1959 August 25

Jazz Great Miles Davis Beaten by NYC Police


The great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis was beaten by New York City police officers and arrested on this day. Davis was finishing a two-week stint at the famous Birdland Jazz Club. While taking a break, Davis escorted a young white woman outside where they could smoke. A white police officer ordered him to “move on.” Davis replied, “For what?” The officer decided to arrest him, a physical struggle ensued, and three detectives joined in and began beating Davis. A crowd of 200 people quickly appeared. Davis was subsequently acquitted of the charges of disorderly conduct and assaulting an officer. The story, complete with pictures, received wide news media coverage, and served to dramatize the simmering issue of racism in the New York City Police Department.

The case dramatized the pattern of police harassment of African-Americans for behavior that is not an offense (standing on the corner smoking a cigarette), and the escalation of such incidents into the use of force by the police.

Learn more: Miles Davis, Miles, The Autobiography (1989)

And more: Ian Carr, Miles Davis: A Biography (1982)

Listen to the classic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue (1959)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbxtYqA6ypM

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