Archive for Sunday, July 16, 1995


July 16, 1995


It was a very different time.

The Vietnam War was raging. College students across the nation were protesting the United States' involvement in Southeast Asia.

Racial tensions were soaring. Black activists were seeking a greater role in the country. Women, too, wanted recognition for their contributions.

Sit-ins. Love-ins. Crash pads. Long-hairs. Peaceniks. Hippies. Radicals. Pigs. Establishment.

These were all part of the vocabulary 25 years ago.

It was a very different time in Lawrence and at Kansas University.

At KU, the Kansas Union was firebombed in April 1970. Lawrence businesses were targets of arsonists. Business owners spent many nights in their stores -- or made sure their insurance was up to snuff, locked the doors and went home. Police rode on fire trucks. Citizens carried guns.

It was a very different time and a very tense time.

Within four days of one another, a young black man and a young white man were killed. It earned Lawrence a chapter in Bill Moyers' book "Listening to America: A Traveler Rediscovers His Country."

Broken rules

It was 25 years ago tonight -- Thursday, July 16, 1970, --that Frank Dowdell's uncle knocked on Dowdell's door. Dowdell's next-to-youngest brother had been killed by a police officer in the alley between the 900 blocks of New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

"I'd always told him, do not go out with it (his gun)," Frank Dowdell, now 51, said in an interview last week. "And whenever approached, don't run. And he broke both of those rules."

Police officer William Garrett had shot the next-to-the-youngest of the seven Dowdell brothers, Rick,19, whose nickname was "Tiger." Earlier that evening, someone had fired shots near Eighth and New York, striking a white woman. Police saw someone run from the area, followed them for a while and assumed they went into the Afro House, near 10th and Connecticut. The house's purpose was to promote black culture and solidarity.

A few minutes later, Officer Gale Pinegar saw Rick Dowdell leave the Afro House and get into a Volkswagen driven by a woman.

"I was the one who called the officer to stop the vehicle he was in," Pinegar, who was 28 at the time, recalled.

Garrett followed the Volkswagen for several blocks. It tried to make a turn in the alley east of what is now Bahnmaier Retail Liquor, 900 N.H.

"It was more like they started to turn and then maybe changed their minds," Garrett said during an interview last week.

The Volkswagen stopped. Garrett pulled up on the passenger's side -- Rick Dowdell's side.

"He stepped out in front of the patrol car," Garrett said of Dowdell. "His gun was in his hand, and he took off running down the alley."

Garrett said he lost track of Dowdell. Then he saw him coming around a house, heading back toward the alley.

"I yelled at him to halt and drop his gun. He turned and fired. I think once."

Garrett fired back -- he thinks twice.

"After that, he ran west to the alley and south in the alley," Garrett said. "I fired after him. That was when he was hit."

Garrett, now a 52-year-old lieutenant in the Johnson County Sheriff's Department, was suspended with pay until a coroner's jury determined the shooting was justifiable. Was it justifiable in Garrett's opinion?

"We were in the line of duty," he said.

Rick "Tiger" Dowdell's death ignited the black community. And it touched a chord at KU.

An opportunity

"Here he was, a beautiful chance for white activist students to make common cause with the black community of Lawrence," said David Awbrey, KU student body president in 1969-70, who is editorial page editor for the Wichita Eagle. "Lawrence clearly was a very racist town, so it was an ideal opportunity to show sympathy, if nothing else."

The night after Dowdell died, Lt. Eugene Williams and another officer answered a call on Pennsylvania Street. Gunfire erupted, and Williams was struck in the right side. He recovered. Later that night, an empty patrol car was shot up. Firebombings occurred at KU.

More incidents occurred on Saturday and Sunday.

"The whole family, with the exception of my grandmother, was very vengeful," Frank Dowdell said.

For many student activists and the black community, police were public enemy No. 1.

And that intensified when, four days after Dowdell was killed, an 18-year-old KU student from Leawood was shot and killed during a disturbance between police and young people in the block north of the Kansas Union.

As she listened to a radio news report during a drive between San Diego and Long Beach, Esther Christianson "Chris" Rice heard her oldest son, Nick, had been killed.

"At first they said Harry Nicholas Rice was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital," Mrs. Rice said. ``... Then they said he was dead on arrival."

Mrs. Rice, who'd been in California for a niece's wedding, rushed to Kansas.

Innocent bystander?

Nick Rice, who had been enrolled at KU the previous school year, was working as a surgery technician during the summer at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. He'd come to Lawrence with his girlfriend to pay a parking ticket.

Earlier in the evening, he'd been at the Rock Chalk Cafe, now The Crossing, looking for someone to appear in court for him the next morning to pay the ticket because police had told him they couldn't accept payment that night. Police closed the Chalk because a nearby fire hydrant had been turned on several times and officialswere pelted with rocks and beer bottles each time they responded. Those inside the tavern flowed south, toward campus.

A Volkswagen was overturned in the street. A young man was trying to light a match to fluid coming from the Volkswagen Beetle. Several police officers moved south toward campus.

What transpired after that is muddled.

Police threw tear gas. Some officers fired their weapons.

Nick Rice went down with a bullet through his head. Another student was hit in the leg. Officer Don Dalquest was hit in the head by a brick.

Initially, police said they thought snipers also had fired.

"I remember some other gunfire," Pinegar said.

But no evidence of that was found.

"I fired that night, but I fired up in the air to get the guy away from the Volkswagen," Pinegar said.

Mrs. Rice, now 67, feels positive it was a policeman who shot her son. And she's just as positive that he was an innocent bystander.

Larry Chalmers, who was KU chancellor at the time, saw the shootings as a turning point.

"I think everyone was concerned that it seemed to be escalating, even though both of these events were, in a sense, isolated events," said Chalmers, who now lives in Durango, Colo.

Chalmers was under a great deal of fire during his tenure at KU. He supported students' protest of the war. And was viewed by some alumni and parents as being wishy-washy. He lasted for 3 1/2 years at the university.

There were no more fatalities that year connected with civil and campus unrest. The conflicts did not go away immediately.

A number of members of the many groups active in Lawrence and at KU attended weekend sessions during the fall of 1970 at Menninger in Topeka. The goal was to talk face-to-face, to find some common ground.

"There were an awful lot of people who became aware of and sensitive to where others were coming from," Chalmers said, "myself included."

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