Violence in our streets

Author Daniel Baker offers unique perspective on social unrest

By Tim Walker

“Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America” is a recently published book by local writer and retired Dayton Police Officer Daniel L. Baker. The book deals with timely subjects that easily could have been ripped from today’s headlines—racism, violence and bloodshed, riots and murder—but have been, unfortunately, going on for much longer.

Speaking with Baker, one comes away with the understanding that the issues our country is currently grappling with, and the civil unrest we’ve seen in cities such as Baltimore, Ferguson and Chicago, are far from a new occurrence. Baker is able to write about these issues, and the impact they’ve had over the decades, from a unique perspective.

“You know, it’s funny,” he says. “When I started writing this, it took about two and a half years—so I started around 2011, then it was published in 2014—and now we see these events occurring today. Today we’re worried about unarmed black men being shot, we’re worried about the riots, because of all the historical discrimination, either actual or perceived. And people are being murdered, like in Charleston, South Carolina, Baltimore, or what we had in Ferguson, Missouri. When you go back and look at this book, written well before any of those events happened, one of the main things the book covers are riots—one of which was started when an unarmed black man was shot in downtown Dayton—it all reminds me of that old quote from George Santayana, which I’ve also heard attributed to Winston Churchill: ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’”

“Blood in the Streets” is a fascinating book, covering as it does murder, civil rights and social unrest from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, all as seen through the eyes of a young white police officer who was born and raised in our city. The book was written by Baker and his wife, Gwen Nalls—an attorney and a black woman who was also raised here in Dayton, though in a different area of town than her husband—and it reads like a combination novel and memoir. Dramatization and fictional flourishes lend a framework and sense of story to a tale of real-life murder, bloodshed and, ultimately, reconciliation.

“In the story,” says the author, “we talk about how a local newspaper, four months before the very first local riots in 1966, wrote a series of six articles entitled ‘West Side ’66,’ and in effect they described the social conditions that still concern people today. Discrimination, poverty, high unemployment in minority communities and concerns about police behavior. So that was almost like a warning to what was coming. And sure enough, months later in Dayton—and in 100 other cities all across the nation that year—it all blew up.”

Baker continues. “At the time, I was just a young guy. I grew up in East Dayton, and had very little exposure to blacks or to the West Side, which in those days you just didn’t go to. I found myself as a young patrolman, on the street, in those low-tech days of police work—and that’s one of the things I try to make clear in the story, that we didn’t have the technology and the support that officers have today—you didn’t even have a personal radio. So there I was, like hundreds of other guys and ladies around the country, I’m sure, brand new, and suddenly the social change and the eruption of social issues was just hard to believe. That followed the Watts riots in 1965, and the Civil Rights Act had just been passed in 1964. So there was a lot of turmoil. Then you throw in the beginnings of the anti-war protests for Vietnam, and the cities blew up.”

“It seemed like it was just incomprehensible as a young man,” the author continues. “I got caught right in the middle of it here in this area. And I guess I didn’t realize the overall impact of it all until years later, as time went on. It was just devastating to our city.”

If you are a student of Dayton history, or if you’re interested in the civil unrest and police work of the time period, then Daniel Baker’s book “Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America” is an exciting read and well worth your time.

“Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America” is available online in a Kindle edition on Amazon.com for $7.99. The Dayton Metro Library system also owns several copies, and the book can be found there in a number of branches.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts.

 

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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