I swear that I actually witnessed the following.
On a summer night in 1989 Mickey Roache came upon a donnybrook in front of Fuentes Market on Parker St. in Mission Hill involving four or five Boston Housing Police officers and a gaggle of the young men who hung in front of the store. They were beating the daylights out of one another until Mickey announced himself. Then they all just stopped fighting, simultaneously. Like God had thrown the switch.
The fighters stayed stopped and they listened while Commissioner Roache spoke. From growing up in South Boston’s Lower End as the son of an ILA member, Francis Michael Roache knew how to talk to tough kids on rough corners. He didn’t ask for an explanation. He gave both sides a talking-to, in his usual quiet way, about the perils and pointlessness of what they were doing. Before the Commissioner got back in his car and left, both groups of brawlers drifted away.
The only conclusion I could reach was this: Mickey’s legitimate authority and credibility as a man of peace was enough. Maybe the Housing cops stopped because he was their boss, but the corner guys stopped immediately also. Young men in the scared but rapturous throes of ass-kicking don’t usually behave this way…
I know for a fact that it wasn’t the threat of force that stopped the fighting. Because the PC had assigned his two sergeants to do trouble-shooting at some of the night’s many complicated incidents, the “force” on Parker St. was Civilian Me as the wheelman and Civilian Roache (BPD commissioners are civilians by law, another Yankee-Irish tale for another post). Neither a gun nor a police badge between us. When you consider that I was the “security” for the Boston Police Commissioner on a hot, uneasy night on Mission Hill you realize just how crazy things could get in that troubled time.
As cited in earlier posts, Mickey built his legitimacy over a 30+-year career by practicing procedural justice, that is, treating people fairly, firmly and decently, especially in his pioneering role as commander of the BPD anti-bias unit.
Legitimacy, it seems to me, works.