AS I WAS SAYING: Detroit riot shows what can happen
But, if you believe that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, allow me to take you back to 1967 in a major American city not far from here. Detroit.
In the early morning hours of July 23, 1967, Detroit police raided an unlicensed drinking hall. They thought that at that hour they would find a handful of night owls but instead stumbled into a full party of 82 people.
82 black people.
The police decide to arrest everyone, and as a crowd begins to gather in the streets, bottles start to fly, hitting the officers.
Once the officers clear the scene and take away the party-goers, the mob takes over. An adjacent store gets its windows smashed and a few items stolen. Within minutes, full blown looting springs up throughout the neighbourhood. The Michigan National Guard is alerted, but are slow to respond because it is Sunday…and frankly, even police officers who saw the vandalism believed it would soon wind down.
With no internet, no cell phone cameras, no Facebook, no 24 hour news channels…it fell to the Detroit media to alert the world as to what was happening in the Motor City. They did little, in many cases avoiding to report the rioting so as not to inspire copycat violence.
But by Sunday afternoon, it had spread so far across the city that fans were told when leaving the Tigers game to avoid certain spots in the city. Left fielder Willie Horton, a beloved African American born in Detroit drove to the riot area after the game still in his uniform and stood in the middle of 12th Avenue screaming for people to stop.
The violence continued throughout the evening and overnight and as the sun rose on Monday, July 24, 1967, Detroit’s reputation would be forever tarnished.
Looters were arrested on site and shoved into makeshift jails guarded by an overwhelmed Detroit police force in the hopes of stemming the tide. Windsor, Ontario police were called in to assist in the finger printing and paper work.
But by this point, looting was the least of their problems. On that Monday alone, more than 480 fires were set in Detroit and firefighters reported being shot at by rioters as they arrived at flash points throughout the city.
By nightfall, 1,800 people were arrested; 80 per cent of them were black. Of the items looted, 2,500 rifles and almost 40 handguns were stolen from shops. The mob was now armed and outmanned the authorities.
It took until Tuesday before the full impact of Detroit’s violent descent was address by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. He cited a rarely used Insurrection Act from 1807 that allowed the President to call in armed forces against any insurrection against the government. The chaos continued.
Within 48 hours, it seemed that the worst had passed, but what was discovered in the aftermath was as sickening as the captured images of the initial panic.
Blacks shot dead in the Algiers Motel, suspects beaten in prison, women photographed while being sexually assaulted by police officers.
It is estimated that over the five days, close to 10,000 people took part in the riots, with about another 100,000 people simply standing in the streets. Watching.
Forty-three people died; 33 were black with 17 of them shot by white officers. One Detroit officer was killed as well as two firefighters; 1,200 people were injured while more than 7,200 people were arrested.
In 1994, Mayor Coleman Young, its city’s first black mayor, wrote of the riots of 1967 that the greatest casualty was Detroit itself saying that the violence put the Motor City on the fast track to economic desolation.
Racism and violence has gone hand in hand in the United States for more than 200 years. The difference is that in our highly technological world, we now have immediate access to the details with video evidence, eyewitness tweets and the ever-present use of security cameras.
Be appalled at what you read and what you see. But don’t surprised. It has happened before in a city not six hours from your front door less than 50 years ago.
And unless a serious view of history and its bloody aftermaths are respected, it is doomed to happen over and over again.
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