|The Thursday Club|
George Paul Csicsery
The Thursday Club is a one-hour documentary about retired Oakland, California, police officers who battled with antiwar demonstrators and Black Panthers during the tumultuous 1960s. Revealing the faces behind the police lines, the film reflects the experiences and views of individuals from both sides of the conflict. The search for balance is led by the filmmaker, a 1960s antiwar protester, who was beaten by the Oakland police during the 1967 Stop the Draft Week riots. For the first time, former Oakland police officers who faced the demonstrators speak on film about their experiences.
Interviews initially prepared for a Salon Magazine article, Thursdays at the Clambucket (10/19/98),explore a rich subculture of retired police officers with complex personalities and varied histories. One of them, Hadwick Thompson, a Pearl Harbor veteran, became the second-ever black officer on the Oakland force. Another, Gil Souza, was the son of Portuguese immigrants who became a "tough cop" after defending himself as a boy on the streets of Oakland. The personal accounts of these officers, as they describe their run-ins with antiwar demonstrators and Black Panthers, challenge previous scholarly and media works on the battles of the 1960s that produced bitter divisions in American society.
Structured around the weekly luncheons held at the Clambucket restaurant, a now-defunct steam table in Oakland's port district, the film introduces its characters through the filmmaker's search for a certain police officer who appears in a photograph of cops clubbing demonstrators during an Oakland antidraft riot in October 1967. The AP photo appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country the day after the riot. At the center of the photograph is the filmmaker himself, a 19-year-old student under attack.
A personal quest for information about old adversaries soon turns into an exploration of the histories and anecdotes of the retired policemen, many in their late 70s and early 80s. They are men who grew up in the Depression. Most of them fought in World War II before becoming policemen. These shared experiences forged a sense of discipline and camaraderie. Then came the 1960s, and being reviled as "pigs" by the younger generation was a new experience. As novelist Judy Murray explains in the film, "that's not what they signed up for."
While touching on numerous other incidents, the film concentrates on two key conflicts from the 1960s: Student and antiwar protests, and battles with the Black Panthers.
The Oakland police began to encounter student demonstrators when they were called to UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement in 1964. The protest movement arrived in Oakland with full force in October 1967 during Stop the Draft Week, a week-long series of antiwar demonstrations that crippled downtown Oakland, and marked the beginning of escalating violence in the antiwar movement.