Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, Entry #365.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

The topic of ENTRY #384 was not anticipated.  The civil unrest this past week may become more prevalent than anyone would like. Unfortunately, the unrest likely will continue well past COVID-19, and thus a topic for this series.

ENTRY #384 BEGINS:  The past week there have been rallies in numerous cities protesting the treatment of Mr. George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. More and more of these rallies have evolved into riots with extensive looting and burning of public and private property.  With Trump’s proclamation Monday evening, June 1, that maximum force, including US military personnel, could be used to quell all protests, the number and intensity may increase and the tactics more warlike.

Apparently the Donald forgot to read his history books and skipped classes as well on military strategy.  Using traditional brute force in a guerilla war, which is what is likely to evolve after the proclamation, rarely works, if ever.  The list is long of examples of brute force failing to stop guerilla warfare, including Vietnam.

Watching these riots has been painful. I can tell you from personal experience, it is quite scary to be caught in the middle of the violence itself.

In summer 1967, we were living in a suburb immediately north of Detroit. I was just months into my job at Cadillac Division of General Motors.

One Sunday afternoon our neighbor, a manager of a credit agency housed in Detroit, said he’d heard there was some disturbance downtown and wanted to go check on his office. I offered to accompany him and off we went.

What we got was a whole lot more than anticipated. When we arrived in front of the office, housed in the Fox Theater building, there were people everywhere. A liquor store next to the theater was being looted as was a TV shop next door to that.

We looked to be some of the first “outsiders” to arrive at this location because while we were still in the car, a number of police cars pulled in behind us. No, we weren’t stupid. It was time to get out of Dodge and we left.

Overnight there were more riots in selected parts of Detroit but there was no declaration of an emergency. So, Monday morning I headed to work. The main Cadillac plant was on the west side and several miles from downtown Detroit. Rioting continued as did the fires. Midday Monday a number of us stood on an enclosed walkway between the fourth floors of two different buildings. We could see parts of the city clearly burning.

Cadillac closed the offices and the assembly plant that afternoon and I headed back to the apartment using an alternate route that was even farther west and away from the activity. I returned without incident but was left with the nagging question, “Are we really safe?”

The apartment complex was just on the other side of the dividing line between Detroit and Southfield – 8-Mile Road. The apartment complex was not gated so there was nothing to stop rioters from entering. Fortunately, the rioting did not spread to our immediate area.

Rioting did continue to spread within the City of Detroit. Rioting became so extensive, Governor George Romney (Mitt’s father) asked for Federal assistance and members of the US Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were deployed to Detroit. In addition to light-infantry weapons, the units were supported by heavily armored tanks.

If you’ve never witnessed in real time the firepower of a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a tank, visualize this. The machine gun is aimed at a sniper holed up in say the 5th floor of a brick building. The first few rounds from the machine gun literally blow away the brick facade and then subsequent rounds penetrate the interior of the building. That scene was fairly common in Detroit as the military attempted to control sniper fire.

Thus, in the span of a few days, much of Detroit became a war zone. The devastation is hard to describe and imagine. Some areas of Detroit have not yet recovered, more than 50+ years later. Yes, Detroit had some other problems as well but I think what tipped over the City was the 1967 riots.

What caused the riots? Was there an incident like George Floyd in Minneapolis or Rodney King in Los Angeles? On the surface, the riots were precipitated by a seemingly innocuous single incident. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Detroit police raided and closed a blind pig in a black neighborhood (illegal bar often with some gambling as well).

While black residents were frustrated by the raid on the blind pig, residents housed a long-standing frustration with treatment by the Detroit Police Department, then mostly white. Economics was a contributing factor, but much less so than most people think. In the 1960’s, the US economy and especially Detroit’s economy were strong. Many black residents were employed at one of the many new-car/truck assembly plants or component plants in and around Detroit.

Further, all hourly employees in those plants were members of the UAW with extensive health benefits, multi-week vacation and a base wage that was sufficient for full-time workers to be classified as “middle class.” Detroit also had a relatively strong black-owned business community.

What happened to Detroit following the riots? Many whites fled the City for the suburbs. Auto companies gradually closed many of the assembly and component plants, although there were other reasons for that as well. Detroit became a shell of its former self. Only in the last decade, roughly 50 years after the riots, has Detroit started to rebound. New businesses are moving in. Housing is being rebuilt and population is gradually expanding.

What’s the lesson, or the caution, for other cities experiencing riots? While there is no simple answer, at a minimum, city leaders, public and private, need to work closely with citizens and be alert to problems with city services, whether garbage pickup, water quality (as in Flint), or unsavory or unethical actions by law enforcement. Understanding these problems, and making an effort to resolve the problems before getting out of control, will help mitigate the potential for disturbance.

An example of such an effort is the sheriff of Genesee County Michigan, north of Detroit and home to Flint, MI.  The sheriff has been working closely with residents throughout the county.  So far, there have been no unruly protests in Flint and other cities in the county.

Another issue that seems important, and one that does not get discussed enough publicly, is encouraging local residents to become business owners in their community. Maybe more black-owned businesses would prevent some of the insidious looting that occurred during recent protests. Why would you loot a store in your neighborhood that is providing critical services, and owned by one of your neighbors?

Those who loot or encourage looting neighborhood stores should not complain because few, if any, national chains open neighborhood stores. Why should these companies risk capital, if the stores are targeted for looting?

Finally, I think any honest conversation about unfair treatment, discrimination, and associated issues needs to ask the following questions. “How did other ethnic groups overcome what was often overt and brutal discrimination? What did these ethnic groups do, sometimes over several generations, to reduce discrimination and make better lives for themselves?”  The answers could provide some guidance for all sides.  Answers will also indicate solutions are never easy and never one sided.