as loud as I could, "Yes Sir, I trust you with my life!"
"All right," I heard the Chief shout, "Then I want all the police to leave."
Ed must have seen that coming, the colleagues hadn't. They saw what a terrible risk for Ed's life – and not only his - they would take, and they hesitated. Yet Ironside repeated, "Go! I want every man here to decide on his free will if he wants to leave or not."
Reluctantly the officers got into their cars and left.
Ironside was now almost as defenseless as Ed. Yet I felt how the atmosphere around me changed. Baseball bats and guns were lowered, reluctantly at first, then determinedly. Mexicans and colored people took a step back. The tension calmed down. What remained was a certain perplexity. What should they do now?
Unexpectedly my friend Mark stepped in.
Mark knew very well what members of the Klan had done to his ancestors and very recently to freedom fighters in Mississippi and Tennessee. But he only had eyes for his friend under that horrible tree.
Unflinchingly he walked through the crowd. When he reached the group under the tree the Klan members let go of their captive. He swayed slightly. Mark pulled the hood off his head. Concerned he laid a protective arm around his shoulders. "Are you all right?"
For a second Ed clung to him for support.
It was a picture which burnt itself into every man's mind: The black and the white men together in the middle of the infamous hoods, like brothers – heralds of a new world, where the color of the skin was no topic anymore.
It was the victory of trust over fear, the victory of friendship over hostility, the victory of the future over the past.
I didn't delude myself: the problems of different nations living together in my town weren't solved for a long time, same as crime couldn't be beaten once and for all. The conflicts would flare up again. But at any rate never since then has the Klan shown up in San Francisco.
I believe that not one of the men who saw Mark stand by Ed that night ever wore a mask again or fought against another person just because they originally had a different nationality.
It was worth the trouble with the commissioner and the city council I had brought myself into by announcing a general amnesty to Mexicans and Klan people.
Ten days later - Fran's POV
It was a warm evening. The music at the Mexican fiesta became more animated with time going by, as did the people dancing.
Together with the Chief we had been invited as guests of honor after all charges against the Mexicans involved in the riots of that particular night had been dropped.
Gallantly Ed took a bow to me. "Would you do me the honor to dance with me?"
"Fran, I warn you: he's an awful dancer!" laughed Mark.
The Chief added, "She saved your neck, Sergeant, literally! Spare her your stepping on her feet!"
I wanted to take his arm to prove them my courage, but another young man kept me back. "Come on, lady, let's dance!"
It was Bruce Peterson. Ed set the priorities right immediately. He pulled back. "Enjoy yourselves!" he smiled.
A little later I saw him push around Jorge Hernandez' smart daughter on the dancing ground. He looked as awkward as I had expected, but the pairing served the interracial understanding as well as mine with Bruce and Mark's with a pretty blonde.
Alexander Peterson followed the young people with his eyes, then he saw the big bowl of chili in front of me. "This looks good!"
"And so does it taste. Give it a try!"
He ordered a serving for himself and sat down onto the bench next to me, a little reluctantly at first, afraid of damaging his pants with the sharp creases.
After savoring his chili he visibly relaxed. He put one leg over the other, and his left foot started to tap with the rhythm of the music.
He lit a huge cigar and shouted, to make himself understood, "These fiestas are only half as loud when you take part in them!"
Thank you again, Stella KiMara, for letting me publish this!
Thank you, dear Lemonpig, for correcting the story!
Thank you, dear readers and reviewers, for your support and encouragement!