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12th Street Riot
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12th Street Riot

The 12th Street Riot in Detroit, Michigan occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, after vice squad officers executed a raid at an illegal after-hours drinking establishment (known as a blind pig) on the corner of 12th Street (today also known as "Rosa Parks Boulevard") and Clairmount Avenue on the city's near westside. This evolved into one of the most deadly and destructive riots in U.S. history--far surpassing the disturbances which broke out in the city during 1943--and eclipsed only by those occurring in Newark, New Jersey (1967) and the riots in Los Angeles, California (1992). In 1967, the Detroit Police Department's Tac Squads, each made up of four police officers (predominately white), had a reputation among the black population of Detroit for harassment and brutality.

The officers had expected to find a handful of people in the bar, but instead found 82 people celebrating the return of two local veterans from the war in Vietnam. Despite the large number, police decided to arrest everyone. A crowd gathered around the establishment, protesting as patrons were led away. After the last police car left, a group of angry black males who had observed the incident began breaking the windows of the adjacent clothing store. Shortly thereafter, full-scale rioting began throughout the neighborhood, which continued into Monday, July 24th, and for the next few days.

Some 8,000 National Guardsmen were called in after 48 hours to quell the riots, but their presence fueled more violence. Willie Horton - Detroit resident, and popular Detroit Tigers baseball player - arrived after a ball game, and stood on a car in the middle of the crowd wearing his baseball uniform but could not calm the crowd, despite his impassioned pleas. U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) likewise attempted to ease tensions but was not successful. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in federal troops from the 82nd Airborne of nearby Selfridge Air Force Base in suburban Macomb County.

Over the period of five days, 43 people died, an additional 1,189 were injured, 7,000 were arrested, and more than 1,400 buildings were burned. The riot caused an estimated $22 million in damages. Beyond the immediate destruction of a considerable section of the city, the riot accelerated white flight and--to some extent even out-migration by affluent blacks--to the suburbs and led to an increased fear of the city among suburbanites which continues to this day. Furthermore, Detroit's overall population (today around 80% black) has been sliced in half within the space of five decades. In the 1950 census, there were more than 1,800,000 residents in the city, the vast majority of whom were caucasian. By the 2000 census, there were only about 950,000--the first time since the 1910 census that Detroit had officially recorded less than a million inhabitants. As conditions have worsened in the city--especially with its failed public school system and its high crime rate--some of the city's surrounding suburbs have now even become majority African-American, such as Southfield in neighboring Oakland County. Many observers trace the dramatically quickened pace of these developments to the 1967 disturbances.

At the time, liberal Detroit mayor Jerome Cavanagh lamented upon surveying the damage, "today we stand amidst the ashes of our hopes. We hoped against hope that what we had been doing was enough to prevent a riot. It was not enough."

See also The Algiers Motel Incident.

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