The Administration of Justice in the Wake of the Detroit Civil Disorder of July 1967

Early Sunday morning, July 23, 1967, the Detroit Police Department raided a “blind pig” at the corner of Twelfth Street and Clairmont Street. An unexpectedly large number of patrons were present at the after-hours drinking establishment, and it took the police over an hour to remove them all from the scene. The weather was warm and humid-despite the time, many people were still on the streets. A crowd of about two hundred gathered while the police were occupied with the individuals arrested in the raid. The last of the arrestees were removed shortly after 5:00 a.m. At that moment an empty bottle broke the rear window of a police car and an empty litter can was thrown through the window of a nearby store.

By 6:00 a.m. there were thousands of people on Twelfth Street. Widespread looting began as windows were broken over a wide area. Civil disorder had come to Detroit. It was to continue until Friday, July 28, 1967. In the interim, thousands of state police, Michigan National Guardsmen, and federal troops were called in to contain reported disorder activity within the city. Over seven thousand people were arrested during this six-day period.

The mass arrests imposed a tremendous burden on the legal establishment of Detroit; fair and speedy processing of the arrestees was required. The Michigan Law Review sent two observers into Detroit on August 1 to measure the response of the legal establishment. The observers spent countless hours in Detroit Recorder’s Court. Interviewing of defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, defendants, and others who were concerned with the proceedings continued until March of 1968. Others who studied the administration of criminal justice following the disorder volunteered pertinent information throughout the year. This Comment is the result of these efforts.