The night of May 7, after a chase that began in Watts and ended some 50 blocks farther north, two Los Angeles policemen, Caucasians, succeeded in halting a car driven by Leonard Deadwyler, a Negro. With him were his pregnant wife and a friend. The younger cop (who’d once had a complaint brought against him for rousing some Negro kids around in a more than usually abusive way) went over and stuck his head and gun in the car window to talk to Deadwyler. A moment later there was a shot; the young Negro fell sideways in the seat, and died. The last thing he said, according to the other cop, was, “She’s going to have a baby.”
The coroner’s inquest went on for the better part of two weeks, the cop claiming the car had lurched suddenly, causing his service revolver to go off by accident; Deadwyler’s widow claiming that it was cold-blooded murder and that the car had never moved. The verdict, to no one’s surprise, cleared the cop of all criminal responsibility. It had been an accident. The D.A. announced immediately that he thought so, too, and that as far as he was concerned the case was closed. This story was published, not in 2016, but fifty years ago, in June of 1966. Its author was a young writer whose second novel had appeared a few months earlier. His name? Thomas Pynchon.