Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Detroit, I Do Mind Dying...

In the wee hours of the morning on this day in 1967, police executed what they thought would be a routine roust on an after-hours club in Detroit, Michigan, only to find more than eighty patrons. Stuck in the middle after they were already on the premises, the officers couldn't just leave, so they arrested them all. The rest is history in the form of a five-day nightmare that eventually saw more than 4000 arrested and left 43 dead. If you don't know the story, you can watch a documentary on it online. You can also do an interesting follow up by reading Detroit, I Do Mind Dying, a book originally published in 1975 on the Black revolutionary union movement.

On the 26th, while the uprising was still in full sway, H. Rap Brown, then head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was arrested in Cambridge, Maryland, for declaring in a speech he was giving, "Black folks built America, and if America don’t come around, we’re going to burn America down."

On the 27th, police in Chicago, Illinois, refusing to arrest a White man responsible for the death of a young African-American sparked a similar explosion in that midwestern city. According to the Coroner's report, "Five days of terrible hate and passion let loose, cost the people of Chicago 38 lives..., wounded and maimed several hundred, destroyed property of untold value, filled thousands with fear, blemished the city and left in its wake fear and apprehension for the future..."

What did we learn from all this? That there is a raging sea of frustration just under the surface in the United States that will always find a blow hole until we address what is producing it. And that the authorities are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep the oppressed down. Why do I put it like that? Because after they restored "order," nothing was done to change the social problems that caused the violence in the first place.

It has been said that violence is the language of the inarticulate. I would argue that it's the language of the unheard. We better listen.


NOTE: The information in this post came from This Week in History, a wonderful resource for learning our real history.


Sawtooth said...

This Detroit story dredges up some other painful memories...Watts "riots", events in East St. Louis during the late 1960s. ("riots" is a law enforcement term?). Was it the failed "war on poverty" (what "war"? think we lost that one)..was it the deplorable living conditions in urban high-rise public housing (non-working elevators, no maintenance, no security for residents) that resulted in the imploding of Cabrini-Green in Chicago and Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis? What was left? Vacant land erased of the past. This is pretty depressing. Thanks for the book link about Detroit - a must read!

Macon D said...

Thanks for the video and your excellent post--right said. It's important to be reminded of these events, and I think you're absolutely right that given how the conditions that brought them about haven't been corrected,there's more to come. Indeed, it could be that we ain't seen nothing yet.

Changeseeker said...

Don't forget Newark, sawtooth. And yes, "riot" is a law enforcement term that minimizes the reality of the occurances and, in fact, attempts to sidestep their nature. Which is why one of the keywords under which this post is archived is "Black resistance."

macon d. wrote: "Indeed, it could be that we ain't seen nothing yet."

I fear as much, macon. I fear as much.