1967 editorial reprint: The Senseless Few
This editorial was originally published in The Detroit News on July 24, 1967.
It HAS happened here.
After years of success in preserving racial peace, and despite all that concerned community leadership — both black and white — did to keep Detroit whole while it tackled its problems, it has happened here.
Was it a civil rights explosion?
Perhaps in the very broadest sense: The street corner loungers who gathered Sunday morning on 12th Street to heckle police as they cleaned out a blind pig; the toughs who transformed a crowd into a mob by smashing windows; the looters who exploited the opportunity; all these can be called the product of past generations of injustice.
But these mobsters, arsonists and looters were not fighting a civil rights battle.
The neighborhoods torn apart do not teem with unemployment. Times are not desperate in Detroit for people who want and can work and the rioters who rampaged were not confined to the unemployed.
Detroit’s police, whatever old history may recall, have for some time functioned as a disciplined professional police force should conduct itself; they continued to so function all day yesterday and on into today morning’s hours, even in the face of grave disorder and assault upon themselves. There was no “police brutality.”
No one has confronted the city with any set of demands for remedy of specific conditions which could have a caused a riot.
Indeed, a singular thing happened in Detroit’s new trial by fire and looting, something which didn’t happen and couldn’t have happened in the race riots of 1943. It is the near unanimity of Detroit’s Negro leaders in support of city and state efforts to put down the disorder.
In 1943, the only way a Negro leader might have been seen in Police Headquarters would have been under arrest. This Sunday they were all there, with their white counterparts, concerned about what was happening to their city, ready to do what was required to help, and accepting as a matter of course their obligation to help restore order.
They were there with the governor, the mayor and all the rest who make a city tick, to serve the city. And in the gathering of diverse and often politically antagonistic men, there was no partisanship, no recrimination, no drawing of a black-white line.
While the governor of New Jersey, looking at riot-torn Newark, was speculating hopefully that he might be able to assemble white and black leadership to discuss their city’s problems, Detroit’s leaders of both races turned out immediately and on their own initiative.
And yet it happened here.
That doesn’t prove that all the efforts of a quarter century have been in vain. A few hundred or a few thousand Negroes have shown their contempt for law and the system; a half million others stayed out of it, hoping and waiting with their white fellow citizens for the rampage to end and the rule of law to be restored.
These Negro citizens are not on TV or in the news photos. The looters and rioters hold that center stage at the moment.
Unconcerned about jobs, or housing, or schools, or what wreckage they leave in their wake, the looters and rioters heed no appeals, whether from the mouths of black men or of white. They obviously have never been reached by reason in the past and cannot now be reached.
What motivated the looters will be of academic interest — when the mob has disappeared and the fires die down. Right now, the first order of business is to restore order.
It will be done. The civilized Detroit community, black and white, outnumbers the mob by some 10,000 to one, and it will prevail.