May 5, 1886. The next morning, word of the prior evening’s events were relayed, lip to ear, so that by noon the whole town was buzzing about the Haymarket. A massacre they called it. The papers ate it up, decrying the anarchist agitators as the cause of the “riot” and demanding justice be served. Martial law was soon declared and the full force and fury of the government was to be brought down hard and swift upon the governed.
The police station was near empty with every available boot on the ground working their way up and down the bustling city streets. Our orders were to locate and arrest anyone suspected of being involved with the labor movement. We were told to focus on the Germans and Eastern Europeans, busting into their homes without warrant and rifling through their belongings, which generally were few, for anything incriminating that might place them at the scene.
I fear several of our boys were enjoying themselves a little too much. You often find their kind in this line of work. Some people just love the job for all the wrong reasons. I can usually spot the ones that are gonna be trouble because they get this look in their eyes, like a fire of sorts, and they always seem to have just the slightest grin when they get an opportunity to bring the club down. On May 5th, and the days that followed, they would find many an opportunity to do just that.
The labor offices were next. Doors kicked in, tables overturned and thrown across the room. Anyone unlucky enough to be in the area when we came through would soon learn to regret it. Men were dragged by their collars out into the streets to be greeted by the business end of a baton. They were then hauled away to be questioned for hours on end with pressure being applied to identify other suspected conspirators and “make things easier on themselves.”
Labor newspapers, like the Arbeiter-Zeitung, soon found themselves in our path of destruction. Doors were torn from their hinges, machinery damaged beyond repair, and all printed materials on site were taken into the dusty streets and burned. A man who dared to remark on this “miscarriage of justice” and the alleged “sanctity of the press” was thrown to the ground and doused in printer’s ink from head to toe as onlookers watched helplessly then dispersed to avoid being the next target.
This would continue for the next eight weeks, with many of the venues ransacked multiple times, falling victim to the collective wrath of the Chicago police department. Donations to the department and the medical treatment of the officers wounded during the haymarket “massacre” came flooding in from businesses across the city. Local capitalists were anxious to show their support for law and order, all the while continuing to subject their workers to 10-12 hour work days. The momentum of the workers rights movement had been thoroughly depleted.
The Knights of Labor, and various craft unions across the city and later the country, immediately began distancing themselves from the anarchists and condemning their tactics as counter productive and having dealt a “fatal blow” to the overall movement. Meanwhile, rumors of provocateurs from the Pinkerton agency being mixed in with the crowd on Haymarket square were making rounds through the worker rumor mills, though none of these claims were ever verified due to a complete lack of motivation. By that time, eight people of the dozens arrested had been selected to stand trial. The city had its culprits, the labor movement its sacrificial lambs.