What the Movie 'Detroit' Says About America Today

Watching the movie “Detroit” was like looking into a mirror reflecting the present.  For me, the story didn’t show how things have improved since 1967, it demonstrated how much remains the same 50 years later.

The movie is about the killing of three unarmed teenagers at the Algiers Motel and the shooting and beating of other civilians by the police during the Detroit uprising in July 1967.  It starts with an animated history lesson explaining how black Americans migrated from the South to the North and ended up restricted to a few overcrowded neighborhoods. This is the legacy of redlining and the exclusion of Blacks from home-buying assistance provided by the G.I. Bill  a legacy that still explains much of the gap in net worth that exists between white and Black families in America today. Detroit, and most of America, is as segregated today as it was in 1967.

The police in “Detroit” showed how casually they would resort to violence against Black people, the same behavior we witness time and time again in recent videos of police misconduct.  The culture of policing portrayed in the movie can be seen in places like Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore, and Madison County, Mississippi, where the ACLU of Mississippi has filed a lawsuit against the county sheriff for illegal use of force against Black “suspects.”  

In “Detroit,” an officer shoots a Black man in the back while he is running away and places an open knife near his hand. I immediately thought of Walter Scott in South Carolina being shot in the back while running away, and the officer who killed him dropping a Taser near his body.  An officer in the movie falsely claims that a man he killed tried to grab his gun, while another officer lies to back him up.  And I was reminded of the three officers who were indicted in Chicago in June for lying about the killing of Laquan McDonald and trying to cover it up.

Just two weeks ago, President Trump suggested in a speech that he would support officers who engaged in unnecessary and unconstitutional violence again suspects. The White House later claimed he was joking, but he was talking about the kind of treatment that caused Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore  part of a pattern of police killings of unarmed Black people that goes back long before 1967.

Near the end of the movie, a Black character says "police criminality needs to be treated the same way as any other form of criminality." Half a century later, that truth still doesn’t apply to much of America. The not-guilty verdicts for the Detroit officers echo across five decades into courtrooms in Oklahoma, Minnesota, and South Carolina where police killed Black men on videotape, and not one officer was convicted by a jury.  

It turns out that members of The Dramatics were held prisoner by the police in the Algiers Motel on that horrific night. The group had a comeback hit with Snoop Dogg in 1994, and this year Snoop wrote about the police abusing people in the Black community:  “Resident evil – it’s all on camera and they still don’t believe you.” Even with cameras, the results are much the same as in 1967.

I was 11 years old in 1967.  People then and now relied on Martin Luther King Jr. to condemn violence. I wonder if people relying on King know that the speech he was scheduled to give on April 7, 1968, three days after he was assassinated, was "Why America May Go to Hell." I wonder if they remember something he said in 1967, the same year the rebellion in Detroit happened:

Urban riots are a special form of violence.  They are not insurrections.  The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or attain control of institutions.  They are mainly intended to shock the white community…But most of all, alienated from society and knowing society cherishes property above people, [the rioters are] shocking it by abusing property rights.

For me, the Algiers Motel, the treatment of Black Americans, and the music reminds me of another ’60s band. The Who warned: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The police in “Detroit” looked frighteningly like the police of today. If changing policing in America is on your agenda, our work is far from done.

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Anonymous

America has ignored the citizens trapped in our inner cities...some being born into the third generation of the drug culture. There are very little other choices without jobs and training. Now, we ask our brave law enforcement officers to be social workers, teachers, psychologists, peacekeepers, and protectors. This overwhelming response has shell-shocked our police officers... they have hair-trigger reactions out of despair and fear. I am sure working that job and living that life in an atmosphere of hatred and hopelessness has fueled this endless war.

MJ in Pittsburgh

It would help to provide statistics about the crime rate for whites and blacks from the 60's and today for comparison. It would help to provide statistics for blacks life expectancy, income level changes, access to steady employment, access to social services, access to better healthcare and better living standards with public housing/welfare to work programs.

Anonymous

Blacks were not "restricted" to live anywhere during the Detroit riots... That's fact...

There was a hell of a lot more going on than just police running rampant killing blacks...

But I know this movie wasn't designed to show the whole picture... just a narrative.

And absolutely agree with MJ that speaks VOLUMES.... but we both know the author isn't looking at reality like that.

TBone

What does showing statistics have to do with what actually took place. This isn't fiction. This is a part of history that people either want us to forget or not gain knowledge of. This is still going on today. I'm so sick of people using numbers as a means to overlook this legitimate problem. Our justice system has always been biased toward white men and white police officers. And all you have to do is watch episodes of Dateline, ID Channel, Snapped, and any other shows dedicated to crime in American and see there's an overwhelming number of whites who commit heinous crimes against each other, no matter their socioeconomic backgrounds. What would providing statistics do for you? There's no need to compare a problem to a problem...It's a problem...period!

Anonymous

"Blacks were not "restricted" to live anywhere during the Detroit riots... That's fact..."
Right, they were just restricted from buying houses in the suburbs until just a few years before. So much for that comment "showing the whole picture".

Anonymous

exactly..."Redlining"

Barack Nobama

The movie and this article are nothing but garbage. Liberalism is a mental disorder. If black would act like decent, civilized human beings instead something running around the jungles then maybe they would be treated with dignity and respect.

White lives matter

black people make up 13% of the population but are 50% of the prison population and most crimes committed in this country according to the Department of Justice are committed by black people on a percentage basis. if you want to see how black people really act just look at Chicago and all the killings

jerodast

Ah, nothing like a shameless KKK member to clarify the types of people on the "sides" of this issue.

Anonymous

Funny we run around like were in the jungle with no dignity or respect but the worst criminals in the world are white people and that's a fact. Do your research before you speak on black people. The kids are the worst the commit ma's shooting because their mom and dad abused them and everybody should pay. What sick people. White people are murderers not civil individual if society. Black people are the only culture that welcomes everybody with open arms no matter what. You white people are so miseducated that you convince yourselves you are educated but God will take care of all that don't operate in love.

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