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1967 reprint: Violence on 12th: Street of Nightmares

Jon Lowell
The Detroit News

This story was originally published in The Detroit News on July 24, 1967.

Raids by “The Man” are part of the fabric of life in the tough, tense world that makes up the nights and days on 12th Street.

But there was one change yesterday in the normal routine the Detroit police use in raiding after-hours drinking establishments.

The change may be what triggered the melee in front of 9125 12th.

Normally, police prefer to load the people arrested in such raids into patrol wagons by pulling the wagons into an alley behind the building involved.

YESTERDAY MORNING they had to pull the three wagons onto the street on 12th. By the time they had finished loading the 73 persons arrested, an angry, bottle and rock throwing mob of 200 had gathered.

In the nice neighborhoods, it would be nearly impossible to draw a large crowd at 5 a.m. on a summer Sunday morning.

But 12th Street isn’t a nice neighborhood.

By day, 12th is a congested narrow avenue with little between storefront and curbstone.

The Virginia Park area where the troubled first boiled into the streets is part of Detroit’s 10th Police Precinct. An estimated 145,000 people are jammed into its 6 ½ square miles.

The main artery of the precinct is 12th and the precinct has the highest crime rate in the city.

During the daylight hours, the 12th Street area is the kind of place people dream of getting out of.

At night, too many of the people who did get out come back.

THEY COME BACK for lures like a young girl standing with a hip cocked on a street corner. It’s $10 for 10 minutes and it is one of 12th Street’s major industries.

Blind pigs like the one that was raided are another big business on 12th.

They are the places where the “shooters,” the big spenders, the night people have their fun.

There are drinks, gambling and an occasional girl.

Sgt. Arthur Howison, the man who leads the Livernois Station cleanup squad that made yesterday morning’s raid, has plunged through countless doors into blind pigs in the 12th Street area.

HE DOESN’T understand what happened.

“It was just an average raid. We arrested the people and made out the papers. There was absolutely no trouble with the people we arrested,” he said.

But by the time Howison and the other police officers could get the people from the blind pig into the wagon, angry Negros were starting to vent their complex web of hostilities.

“Just as we pulled away a bottle smashed a squad car window,” the sergeant said.

From that point on 12th Street’s swinging Saturday night became Sunday morning’s horror.

DR. JAMES BOYCE is a Wayne State University professor and coordinator of the Virginia Park Rehabilitation Project which was aimed at putting the area back on its feet.

“The blind pig thing didn’t start this. It might of sparked it but it didn’t start it. It’s been building for years while people just sat by,” Boyce said.

“It’s a sad thing to see a little boy walking down the street with a quart bottle of pop he looted. But it’s touching in a way too. He holds it up proudly for the other kids to see as if to say, ‘Look at me; I was there too; I got something.’ Suddenly, he’s transformed from a faceless nonperson to a somebody. He has a new stature.”

Boyce said he felt the ground swells toward trouble building for the last seven years. Federal aid came too late, he said.

“We could have used it in 1960. When we got it, things had gone too far.”

BOYCE WASN’T the only one trying to help the neighborhood. Many articulate and educated residents of the area were working with the Virginia Park project using a $525,000 federal planning grant.

It was up to an anonymous painter to scrawl the final mocking message to “whitey.”

Painted on the pavement of 12th in huge block turquoise letters visible from a helicopter overhead were the words: “Black Power.”

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