Who / What was mostly to blame for the riots of the 1960s?
A Holiday of Piracy
The police raid on Economy Printing had cleared by 5:00 a.m. Detroit police, knowing they had just ripped open a bee hive on 12th Street, decided to abandon the area believing it was there presence that was antagonizing the crowd and with their presence removed the crowd would eventually break up and go home.
The first sign of trouble came at 5:10 a.m. when the 10th Precinct began to get calls from 12th Street residents inquiring as to "why all the burglar alarms were going off on 12th Street."
The situation was out of control from the beginning. As police commissioner Girardin sardonically commented later, "The rioters reacted quicker than we did." Being the height of summer, many police were on vacation, leaving the department undermanned. Detroit police were ordered early on not to shoot looters. This set in motion the ugly machinery that was to come. Word of mouth passes quickly in densely populated areas and by the evening hours reports began filtering in that neighboring Linwood Avenue was now bearing the wrath of the rioters. This was followed in short order by fires and looting on Grand River, Warren, Livernois, Oakland and the Dexter area of Detroit.
In no other riot-sacked city has there been such wholesale cooperation between blacks and whites cueing up like happy locusts for a running grab at life’s luxuries.
Unlike the 43’ riot, the 67’ riot was aimed not so much at skin color as at color television sets.
During the first 19 hours of the riot the police department logged 900 calls and scout car runs. An estimated 10,000 people were ripping Detroit apart like a great piñata, looting stores from Livernois on the west to Conner on the east. While the first day was devastating, the worst was yet to come. The riot would rage for the next four days, finally blowing itself out on Thursday. Detroit had gone from being the Model city of race relations and opportunity to the poster child for anarchy physically resembling a bombed out Stalingrad of 1943.
As the afternoon progressed, Detroit police began to arrest looters actually caught in the act of stealing, in droves. As night approached and with it the cover of darkness, the looting progressed dramatically. Many who had never stolen in their life felt prompted by this unique opportunity, the fear of being left out of this huge grab bag of temptation that fate had placed before them.
Looters were bold and brazen when the no shoot order was discovered. This looter hailed a taxi to help him take his newly acquired chair home. The two struggled mightily to get it into the trunk of the cab. Finally admitting defeat, the cab driver drove away, leaving the frustrated rioter at his leisure.
At 2:00 p.m. Sunday, Mayor Cavanagh summoned the State Police. As the situation grew worse, at 4:00 p.m. he contacted Governor Romney and requested the National Guard be brought in. With the additional presence of these two entities, by late afternoon it appeared as if the situation on 12th Street was gaining control. This was an aberration. Rioters simply moved to other streets outside the cordoned off area. To make matters worse, the Guardsmen were on their two week annual training in Grayling several hours away. Only a few hundred were at the Detroit armory ready to be deployed.
Above: Arrestees run the guantlett of officers and into 1300 Beaubien to be processed.
Overwhelmed Detroit police were arresting rioters on a production line basis. From this yet another problem evolved. Police were out of places to put detainees.Unable to house the avalanche of prisoners, Detroit police had to improvise. Below: DSR buses parked on Macomb in front of the Recorder Court Building being used as temporary holding pens.
For more than 20 years Irving Goldstein worked 16 hours a day at his 12th Street jewelry store. He started there after WW II, working out of is apartment. Saving his money, a few years later he bought his own building, Bizen Sales Co. at 9005 12th Street.
At 12th Street changed from a Jewish neighborhood to a black one, his business began to pick up. Goldstein sold cheap, imported watches and rings - thousands of them - to the swarm of 12th Street hustlers and peddlers. These were the people who worked the bus stations and opened their coat to display rows of watches and rings. Just before the riot, Goldstein’s business was at its peak. He employed eight people in his store and rented two floors of a warehouse at 12th and Pingree to store his merchandise.
During the first day of the riot, Goldstein went to the 10th Precinct and begged for two men to accompany him to his store to get his safe. He said there was $100,000 in diamonds in the safe and a lot of cash. “The police were running around with their helmets on. They were too busy to help me.” Goldstein said. “For three days they (police) told me, ‘Bizon, tomorrow we’ll get your safe.” On the fourth day the safe was gone. It took three days for looters to hammer through the building’s two-and-one half foot brick wall to get the safe. On that same day the warehouse burned to the ground with all his stock in it.
Goldstein decided to stay on 12th Street and start again. Then in April of 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated and Goldstein got a call from the 10th Precinct. “They told me: ‘Bizen, you’d better get your stuff
out of there before they do.” Too late, looters cleaned him out again.
Goldstein moved once and for all, “I remember looking at that empty store when I moved. I felt like my whole life had been wasted. Twenty years wiped out. They took everything except the sign on the building. They left
me with $250,000 worth of bills and no stock. I wouldn’t go back to 12th Street if they paved it with diamonds.”
"I wouldn't go back to 12th Street
if they paved it with diamonds."
"Now I know nobody in here has any
loot, Oh Lord No,
I know none of my people would do a
thing like that.
But just in case some of you wake up one
morning and find that a color TV just
happened up on your porch or a radio just
stopped by to say hello, I'll help you
get it back to where it belongs."
12th Street preacher to congregation
Who / What was mostly to blame for the riots of the 1960s?
Riots of the 1960s were primarily rebellions against terrible circumstances. If you were fortunate enough to grow up middle class or better (i.e. Paris Hilton) then it would be very difficult for you to understand the anger, despair and frustration of growing up black amongst inner city poverty.
Ghettos become prisons without walls, an inescapable vortex of grief. When entire communities are saturated with this frustration, then the time bomb begins to tick. The most dangerous person in any society if the one who believes they have nothing to lose.