Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
A long time ago, in a Detroit far, far away, the Tigers split a doubleheader with the Yankees. Tiger pitcher for the first game, Mickey Lolich, had just lost his 10th straight game, a club record. During the second game, left fielder Willie Horton hit a home run to help the Tigers beat the Yankees. Radio announcer Ernie Harwell had been instructed to say nothing about the thick, black smoke billowing north of iconic Tiger Stadium.
In the long, hot summer of 1967, a tinderbox had been constructed of police distrust by black citizens, unemployment woes, a war far away, agitators, and “politics out of doors,” as it was called a century earlier. A raid of an after-hours bar struck a match when more than 80 people attending a party celebrating the return of a couple of soldiers from Vietnam were arrested and someone threw a bottle at police, then a brick through a window. Hours after the early morning raid, some described a carnival atmosphere in the neighborhood. The pastor of a local church later recalled a scene of “…gleefulness in throwing stuff and getting stuff out of buildings,” first a clothing store in the neighborhood, later grocery and retail stores in other neighborhoods. The media didn’t want to incite a spread of the violence so nothing was reported, deliberately, at first. But the violence and looting by both black and white spread anyway. Aided by a hot windy day, Detroit was in flames.
After the ball game, Willie Horton left the stadium wearing his Tiger uniform and drove north to his childhood neighborhood at 12th and Clairmount. He got out of his car and climbed onto the roof. In his autobiography, he recalled:
“Why are you burning up and tearing up the neighborhood you live in?” I asked. I kept asking why are you doing this, but no one had an answer. I told them this wasn’t the way to do it. Don’t loot. Don’t destroy your neighborhood. This is your neighborhood. Your schools.
People recognized Horton in his Tigers uniform. They urged him to leave for his own safety. He did.
Congressman John Conyers tried to do the same thing. He went out into the crowd without the benefit of a baseball uniform. He was pelted with bottles and bricks.
Pitcher Denny McLain sat up all night with his uncle and a rifle. “The fear some of the media put into us was uncalled for.”
A 16-year-old black boy was shot and killed. A 45-year-old white looter was shot by the store owner. After ignored curfews, armed store owners and homeowners, 800 state police, 8,000 National Guardsmen including pitcher Mickey Lolich and 4,700 members of the 82nd Airborne, the smoke cleared and the riots ended. Five days, five nights. Businesses and homes destroyed. Thirty-three blacks and ten whites killed. Nearly 1,200 wounded. Thousands arrested. Millions of dollars in damage. Blocks and blocks of Detroit laid waste for years and years.
1967. Detroit, Cleveland, Newark, Tampa, Buffalo, Portland, Toledo, and many, many more. Burnt-out buildings were bulldozed and never rebuilt. Black and white families fled Detroit and other cities.
In 1967, the tinderbox was built by economic and racial inequities, fears and opportunities, war, anger, and greed.
In 2020, the tinderbox was built by illness and fear, unemployment and lockdowns, confinement and frustration, race and the politics of outdoors. Handcuffs and knees and necks. A police officer who failed to close his cover before striking the match.
Riots are not a way for members of the press to make a name for themselves. Riots are not an opportunity to “stick it to the man.” Riots are not an opportunity for a five-finger discount. Lives and livelihoods are destroyed. Neighborhoods never recover.
Riots still kill and destroy. They still frighten children, who will ask their fathers if the rioters are mad at us, will they come and hurt us, will they destroy our home or your business. But the tinderboxes continue to be built. And the matches continue to be struck.
Heaven help us.Published in