Violence in Detroit by Grace Lee boggs

??Living For Change

Violence in Detroit

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, May 22-28, 2011

In the summer of 1967, in reaction to a police raid on an after hours joint, massive violence erupted in Detroit. Tens of thousands took to the streets, looting and burning. Whole neighborhoods went up in flames.

Law and order were restored only after the National Guard and federal troops were called in.

42 people were killed; 3000 arrested.

The media called it a “riot.” But black Detroiters called it a “Rebellion,” viewing it as a righteous protest or uprising, especially of young Detroiters, against continuing harassment by the police and against being made increasingly expendable by Hi-Tech, or what was then called “automation.”

For a brief period during and after the rebellion, there was a new spirit of hope and closeness in the city. People felt that militancy and violence had raised our struggle against the system to a higher level.

But before long our neighborhoods were faced with an explosion of crime and violence because the Rebellion had encouraged young people to believe that violence is a badge of militancy and to equate Rebellion with Revolution.

Since 1967 we have learned through many struggles and experiences that Revolution involves something very different from militancy and violence. It especially requires going beyond anger and protest. It involves recognizing that the system has become dysfunctional and therefore that we ourselves must begin assuming responsibility for our well-being and for our neighborhoods.

That is the process that has been underway in Detroit for the last fifty years as we have been growing our own food in community gardens and turning war zones into peace zones by bringing the neighbor back into the ‘hood.

As a result, Detroit is no longer “the murder capital of the nation.” In the 1980s there were 6-700 homicides a year. Now there are half that number.


I have received many positive responses to last week’s column on the killing of bin Laden.

The following is from Hatto Fischer, an old friend in Athens, Greece:

“How right you are to challenge those who celebrate the killing of Bin

Laden without thinking about the deeper implications of killing without

due trial. Your citation of the Nüremberg trials is, therefore, all the

more powerful, as it reminds what a civilized society should be expected to do

in such cases.

The merging of accusation, finding of being guilty and being killed without trial

recalls the long standing debate about the death penalty and its meaning in American

society. Already in the fifties Albert Camus and Arthur Koestler campaigned to have the death penalty abolished.

Both considered the death penalty to be a mere act of revenge and thus prone to ignite a still further spiral of violence – although someone like the mother of former President Bush would argue it acts as a deterrent if the greatest of all precious things is taken away, namely life itself.

Yet to put yourself above life and rule as if an absolute power squashes any hope for man realizing he is not perfect and should, therefore, not be tempted to play the role of absolute power over life.

As a matter of fact, the death penalty is an act of revenge, but a blindfolded act in terms of what it means to be just within a justice system which knows true human measure. Death exceeds all measures and therefore is outside the bounds of any human appraisal capacity. Something can be justified as measure if it continues a learning process; an absolute deterrent does not do this.

By extension, war is bringing the death penalty at collective scale to people and here it begins to be even more complicated since an act of revenge will mean arbitrary use of power and thus indiscriminate killing. How many innocent civilians, among them children and women, have been killed in the process? The fact that this unintended killing is accepted as collateral damage shows how low morality has sunk.

Ethics and morality have to do with safeguarding life, not taking it.

I agree fully with what you write and it is good to read these lines especially when no one else seems to note that an act of revenge is always outside the law as it has no measure.