The Chase, and the Mindset Thereof

The police radio frequency came alive, quickly filled with excited and angry voices, that Summer night in 1968. A chase was in progress, and the reason soon became apparent. One of our North Austin patrolmen had stopped a ’56 Chevy, and the five occupants had spilled out, with one of them pulling a .45 caliber auto and firing a round at the officer’s feet. After disarming him, they roughed him up, leaving him on the side of the road. He had recognized two of them as ex-cons, Dickie Evans and Lonnie Sumner, both White, from somewhere in North Austin.

At age 23, I was beginning my second year with the Austin Police Department. Joe Alvarado was riding with me that night. My beat was East of IH 35. That expressway but nine years old at the time had been configured to serve as a dividing line between Anglo Austin and the rest of the population. East of that line, from E 7th Street south to the Colorado River, was completely Mexican American, all the way east and across the Colorado River into the village of Montopolis. East of that line, from E 7th Street north to E 19th (now MLK), was an entirely Black population. East of Airport Boulevard was divided into pockets of both races. This then made up East Austin, an area most police officers avoided or worked in stretches of time no longer than an obligatory three months. East Austin, violent East Austin, that was my beat.

Now on this particular Summer night, Joe and I were at the jail, where I was interpreting for an illegaI. I was upset to be wasting my time in the jail interpreting for someone else’s prisoner when there was a chase going on, particularly given the circumstances of the chase. Every available police vehicle, it seemed from every part of the city, had headed north to join in the chase and I was stuck interpreting! In the jail, we could hear that chase going on all over North Austin, and then it began coming south. That little Chevy was flat outrunning our Fords! Then it disappeared, only to resurface again, before other units, and then losing them as well. When I realized, after some ten minutes, that the chase wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, I turned to the jail personnel. “Get someone else to do this!” I was going north, and if by luck I could get behind that Chevy I felt I could run him down. Slim chance that I will find him thought I, but I wanted to be in the running if possible.

Yes, I wanted into this race! I felt I could catch him where the others could not. My police car, like the rest of the police vehicles used by the Austin PD, was a 1968 Ford Custom sedan. These cars packed a big V8 engine, with 390 cubic inches of power. I felt my particular car would make a difference in chasing that little Chevy if only I was lucky enough to sight it.

The difference between my car and the police cars which had so far gotten behind the little Chevy was that mine was an East Austin Unit. There were, at the time, four cars which worked East Austin, and they were different from the rest, specifically because they were East Austin units, where things got hot on a regular basis. Getting to a call fast was extremely important. The day drivers of our four East cars, Units 218, 219, 220 and 221 were charged to take these units out onto the then newly constructed and nearly deserted Ed Bluestein Boulevard and blow them out to their top speed of 140 mph. This way, the fellows who drove them during the afternoon 3-11 shift, and the 11-7 night shift, would be able to rely on them to be up to max speed within seconds, without the coughs, stutters, and sputtering the other units were at the moment experiencing, putting them at a distinct advantage to that very fast ’56 Chevy. Those four East Austin cars were different. No other unit in town could keep up with our East units. I wanted to get behind that little Chevie, which had so far outrun every Ford it had encountered.

After informing the booking desk people to find another interpreter, I ran to my unit with Joe right behind me. I floor boarded my unit onto IH 35, and wouldn’t you know it, that ’56 Chevy came blazing by, now headed back north! We were doing 100 mph and climbing when the Chevy turned off at the Airport exit. (I had lost my chance to see what my Ford could do against the Chevy on the straight away!) But I was pushing him, and far ahead of us, they lost it on the curve. Now I had him!

I ran my unit right up against the driver’s side. I jumped out and ran over to the passenger side. You have to understand that emotions were high, (hardly describes the adrenalin flow) and besides, I thought there was a .45 loose somewhere in that vehicle. Dickie Evans was driving. I opened the passenger door and dived right over the passenger onto Dickie. Jamming my pistol into his ear, I hollered, “You’re dead, Dickie!” to cries of “don’t kill him, man, don’t kill him!” “Yeah! You’re dead, Dickie!”
Joe came around behind me, but I was on top of both of those in the front seat, and not far from blowing Dickie away. Joe was thinking, and when he saw what was happening, he quickly jumped into my unit and backed it up. I was surprised, as this was the first fracas we had gotten into together, and I wasn’t sure how he’d react. He then pulled and yanked open the driver’s door of the Chevy, forcing it open, and Dicky and I tumbled out onto the street with me on top of him. I beat the side of his head with the butt of my pistol and he was smart enough to stay down.

As the others, to include Lonnie Sumners who was in the back seat, began piling out of the Chevy, I hollered to Joe to use my stick and drop the passenger, to get him out of the way. When he hesitated, I hollered, “Joe, drop him!” I hollered again, “Joe! Drop him, Joe!” He buried the point of the stick in the passenger’s gut, and the man dropped, gasping for air.

Where was the .45? “Drop ’em all Joe!” I hit the third man, and he went down. Joe followed, dropping the fourth guy. Only one was left standing, a Mexican American. “Drop him, Joe!” I yelled. The man turned to Joe, pleading, “Indio, (as Joe Alvarado was known in East Austin) tu me conoces! You know me, Indio, tu me conoces! You know me, man!” I hollered again, “Drop him, Joe!” I could see Joe was having a hard time taking down an acquaintance who called him by name. I was stoked by a cold anger and had no such compunctions, no qualms whatsoever. I knocked the man off his feet. All five were face down on the ground where they fell when other officers arrived.

Joe Alvarado was my karate instructor, and I was his student, about the same time that Mr. Takamichi was in high school, and a student of the founder of our style, Michio Koyasu. I never met Mr. Koyasu. As I see it, Mr. Alvarado was the head of a style far more aggressive than that which Koyasu taught, and I would submit that my input as a student was to influence the direction our style was headed. So it was that when Alvarado decided to require much more in our black belt exams than what Koyasu expected, 20 fighting rounds against fresh opponents, I was in agreement.

But three years ago when the Soryu school heads met in Austin, I was disappointed to hear that the requirements for black belt were being relaxed, “to give everyone an opportunity to wear the belt.” The fight standards were to be relaxed, and to my deep dismay, Mr. Alvarado concurred. Jessie Ortegon, who bore the brunt of the first black belt exam requiring him to go 20 rounds against fresh opponents, remained firm. “Ida Lopez went through the exam. No one cut her any slack.”

In the photo, you see Joe Alvarado in the AOK shirt, and myself to his right, shaking hands at the conclusion of an anything goes, full contact team fight between our schools. Although my team emerged victorious, it was but by a small margin, for our fighters were very evenly matched. I had instituted such team fighting with the aim being to demonstrate our superiority over other styles, and Joe was in agreement. I had taken my team to Dallas to compete against a team Greek (Demetrius Havanas) put up, with similar results. From that time to now, relax our standards? Why?

When Takamichi, head of Japan Soryu, came to Texas, I watched from a distance as so many drank the kool-aid of a much kinder, much gentler art than that to which I am accustomed. I was upset at Alvarado for his submission to a lesser entity. Fifty two years ago there was Alvarado, the seasoned Second Dan, and Takamichi and myself, White Belts. He ought not to have submitted, not to Takamichi, nor to the relaxing of standards.

Indeed, the difference in mindset which separates myself and my peer, Mr. Takamichi, is stark, for our life experiences deem it so, and our life experiences influence our manner of instructing and the type of brown and black belts we put out.

That same year of the car chase, while he was in high school, I interrupted a burglary in progress late one night, near to midnight. I shot one of the two men involved and injured the other, sending both to the hospital. That same year, there was Takamichi, a peaceful schoolboy immersed in his studies. His students reflect his mindset. That same year I was immersed in violence in my role as one of the most aggressive officers on the force. A difference in mindset indeed. My students, of whom Master Instructor Jeff Bonugli is foremost, reflect it.