In the 1970s, It Was The Police That Made Made Detroit’s Streets Deadly

A police officer in Detroit, Michigan during the race riots of 1967. (AP Photo)

A man named Carl Ingram told the council that police officers had forced his fiancée to strip during an illegal search on December 7. “There ain’t no man hiding in her clothes!” he said. “If I had had a gun, I sure enough would have used it.” John Reynolds, the chair of a city task force dedicated to improving police-community relations, testified that his son had been stopped and beaten by police on New Year’s Eve. Kenneth Cockrel called on Mayor Gribbs to remove Nichols from his post and shut down STRESS.

But as with more recent debates over initiatives like stop and frisk, police brass countered with reams of crime statistics. The purpose of STRESS was to reduce robberies, they insisted, and the unit had been a resounding success. During their first year on the job, STRESS officers made 2,496 arrests and seized 600 guns. Robberies were down for the first time in a decade—by nearly 30 percent in two years.

Officers, meanwhile, discovered that killing unarmed civilians was a badge of honor within the department. “I was still lauded for what I was doing, even after the community started to get heavy on STRESS,” Peterson recalled. “They were happy with me. Whenever I shot someone, I would have to go to headquarters to fill out a report and the guys would cheer me when I walked in. The brass… went out of its way to encourage me. I was a proud boy, you know? I was the fair-haired boy—as long as everything worked their way. Who doesn’t like to be the fair-haired boy? Who doesn’t like applause?”

In The New RepublicMark Binelli describes the years when Detroit’s black community had to not only deal with street crime, but also the police’s special street crime unit, which terrorized the innocent, murdered the unarmed, and undermined the very meaning of law and order.

Read the story