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Detroit Riot of 1967

The Detroit Riot of 1967 was America’s most violent since the New York draft riot of 1863, and only surpassed again with the LA riots in 1992.

Over the course of five days in July 1967, 43 people lost their lives, including 33 African Americans and 10 whites, in clashes between mostly African American and a combination of local police, state troopers and the National Guard. Over 7,000 people were arrested and more than 1,000 buildings burnt.

The spark for the trouble was a police raid on an illegal after-hours drinking club, where people were attending a home-coming party for two soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. Everyone was arrested, including 82 African Americans. The manner of their arrests incensed onlookers, and several businesses were looted and set alight.

Police responded by blockading the surrounding neighbourhood, but outraged local residents drove through the blockade. The trouble then quickly spread to other areas of the city.

As police lost control, the Michigan Governor, George Romney, father of two-time Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, deployed more than 9,000 National Guard troops to restore order. On the second day of the riot, President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops too.

While the closure of an after-hours party might have been the specific trigger for the unrest, the real causes were more general frustration at the rates of unemployment and underemployment among African Americans, as well as racism, police brutality and poverty.

The riot accelerated deindustrialisation and the exodus of whites from Detroit and many of the buildings that were damaged or destroyed during the riot were never rebuilt. Politically, highlighting how racism and poverty were conjoined, the 1967 Detroit riots are widely considered one of catalysts of the more militant Black Power movement.