Orson Welles on police brutality

D Walker sez,
The Internet Archive features a series of recordings of American radio broadcaster Orson Welles, in particular a recording from 1946 in which Welles reads the Affidavit of Isaac Woodard regarding his abuse at the hands of corrupt police officers, followed by a highly emotional and impassioned speech by Welles on the subject of bringing justice, corruption, and forgiveness.

With recent trends in police abuses being a topic of no small concern at BoingBoing as of late, I thought perhaps his little known broadcast should be remembered and shared, as it strikes a chord of similarity which is at once chilling and inspiring. Welles gives us a glimpse into a time and a setting in which a mere radio broadcaster spoke out in a fervor of disgust and revulsion against a terrible injustice, and was instrumental in bringing those responsible to bear for their crimes. If nothing else, it serves to remind us of what has come before, and what we can once more do and be again.

MP3 Link

1946 Orson Welles Commentaries (Thanks, D!)

(Image: File:Orson_Welles_1937.jpg, Wikimedia Commons)


  1. It would be great to know if Welles followed through… and what a sad commentary that we have come no further along the path. Those who would abuse their power will abuse it. Those who would create peace can create it no further than the paint on the walls of their own home or past the end of their nose should they venture out.

  2. I’ve loved Orson Welles for a while, even though in many ways he was apparently an unutterable douchebag. But these commentaries are a wonderful thing.

    There’s a pretty good Wikipedia article on Woodward and his maiming here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Woodward

    Turns out there was some pretense of a trial eventually. Linwood Shull, the chief of police who did the maiming, was acquitted, and lived to the ripe old age of 95, having never gotten what was coming to him.

  3. It’s actually Isaac Woodard rather than Woodward. Apparently a lot of the media made the mistake at that time. The wikipedia article is indeed a depressing read. The actual incident was even worse than the affidavit made it sound. It sounded to me from the affidavit as if the beating over the head was what caused the blindness, and hence could have been accidental. What actually happened is that once he was in jail, they rammed him in the eyes with the nightstick over and over until his eye-balls ruptured.

    The local authorities refused to even investigate the matter and eventually after the head of the NAACP met with Harry Truman (the president at that time), Truman ordered the feds to intervene. They did, but the US attorney from that region basically didn’t investigate at all. And the man was convicted despite having admitted on the stand that he had in fact blinded Woodard. It’s a depressing story.

    I feel thankful that this sort of thing is less likely to happen these days, but I wish I could know that it would never happen again.

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