Frame Up – fiction by Ron Jacobs

Race and injustice in Maryland; the blood-strewn quarters of the Police State and the struggle against it.


Malcolm McRice had been framed. He looked at the wall across from his bed. He was still in a cell by himself. That got pretty fucking lonely, but the other side of it was he could have some freak in the cell with him. Then he would have to be wary all the time, not just when the guards or pigs came around. The cop Mulhaney had been in earlier that day, poking and hitting him. He was pissed off about the newspaper article that questioned his detective work.

In Malcolm’s mind, the article was bullshit ’cause it took them liars at face value just because they wore a uniform. He counted the little dots in the concrete block across from him. He never expected to get an accurate count. It was just a way to pass the time and trip out a little when the holes floated around a little. Tomorrow he was supposed to meet his new lawyer that Auntie and the minister had got for him. Jerry McCaffrey was the cat’s name. An Irish civil rights lawyer who knew the redneck mentality – that was how Auntie’s preacher had described him. What the hell, thought Malcolm, at least he’ll ask to see the police report and the evidence. Malcolm didn’t even think the fuckin’ deal should go to trial. They had no evidence.

The arresting officers Mulhaney and Smith were in the lounge at the Howard Johnson’s. One of the cocktail waitresses was sitting on Mulhaney’s lap with her hand in his pants. She probably hoped to get off the next time she got picked up for drunk driving. Smith ignored Mulhaney and the waitress and stared into his drink. If Mulhaney were a woman, they would call him a slut, thought Smith. Ever since he and his wife divorced, Mulhaney had forgotten the meaning of the word discreet. Hell, he hadn’t just forgotten the meaning, he had forgotten the word. It was getting downright embarrassing for Smith. Smith was a family man who held the belief that sex was something to be shared with one’s spouse, not just any floozy who came along. Unfortunately there were enough cop groupies around that Mulhaney could get a hand job or more whenever he wanted. If they wouldn’t give it voluntarily, Mulhaney would just threaten to arrest them. It disgusted Smith. But, cops stuck by their fellow cops.

It was Friday evening and they were getting ready to pay a surprise visit on McRice. They knew the guard working this evening. The shift change had taken place that week at the prison, so that meant Mulhaney’s cousin was working the weekend night shifts on Malcolm’s tier. He’d let them in without a problem. Even better, he’d let them take in whatever they needed to intimidate the black sonofabitch. Things weren’t looking as good as they had hoped they would be looking by this time. Malcolm refused to sign anything and now them niggers had found a Goddamn civil rights lawyer to defend him. The coloreds in the Grove and other colored sections of town were ignoring the police when they drove through. Hell, some of the teenage kids were flipping them off and throwing rocks at their cruisers. Mulhaney was pissed. Tonight was the night he was going to do something about it. The two cops ordered one more drink each. They tossed them back and left. It was dusk. By the time they reached Patuxent, it would be dark.

Mulhaney’s cousin was ready for them when they arrived. He pretended to pat the two cops down for weapons and let them in to Malcolm’s cell. Malcolm was half asleep. He jumped up with a start.

“Don’t say nothing, McRice,” said Mulhaney. “This guard is on our side. He ain’t no friend of yours like all them niggers who work here.” Mulhaney walked over to Malcolm’s bed and pushed him hard in the chest. Malcolm fell back but caught himself before his head hit the wall. He stood up ready to fight. Suddenly, Smith was behind him. Malcolm felt some cold steel on his neck. He was pretty certain it was a pistol. He let Smith cuff him. Mulhaney punched him in the face. Malcolm felt the blood trickle down his lip into his mouth. He spit it out. Smith jabbed the gun into Malcolm’s neck even harder.

“Sign the fuckin’ confession, McRice,” threatened Smith. “And you can live.” He wished McRice would relent, just so the two cops could get this whole thing over with before it got further out of control.

“Fuck you,” spat Malcolm. Malcolm kicked his feet back at Smith. He hit him in the crotch and his gun fell on the floor, but, at the same time, Malcolm went sprawling across the concrete floor of the cell. Smith was bent over holding his balls. Mulhaney began kicking Malcolm in the head. Smith found his gun. He was pissed off and hurting. He cocked the gun and was ready to fire it when the guard came back. He was breathing heavily and seemed scared.

“You guys gotta go!” he whispered loudly. “My fuckin’ supervisor is comin’ up here. He just called. I don’t know what the hell he’s doing here now, but he’s comin’!”

Mulhaney kneed Malcolm in the balls and punched him in the face once again while Smith uncuffed him. They were reluctant to leave, now that McRice had made it physical.

“If you ever make it out of this jail alive, McRice,” said Smith, “I’m gonna hunt you down and kill you and your hooker girlfriend.” Smith hit Malcolm hard on the head with the butt of the pistol. Malcolm sank to the cell floor. The two cops left. As they turned and walked out of the cell, Mulhaney said quietly, “We’re going after your family and your friends next, nigger.”

Lawyer Jerry McCaffrey had scheduled a meeting with Malcolm for the next day at noon. When he arrived at the prison he was told that his visit had been canceled. McCaffrey refused to leave and demanded to see his client. The guard in charge of admitting visitors refused. McCaffrey demanded to talk to the person in charge of the prison. After half an hour of arguing and threats, he was brought to the warden’s office. He demanded an explanation. The warden told McCaffrey that Malcolm was in the infirmary for wounds sustained during a seizure of some kind. McCaffrey demanded to use the warden’s phone and called Grace.

“Does Malcolm have any history of seizures?” he asked her as soon as she answered. He knew the answer would be no. He had a terrible feeling that either the guards or those two cops had beaten Malcolm Friday night. “Thank you, Grace.” He hung up the phone.

“I don’t believe your assertion, Warden,” said McCaffrey. “If I am not permitted to visit my client immediately either in his cell or in the infirmary I will leave these premises immediately and call my good friend who happens to be the city editor of the Washington Post. He’s been interested in this case ever since I mentioned it to him a few days ago over drinks. It’s just that he hasn’t found an angle that will attract the front office’s attention at his paper. But if I can mix your little prison into the story and say something about your guards letting rogue policemen into the prison at night after the administration goes home and that these rogue cops use their entrance into Patuxent Correctional Facility to beat and intimidate prisoners into confessing to crimes they may or may not have committed – well, you get my drift, don’t you warden?”

The warden got his drift. He called for a contingent of guards to take McCaffrey and himself to the infirmary. When he saw Malcolm’s swollen, scabbed-over face and his swollen crotch, McCaffrey knew exactly what had happened. He tried to talk to Malcolm, but he was unconscious from the painkilling drugs that were dripping into him.

“He better not die, Warden.” McCaffrey said coldly. He stared at the warden. “Can you please escort me out of here now?” McCaffrey wasn’t going to tell the papers just yet. He was going to tell Reverend Moore, Malcolm’s family and friends, and the Maryland Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality. They could tell the papers.

———————

excerpted from Short Order Frame Up

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