When the cops took over Storm Lake

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

The massive police presence that has overtaken many of our American cities reminds me of the time the cops took over Storm Lake — and nothing happened.

It was the summer of 1971 when a motorcycle magazine spread a rumor that the Hells Angels were planning a rally in Storm Lake over the Fourth of July that would attract 40,000 wild-eyed bikers to The City Beautiful.

Town meetings involving businessmen were held at the Vista Theatre and Police Chief Andre Carstensen made plans for crowd control. But it was obvious his small force of perhaps a dozen men with two police cars would be no match for 40,000 drug-crazed and sex-starved bikers, so the Iowa State Patrol mobilized and the National Guard went on standby.

Dozens of troopers from across the state were brought to Storm Lake and their patrol cars lined the streets around Buena Vista College dorms, where they were stationed.

Meanwhile, some husbands sent their wives and children out of town. And they made sure their shotguns were loaded.

People here were afraid Storm Lake would become the real life scene of “The Wild One,” a classic 1953 movie about two motorcycle gangs, led by Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, that terrorized a small town.

No one could ever quite put their finger on where this story started, but it had “legs” as we say in the news business and it ran through the Midwest.

I was a college student at the time, working as a summer intern at KCAU television in Sioux City. One night during the news, anchorman Charles Harness rode a mini-bike through the studio as a joke. Except that people in Storm Lake didn’t think it was so funny.

It turned out the story wasn’t true, just another baseless rumor that was blown out of proportion. A few dozen hapless cyclists did wander through town, wondering what all the fuss was about, and left Storm Lake as quickly as they came. So did all the state troopers and their airplanes and command centers and National Guard helicopters.

All that preparation for nothing. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. What if 40,000 bikers had shown up here?

Since those wild days in the 1970s, Storm Lake has been fortunate to have had enlightened leadership guiding our city, with a police force that has worked to heal the divides among our wonderfully diverse cultures.

Unfortunately, what’s happening in cities across America today is no joke. It’s the result of 400 years of oppressing people of color in the United States, and all the police and National Guard in the nation clamping down on them will not cure the trouble that ails us. The answer is in the New Testament — if we care to read it and live it.

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