ay, July 23, 1977 -T HE M~~~C~ N ~~Y
Learning to forget
Part II-DETROIT, 1977
By KEITH B. RICHBURG
There is a grass median down the
center of 12th Street, now called Rosa
Parks Blvd. Newly planted trees are
held upright by support wires at the
curb. On either side of the street, there
are only grass lots, some fenced in,
The fire-gutted tenements and store-
fronts have all been torn down. The
rubble of the remains has mostly been
carted away - the last visible signs
of 12th Street, 1967, are gone.
WILLIAM BOND, a resident of 12th
and Hazelwood, is disabled now and
spends most of his time sitting in the
newly constructed city park at the cor-
ner of 12th and Clairmont, the site of
the first violence a decade ago.
"I think 12th got the worst of all.
I don't know what would be left from
it, 'lessen that old hardware store,"
Bond said, gesturing south.
a "A lot of them old buildings prob-
ably needed burning down," he added.
"But that wasn't the way to do it."
BOND THINKS THE RtIOT of 1967
"could've started from a Blind Pig raid,"
but, he cautions, "Police brutality, that
starts riots too. That's probably some
of what it was."
Bond remembers the riot days well.
"They had National Guard and curfew
and shit goin' on."
Have things changed since 1967? Is
Detroit any better off? "Oh yeah, things
got quite a bit better. It's been quite
an improvement after the riot."
HE HESITATED and said, "Still got
room for quite a bit more, though."
Another who thinks there is room
for improvement is Congressman John
Congers, who states flatly that "very
little" has changed since 1967, and he
cites unemployment in the ghetto as
case in point.
"We have the same problems that
are manifested by having unemployed
people, which we aren't doing anything
CONYERS SAYS any advancement
has to come from the Federal level,
and he gets in a quick and thinly
veiled jab at President Carter; "The
post-riot efforts have failed, especially
at the Federal level ... Mr. Carter.
brought about a setting by which bal-
ancing the budget was predominant.
We are now busying measuring oil and
energy and blackouts."
(The recent New York City blackout
saw widespread looting in the poor ghet-
Classically, the President wants to
get a report in two weeks on why New
York blacked out, instead of making a
statement on the underpriviledged lower
Detroit, 1967, sent a flurry of sociolo-
gists and analysts out to find answers
- Was it a race riot? To what ex-
tent was the Police Department the
target of unrest? More importantly, can
it happen again?
WE NOW HAVE a decade of hind-
sight, and at least some of the answers
have become readily apparent with the
passage of time.
Was 1967 a race riot?
The answer is a resounding "no,"
in the sense that 1967 was a far cry
from the riot of 1943, when white mobs
battled black mobs in the streets.
THE 1967 UPHEAVEL was the revolt
of ghetto-residents, Black and White,
against the Establishment which they-
held responsible for their plight and
their poverty. The stores looted and
the tenements burned, at least at the
outset of the uprising, were owned by
those "establishment" figures who did
not live in the area, but exploited the
residents with high prices, high rent,
and unfair credit systems.
Black store owners were usually by-
passed by the plunderers, as most had
posted hastily-scribbled signs in their
window: "Soul Brother."
But perhaps ,no area of the Establish-
ment was a more visible target for re-
bellion than the Police. And for those
civil libertarians searching for a personi-
fication of police harrassment, the Al-
giers Motel became the stereotype for
the racist, oppressive men in blue prey-
ing on the poor and the innocent.
WHAT MADE the Algiers tragedy,
where three Blacks were found mur-
dered allegedly by police, the perfect
manifestation was that the officers in-
volved were so average - young, for-
mer boy scouts and camp leaders, a
Baptist and two Catholics, all three
with Police honors and commendations.
Their "averageness" gave credence to
the charge that it wasn't the individual
officers, but the community at large
from which they were recruited that
had to be changed. As Ms. Ray Girar-
din, widow of the police commissioner
of the 60's put it, "let's face it, most
of them didn't like Black people."
The change has been slow and pains-
taking. Detroit now has a Black police
chief and a 25 per cent Black force.
Residency, which the department is
fighting all the way to court, would force
the officers to live in the city.
But Congressman Conyers warns "We
live in a police state that is much lar-
ger than who is the police chief in De-
troit." He cites police surveillance and
harrassment at the pighest levels of law
"WE HAVE MORE of a police state
than we had ten years ago," Conyers
And it's that police state that makes
some, like Conyers, believe that another
riot is not possible
"What you see is not the potential
for a riot as there was in the 1960's,"
Conyers says, noting that today, even the
ghetto dwellers know that another riot
would be "very futile."
"THERE IS, IN THE Pentagon, a
department of urban unrest. They are
highly coordinated and prepared for
civil riots. It monitors civilian popula-
tion center that could explode, usually
with large amounts of Blacks," he adds.
In the event of another riot, Conyers
says, Federal troops would quell the
disturbance almost instantly.
The basic problems, however, at least
to this U.S. Congressman, are still there:
"We are still in the same situation that
we were in ten years ago."
IF THE PROBLEMS are indeed the
same, then the people make the onlI
marked difference, aside from the land
scape itself. The Algiers Motel is no
the Desert Inn, and the desk clerk wil
shout at you from behind plexiglas:
"I don't know anything about the riot.'
So is the feeling of most area resi-
dents. Either they weren't around at
the time, or they simply can't remem-
Or simply choose to forget.
As William Bond put it, "Almost
ever'thing been turned over since then
- different people, different ever'thing."
There is a new Renaissance Center
on the Waterfront of Detroit, and a new
stadium is under construction. Wood-
ward Avenue, which never saw any of
the rioting of 1967, is being converted
into a glass-domed mall. Rosa Parks
Blvd., however, is still barren, save a
few newly planted trees and a grass
median and a park. Plans for a shop-
ping center are still on the drawing
"I don't ,know how long it'll take
'em to build it back 'up," William Bon
said. "They did a lot of tearing down
in a week or so."
Keith B. Richburg is a Daily
staff reporter who lives in De-