The Awakening of Jackson St. Clair Tremain
Tuesday, June 8, 1982
There are ominous events that occur in the sea of life, that rise above all other activities and happenings like a shark's fin above the liquid surface of a rolling wave. And so it was for Jackson Tremain when he received a call from his grandmother informing him of the death of Sampson Davis. After the call he attempted to concentrate on his daily duties, keeping a measured stroke, swimming through the passing minutes, but the meaning and importance of the call began to circle in a tightening spiral around his consciousness. He could ill afford such diversions. He had the tasks and responsibilities of a deputy city manager. Other areas that needed his full attention. He had fallen increasingly out of favor with the city manager, not for quantity nor quality of work but for things far more serious, differences in philosophy and style. Thus he had other predators in sight, ones that ate more than simple flesh.
Perhaps his response to the call might have been different if his whole morning had not begun in an unpleasant manner. Jackson had just arrived in his office when the phone began to ring. He glanced at his watch. It was seven-thirty. He put down his coffee and his cinnamon roll and picked up the receiver. The mayor¹s voice came bawling out in a blistering tirade. As a deputy city manager, Jackson had listened quietly to many such tirades; it was part of his job. He held the telephone between chin and shoulder and continued to drink his coffee, eat his cinnamon roll, and take notes all while being absolutely attentive.
The mayor's angry voice growled into the phone, "We need a Community Police Review Commission resolution to adopt during tonight's city council meeting concerning this matter. Goddamn it, this is an election year!"
Jackson listened quietly while Mayor Garrison Broadnax ranted on through the telephone receiver. He recognized that the mayor had every reason to be upset. The night before, two white police officers wearing masks while on duty in a patrol car had cruised the Chinese district of the city shouting words like gook, Chink, and slope to people on the street. The two patrolmen pulled a Chinese businessman from his truck and beat him after he cursed them for calling him racial epithets. They opened a five-inch gash in his forehead, locked him out of his truck, and left him lying in the street. They did not report the incident to police dispatch, but several scores of witnesses did. Jackson had received a call concerning the matter from one of his connections in the police department before he had come in to work that morning.
"What do you have to tell me, Tremain?" the mayor barked.
Jackson replied, "I may not have all the information. But as far as I know, the two officers in question have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the allegations. It's only fair to say that they are denying everything and claiming that the Police Officer¹s Bill of Rights has been violated by putting them on administrative leave. They have requested a closed hearing in front of the Civil Service Commission to challenge any disciplinary action that may be forthcoming."
"I don't give a damn what those assholes say," growled the mayor. "The Civil Service Commission will deny any claims they have."
"I hate to remind you, Mr. Mayor, but you haven't had a quorum on the commission in three months. Only five of the nine seats are filled. You still need to appoint four commissioners."
"Damn!" the mayor exclaimed, and then there were several seconds of silence. "All right, I'll appoint at least two Asians; that'll fix their butts! What¹s the ethnic breakdown of the commission now?"
"Let me check the file." Jackson got up and went over to his filing cabinet, pulled a manila folder, and returned to his desk. "Two blacks, two whites, and a Hispanic."
"Hmmm, I need to give the Hispanic community another appointment and I've got to give that white woman from the Oakland Hills area something too. . . . All right! All right! I'll announce the commission appointments tonight at the council meeting. I want that Police Review Commission resolution you're preparing on my desk by three-thirty this afternoon!"
Jackson exhaled slowly, gathered his thoughts, then spoke calmly into the phone, "Mr. Mayor, the city manager has assigned me the responsibility of preparing the agenda for the executive session for this afternoon at four. I can't possibly poll all the council members for their agenda items, prepare the revisions, if any, to the executive session agenda, attend the executive session, and prepare this resolution."
"Listen, Tremain, Bedrosian didn't want to hire you. As the first black mayor of this city, I pressed him into hiring you. He was going to hire that white girl who had come here as an administrative intern three years ago over you even though you had three times her experience.
"And one of the important reasons I supported your appointment was that I wanted to be sure I could get at least some of the inside information on the legislation that he prepares for council. You know he was here before me and he thinks he's going to be here after me. But he doesn't know me. I've been dealing with white boys like him all my life. I'm going to get this boy treed, then I'll be looking forward to seeing the back of him!"
"That's pretty strong, Mr. Mayor," Jackson chided, thinking he couldn't risk being openly disloyal to his immediate supervisor. After all, the mayor was a politician and everything was salable if the right issue arose. "I mean, some of your electorate is white."
"You know what I mean and don't waste my time with naive remarks. There's people who happen to be white and there's white people. Now get me my goddamned resolution before three-thirty! Remember who helped you get where you are."
"I understand, Mr. Mayor," Jackson replied with resignation. The mayor played this card whenever Jackson showed any reluctance to perform some extra chore for him, and whenever he played it, Jackson responded appropriately. He assured the mayor, "The resolution will be on your desk by three-thirty." No reason to make an enemy of his principal advocate.
"Jackson, my boy, I knew you'd find the time for something like this." The mayor's voice now took on a honeyed tone. "I knew you came in early to work, that's why I called before eight. This resolution doesn't have to be a three-page monster with twenty whereases either. Just something simple and to the point."
Knowing the answer, Jackson asked, "Shall I inform the city manager of this item at today's agenda luncheon?"
"Don't tell that fool Bedrosian a damn thing! All he'll do is find some pretext to delay. You know he's in bed with the police department on this matter. He and Chief Walker would love to see me defeated in this next election. Once I approve the resolution, I want you to send it directly over to the city clerk's office. She'll be waiting for it."
"You realize when you direct me to do something like this, it appears to my boss, Bedrosian, that I'm not following the chain of command. He'll know that I prepared this resolution, because I'll have to go to the agenda secretary for a number."
"As long as I'm here, you don't have to worry about him. Get it to the city clerk, I'll get her to get a number, okay?"
"Whatever you say, Mr. Mayor," Jackson replied, shaking his head. Bedrosian would still know that he prepared the resolution. As a result, Jackson knew that another confrontation with the city manager loomed. At least he had a job until the next election.
After he got off the phone with the mayor, Jackson called his administrative analyst into his office for a quick closed-door session. Corazon Benin was a short, good-looking woman in her mid-thirties who wore her lush, dark hair rolled into an attractive bun.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Echoes of a Distant Summer by Guy Johnson. Copyright © 2002 by Guy Johnson. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.