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In July 1967, five days of chaos erupted in Detroit. Citizens, police, and troops clashed in a violent conflict that left 43 people dead, thousands of buildings destroyed, and a lingering scar on the once-vibrant city. It was a pivotal moment for Detroit, and for the country.Today, many believe Detroit is having a renaissance. And there have been plenty of visible improvements in recent years.But for many Detroiters, little has changed for the better in the past half-century. Poverty is even more entrenched. There are few good jobs and even fewer good schools. Blight and foreclosure have erased entire neighborhoods.If we want to understand today’s Detroit, we have to consider the city’s turbulent past. That’s why Michigan Radio is revisiting the events of that hot summer in 1967.From July 17-28, Stateside and Morning Edition will hear from people who were there; explore the issues that led to the deadliest riot of the 1960s; and examine why it still resonates in the city today.

Civil rights attorney recounts defending hundreds of Detroiters rounded up during 1967 rebellion

Bill Goodman: "People during the uprising in 1967 were arrested en masse, huge numbers of people, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were arrested."
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Bill Goodman: "People during the uprising in 1967 were arrested en masse, huge numbers of people, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were arrested."

The mistreatment of African-Americans and Detroit's mostly white police force fueled the violence of July 1967. But black Detroiters didn't fare much better in the courts.

Bill Goodman was a young lawyer in the city during the uprising, when thousands of people were being arrested and held in cramped, unsanitary conditions.
Goodman joined Stateside to talk about the weeks he spent in the courthouse as a pro-bono lawyer for those defendants in the wake of the 1967 rebellion.
 

People during the uprising in 1967 were arrested en masse ... Wayne County Jail was overflowing, Detroit police headquarters was overflowing and then they were held on buses, in the bathrooms at Belle Isle and other parks, and they were crowded in every possible way and they stayed there for many days under those kinds of conditions.

According to Goodman, after the city imposed a curfew, thousands of people were arrested, leaving the courts overwhelmed. 

"The judges of the Recorder's Court [which covered felonies and misdemeanors] basically rubber stamped ...widespread unconstitutional practices by the Detroit police department, with one exception," Goodman said. 

That exception was Judge George Crockett Jr., who was a friend of the Goodman family. Goodman said Crockett objected to what other judges were doing: Ordering bonds between $25,000 and $50,000 for a curfew violation. Goodman called such bonds excessive and unreasonable, a claim the Kerner Commission later supported.

With so many arrests, there was just no place to put everyone, so the police department had to improvise. 

"People during the uprising in 1967 were arrested en masse, huge numbers of people, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were arrested. They were held in every police lockup in the city of Detroit," Goodman said. "Wayne County Jail was overflowing, Detroit police headquarters was overflowing, and then they were held on buses, in the bathrooms at Belle Isle and other parks, and they were crowded in every possible way and they stayed there for many days under those kinds of conditions."

After all that, Goodman said, almost every case was dismissed.  

Listen to the full interview above to hear how defense attorneys were treated in the summer of 1967, a particular case that stood out for Goodman, and how far he thinks Detroit's criminal justice system has come since then.

From July 17-28, Michigan Radio is looking back at Detroit in 1967, the Summer of Rebellion. We'll explore the issues that led to one of the deadliest civil disturbances in American history and examine why it still resonates in the city today. 

(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunesGoogle Play, or with this RSS link)

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