What Can You Do
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
  Riots Revisited

This past July marked the 40th anniversary of the Detroit riot/rebellion/uprising/insurrection.

Fifth Estate, then a biweekly newspaper, covered the riots days after they occurred. Peter Werbe, still a writer and editor with FE, wrote the following story.

FE discussed the riots on their twentieth anniversary in 1987, when T. Fulano wrote the reflection that follows Werbe's article here.

While I was a mere tadpole swimming in my mama's womb during the summer of 1967, my experience of Detroit was always shaped by the riot's resonance. (I lived in Southfield, Michigan from 1982-86 and in Detroit proper from late 1987 through the end of 1994.) I discuss the anniversary of the summer of riots and love

“get the big stuff”

FE 35, August 1-15, 1967

Peter Werbe

“The chickens are coming home to roost.”—Malcolm X, Nov. 22, 1963

Malcolm was right, of course, and the chickens have come home so many ways since that grim day four years ago. Vietnam, Malcolm’s own death, riots across the country and now the biggest chicken of them all—the Detroit riot.

Detroit always does things in a big way.

The destruction, looting, killing, and violence have been chronicled to such an extent that no repetition is necessary here.

This newspaper has concentrated its observations on the hippie, new left, and avant garde community it serves.

The geographical center of that community—the Warren Forest area near Wayne University—was relatively untouched by the holocaust.

The Fifth Estate office at Warren and John Lodge was unharmed as were the adjacent offices of the Artists’ Workshop, Trans-Love Energies, and the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Our newspaper office sported a “soul brother” sign and two larger” banners were hung from Trans-Love, reading “Peace on Earth” and “Burn, Baby, Burn.”

Hippie and political residents of the Warren Forest area reacted to the situation just like their poorer neighbors—they took whatever wasn’t nailed down.

They joined the Negros and Southern whites in cleaning out the stores on Trumbull and Forest, which now lie in ashes, the Krogers on Second and Prentis and other stores. Looters came back laden with goodies, swapping stories of harrowing experiences with the guardsmen and bartering goods that they had in excess. The mayor was certainly right about the “carnival atmosphere.” Everything was FREE.

Kae Halonen, a resident of W. Hancock, described the scene as that of integrated looting. “There was complete cooperation between the races in their common endeavor,” she said. “There were children carrying toys they never would have been able to afford.”

Detroit’s Communications Company, which distributes leaflets in the area put out a broadside that advertised “Detroit Summer Plunder Festival” and advised residents to “Get the Big Stuff” and “Loot—it’s the American Way.” One hippie was reported to have unlocked an abandoned gas station and was pumping free gasoline to anyone who came along.

When asked if looting was not contrary to the hippie philosophy of love, John Sinclair, head of Trans-Love and Fifth Estate staffer replied, “We told the merchants before the riot they should give everything away, but they wouldn’t listen.”

“It’s a little out of hand, but it’s beautiful,” said one hippie. “It looks like Rome burning,” said another as he observed the city in flames from a roof top.

Wayne University was untouched by the rioting as was Mixed Media bookstore on Cass Ave. Also unscathed was all of Plum Street which had protection from the Outlaws Motorcycle Club.

Residents of Prentis, near WSU, report severe abuse at the hands of the Detroit Police the second night of the riot.

Eric Glatz of 669 Prentis told of how police and national guardsmen entered his apartment and struck him several times. An eye witness report of other brutality appears elsewhere in this issue. The Fifth Estate welcomes other first-hand reports of the riot including illegal experiences. Anonymity of the writer is of course assured.

As I sat typing this story two carloads of Detroit cops in full battle gear pulled up to several citizens peacefully sitting in front of 633 Prentis. As they leaped from their cars they shouted, “Don’t you know there is a curfew?” It was 10:15 p.m.

“Stand up and touch your toes!” yelled one cop at those stranded in front of the building.

The cops searched their victims and in the process kicked one to the ground. There was no problem in the neighborhood, but that’s how it always is on Prentis.

H. Rapp Brown, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who was arrested July 26 for inciting to riot, said “We (Negroes) built this country and we’re going to burn it down.”

And it looks like they will if Detroit is an example—the toll is 38 dead; injuries in the thousands; 1500 fires; almost 2000 looted stores; 15,000 troops in the city; over 3100 arrests; and about a billion dollars in property damage. All set records.

That’s a hell of a chicken.

“July 1967”

T. Fulano

FE 326, Summer 1987

It was a full scale beggar’s banquet, the return of the repressed, a surprise party. The city people, young and old, black and white, went through the pawnshop windows like meteorites. Nervous exorcists, trembling before a mortal turned evil and massive and enigmatic, the politicians asked, “Who are you?” And like demons unleashed from an inferno, they answered, “Many.”

How it burned! Ferocious and magnificient, in the conjured-up, premature, arsonist dawn. It was a small moment of truth: the plundered became the plunderers. Booze ran in the streets from the shattered liquor stores. Then the blood ran. The cops and the troops began their grim retaking of the city. Fifty caliber wasps swarmed against the apartment buildings, cutting through the brick effortlessly. Tanya Blanding, four years old, was dragged away in the bullets’ undertow, a touch of Vietnam for the folks at home. John Leroy, gunned down at a roadblock, lay on a pavement in a spreading tarpaulin of his own blood. There was a shortage of snipers.

Today Detroit, feeble, decaying, sinks deeper into the vortex. More black politicians, now, and more black cops. Counterinsurgency has done its job. But the burden is heavier, the air thicker, the despair more giddy. The “riots,” we are told, were a “tragedy.” And they certainly were for the people murdered and maimed by the state. But the real tragedy is that the riots didn’t spread, that they didn’t deepen into full scale, conscious revolt. The tragedy is that since then, the real theft—of bread and dreams—has continued.

The tragedy is that so few looters ever learned the meaning of their festival and started buying into the new program on time. The tragedy is that so many have turned fatalistic and have turned their backs on their potential allies and their faces to the wall. The tragedy is that there is now a surplus of snipers, and they’ve got no aim.

It was a binge, a saturnalia, a world turned momentarily upside down. It was a tremor, coming from deep recesses that some would prefer to wish away, to buy away, to machine-gun away. But it’s still there, a shifting tectonic magma, rumbling, creaking, pressure building, and it won’t go away.


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Location: Cookeville, Tennessee

Writer, teacher, activist

November 2005 / November 2006 / February 2007 / June 2007 / August 2007 / October 2007 / May 2008 /

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