Black in Blue

Black in Blue
March 6, 2017 Michigan Chronicle

By Keith A. Owens

Senior Editor

 

Mary Jarrett Jackson

Mary Jarrett Jackson, the first female deputy police chief in Detroit history – and

the first female chief of any major department in the world – who was appointed

by Mayor Coleman Young in 1986, was already a veteran of the Detroit Police

Department when she got the nod for the promotion. After applying for a

position on the DPD in 1957, she was hired one year later in 1958. This means

that by the time Young had been elected as the city’s first black mayor in 1974,

Jackson had already been toiling away inside the belly of the beast for close to

two decades. Young campaigned on police brutality, specifically the brutality

exercised by the DPD’s STRESS unit, vowing to disband STRESS and integrate the

DPD if elected. Young fulfilled both promises.

By the time Jackson made history she had served for close to 30 years inside a

department that had gained a nationwide reputation for how harshly it despised

the city’s residents who looked like her.

Think about that for a moment. A black woman working as a Detroit police officer

inside a predominantly white male police force during one of the most racially

charged and violent periods of Detroit history when some of the most vicious acts

of violence perpetrated against the black community were being committed by

those same white male police officers. Listening to them brag day after day about

how many black people they had beaten up that day, then looking over at Jackson

to make sure she heard them. Then laughing about it.

Wayne State University Police Chief Tony Holt was a black youth of only 17 years

when the city erupted into chaos, but much of what he saw and experienced

during those five days, and in the ensuing years, made him believe that the best

way to make things better for the next generations was to become a police officer

himself.

 

“What’s scary is my father worked at Kelsey Hayes plant.

They had the curfew and I almost couldn’t sleep because I was worried that

something was going to happen to him. Not by thugs but by the police or the

National Guard, because they had checkpoints and they were stopping people,”

said Holt. “I was really worried. I would say ‘Dad, can you call once you get to

work, let us know you’re OK?’ It was on McGraw and Livernois where the plant

was.”

Most who know the full story and background of the ‘67 Detroit riot/rebellion are

pretty much agreed that the confrontation between police and community that

began outside a ‘blind pig’ near 12 th Street and Clairmount on a hot July night and

then spread like a brushfire into five days of violence, looting and brutality, had

much to do with the bottled up anger and rage of a victimized population fed up

with enduring routine brutality and mistreatment from their own police force that

technically was supposed to be protecting them from harm. Add to that the

routine racism and discrimination experienced on a near daily basis from far too

many of Detroit’s remaining non-uniformed white community and the recipe for

an explosive cocktail became an inevitability.

In their own words, because they tell their own stories the best, two of Detroit’s

finest recall their experiences from an earlier Detroit that dramatically shaped

their lives and careers.

Mary Jarrett Jackson

 

“I applied in 1957, you know, they had a quota. And they had a

women’s division and all of the women allegedly had to go to that division. I

applied but I didn’t even want to be a policeman. I wanted to get in the lab, but

when I went to apply for the lab, there were three policemen behind the desk, all

white, and they just fell out laughing. And then when they finally got themselves

together, they said you can’t get in the lab unless you’re a police officer. Which

wasn’t true. There was a white civilian male there but, you know, that was to

discourage me. But my dad always told me whatever hurdle they give you, take

whatever you can and try to get over it.

“So I said, well then give me an application for a police officer. I didn’t intend to

fill it out. I had a child, and I didn’t know what a police officer would have to do,

but when I went and talked to my Dad, he said this is your first hurdle. Just fill out

the application and take the test. And so I did.

 

“I wasn’t hired until 1958 because the women’s division never

hired more than 12 black out of the 80 [female officers] and they had their quota

so I had to wait until 1958 when one of the sergeants retired before I could even

be considered.”

 

“The police department was always hostile to all blacks.

They just got ugly with anybody, anybody who was out to have a good time. The

police were just out harassing. Just because they could.”

How was it for black officers?

 

“They had to converse with each other. They’d come in and

say, ‘How many niggers did you hit today? Beat up today? Meaning for me to hear

it because I was the only one there. But I just never reacted to it, I didn’t say

anything. I just, you know, would let it slide off my back and go in the bathroom

later if I felt like I was really upset and cry and get it out of my system. But go back

when I was better and try to act like nothing was wrong with me. Because you

can’t let people get the better of you.

 

As for how she was treated by other black people in the

community, “I never had a problem. I never fired my gun in 35 years. They [black

people] respected us I think because we treated them like they were human

beings.”

 

Chief Anthony Holt

Tony Holt

 

 

 

“Actually when it [the riot] broke out, I was on Dexter and Elmhurst,

and it had just broke out on 12 th Street. And I remember I had a ’61 Impala with

my two cousins, and we were riding around. But what’s funny, you could feel the

tension in the air. It was almost like when you’re outside and you can tell ‘Oh we

got a storm comin’ ‘ And you can feel it? It was that same same feeling the night

of and the day after they did that raid on the blind pig.”

 

“It’s hard to describe; you’re driving around, and you know

something is gonna happen. That’s what I felt, and I was only 17 at that time. I

was at Wayne (State University) because I got into Wayne when I was 16. And I

was riding around and I said, ‘man, something is not right here.’ It was just like a

series of explosions. There were more people out than you usually see out. 12 th

Street was like a mini-downtown. It always had a lot of people out. There were

nightclubs, jazz clubs, girls worked the street, the players were out there. But

Dexter wasn’t always like that. But you saw all these people out [on Dexter]. And I

said, man did something happen? Is something going on? It was just like a chain

reaction. I saw this guy throw a brick through the window of this furniture store,

and people started going in and grabbing stuff. ” This was the morning of the riot.

“They raided the blind pig that night.”

“But then, how the word spread like that I don’t know.”

Did this influence you wanting to become a cop?

 

“It did because there was very few African American

police officers visible. Ike McKinnon was an officer at that time, Willie Bell, and a

few others. But none really in a position of authority. And that’s when the Big

Four was out. They had a west side crew and an east side crew. That was where

they had one uniformed and three plain clothes officers driving around in a car.

“They were big guys; they were supposed to handle felonies and above. Serious

crimes. Police were pretty tough back then. There was some pretty brutal stuff

back then.”

Riot or rebellion?

 

“I think it was a rebellion, but it was not a race riot. It was

definitely not a race riot because when I was driving down Dexter, when I saw the

stores being looted? I saw white people pulling their car over and running in. They

had a chain and passing stuff out. And it was white and black. Oh yeah. I actually

saw – and people will dispute this – white people come who didn’t live in Detroit

participating in the looting. It was a free-for- all. It was a rebellion, but I didn’t see

it as a racial rebellion.

 

“I was out in the street when this was going on. I actually

had folks ask me, ‘Hey, can you go get me some stuff’. Neighbors.

 

“And it wasn’t all the racial tension you thought because

the community was taking food to them. I lived across the street from the fire

house and my mother would cook food and say ‘take this over to the firemen.’

Because they were being pelted with bottles and stuff. And when they would go

out on runs, I would see neighbors take chairs and they would sit in front of the

firehouse and make sure nobody went in there. During the riots. I lived right

across the street.”

Holt always wanted to join the force, but he graduated college when he was 20, and you

could not join the DPD until you were 21. So to bide his time, he took a series of other jobs

straight out of college.

 

“You won’t have a lot of people tell you this, to be honest, but people

were being rejected, African Americans, if you had your wisdom tooth in, or sometimes

you might break your finger and it doesn’t heal right, but it doesn’t have anything to do

with your physical performance as a police officer? You were being rejected. So it was not

a big recruiting effort to bring African Americans onto the job.”

Holt joined the force in April, 1977. Although there was racism there as well, he noted that

the atmosphere was not as bad as with the DPD.

 

“When you came to Wayne State police the education level was much

higher. And the university was a diverse area. But the area we patrolled was always the

south side of campus. And we saw the difference in the attitudes of police officers. If you

talked to police officers who joined the DPD in ’75 or before, they will tell you it was a very

difficult time.

When STRESS was out there, there was a white squad and a black squad. Cop cars were

not integrated. White officers would flat out say they would not work with black officers.”

 

At WSU, “We were probably the second unit in the country to require a

bachelors degree. So everybody had a degree, but it was not bias-free at all.”

When Holt joined the Wayne State Police, “there were a total of three black officers. No officer

in a command position. No officer in a division like investigations or plain clothes or anything.”

Reflecting on the times surrounding the ’67 rebellion, when he was still a youngster, Holt said,

 

“The justice system was not looking at people with an open eye. It was

very shaded. They were just picking you up, locking you up and putting you in the precinct. And

then when you had Judge [George] Crockett go to the 10 th precinct, I’m not sure which precinct,

and held court right there. Bring people out and arraign them right there, and then release

people. I’m pretty sure it was Judge Crockett who went to the precincts and said I’m a judge,

and I’m gonna hold hearing right now. And had all these people released, because they were

just being detained.”

“They were locking people up in the elephant house on Belle Isle.”

 

“The difference in police work today, is you will be challenged. You

know, when I was coming up, police officer told you to stand still you stood still. I can

remember sitting on my porch and watching a police officer pull over two cars with a total

of about eight people in them. It was strictly about fear. They would tell you, ‘if you do

this, you’re gonna get shot.’ That fear of a police officer, people call it a lack of respect, but

it’s not. To get respect you have to give it. And I think that fear of police officers is not

there now. Especially with the younger generation. If I see these kids about to fight, I tell

them to come over here, they say ‘why?’ And they’ll come over, but they’ll come over at

their own pace. They’re gonna send you a message, I am not afraid of you.”

 

When Mary Jarrett Jackson first approached the Detroit Police Department for employment in

1957, her desire was to work in the DPD lab. She certainly had the qualifications for the

position, but that didn’t matter to the white male officers seated behind the desk that day, who

thought it was hilarious that a black woman actually thought she could ever get a job like that.

One that required such expertise and a significant amount of relevant schooling. The kind of

schooling that Jackson already had.

Jackson majored in chemistry and physics from Howard University, where she graduated in

1952. She minored in zoology.

 

 

“I was trying to go to med school, but again, there were quotas in

Wayne State, and in Howard where I went to school. …Wayne State would only take 72

students, and of that 72, two, did you hear me? Two were minorities. They could be Chinese,

blacks, anything but white.”

Nevertheless, they told Jackson that the only shot she had a such a job was to work as a police

officer first. She couldn’t just walk in, a black woman in Detroit, and expect to ever get hired. So

even though she never really wanted to work as an officer, at her father’s urging she applied

and was accepted onto the force the following year in 1958.

Five years later, in 1963, Jackson heard about an opening in the lab, thanks to a white female

colleague who’s boyfriend was also an officer and had told her about the position. Cautiously

excited that maybe, just maybe things might be going her way, Jackson called whoever was

responsible for doing the hiring and described her extensive lab experience, plus how much

blood work she had done at Sinai Hospital.

 

 

“I set up the blood bank when they opened Sinai Hospital. And they

said, ‘Oh you’re ideal’. But I guess they had time to get down to personnel, and they didn’t

understand when I spoke to them to find out that I was black. And then I didn’t get any call

backs.”

So when she finally called down to ask why she didn’t get a call back, Jackson was told the

position had already been filled by someone named Campbell. “But I said ‘you haven’t even

posted it’.” She continued to get the runaround, so Jackson contacted someone she knew who

checked into this Campbell guy’s experience.

 

“He didn’t have any schooling. Never been trained in anything scientific,” said Jackson,

adding that the man had only ever worked as nothing more than

an aide.

 

“I went to my dad again, crying, and said ‘I just can’t ever seem to get

anything to go right. I’m thinking of quitting the police department because I’m never going to

get into the lab.’ He said didn’t I tell you that you don’t respond that way, baby?’ He said, ‘Let

me take care of it’.”

Her father called [now Judge] Damon Keith, who would be elected co-chair of the Michigan Civil

Rights Commission the following year in 1964, and Councilman William T. Patrick, the first

African American to serve on that body since the 1880s, and told them the situation. They

arranged for a meeting with the Berg brothers, who Jackson recalls were the superintendent

and deputy superintendent of the DPD, and had a meeting. Eventually it was decided that an

exam would be given, and the person who scored the highest would get the position. And

Campbell would be removed.

 

“I said, excuse me, will we all take the test together? At the same

time? Because if I’m taking the test one day and you’re taking it another, I don’t know whether

you have the answers or not,” said Jackson.

She was told the tests would be administered at the same time, but they weren’t. Jackson still

took the test, but she wrote across the top that she was taking the test under protest because

“this is not what we agreed on.”

"And so they said 'well are you gonna take the exam or not?’, and so I took it.”

 

“Later I was called and told I had the highest grade. I don’t know if I had the

highest grade or not, but that’s how I got the position and got in there. Because I couldn’t

believe that a young man who had never had any chemistry, biology, nothing, no blood

experience, could do better than myself or any of the other four officers. I just would not

accept that. So when they told me That I had passed as the highest, I didn’t question it. I was

just relieved.”

[24 minutes 40 seconds] Coleman Young hired Jackson because of a case she handled that got a

Detroit police officer – Raymond Peterson – fired for wrongly killing a black man. Peterson and

another officer were taunting a man who was on his way to his midnight shift at the auto plant.

Peterson later alleged that the man assaulted him, which was why he had to kill him. Peterson

was an undercover cop who dressed as a woman to try and engage black men, said Jackson. He

was responsible for killing nine out of 13 men whom he claimed had assaulted him and had to

be killed. So when Jackson heard his claim about what had happened, her antennae shot up

and she worked the case closely and demanded all the evidence to ensure she came to the

correct conclusion. She told them she needed everyone’s clothing, because otherwise “I won’t

have the complete picture.” She also tested the knife that Peterson carried. By the time she

tested all the evidence from the clothing and the knife it was clear to her what had happened.

 

“I knew I was onto something and I knew that it was going to cause me

trouble.”

She already knew that the knife did not belong to the victim, and now it was just a matter of

proving it. Jackson worked on the case every day for six months with a white female officer

“until I knew I was right. And when I went to trial, I was ready for whatever.”

Jackson was given officers to examine her car before she went home to make sure there wasn’t

a hidden bomb attached. She received death threats.

 

“They were threatening me and they were threatening my family.”

“When you live through horrible times, you know you’ve done something right. And I think

that’s why I was on the mayor’s radar.” The man was fired, even though he was allowed to

keep his pension. “But at least he wasn’t on the street killing people anymore.”

Jackson retired in 1994.

CHIEF ANTHONY HOLT

PART 2

Holt always wanted to join the force, but he graduated college when he was 20, and you could

not join the DPD until you were 21. So to bide his time, he took a series of other jobs straight

out of college.

“You won’t have a lot of people tell you this, to be honest, but people

were being rejected, African Americans, if you had your wisdom tooth in, or sometimes you

might break your finger and it doesn’t heal right, but it doesn’t have anything to do with your

physical performance as a police officer? You were being rejected. So it was not a big recruiting

effort to bring African Americans onto the job.”

Holt joined the force in April, 1977. Although there was racism there as well, he noted that the

atmosphere was not as bad as with the DPD.

“When you came to Wayne State police the education level was much

higher. And the university was a diverse area. But the area we patrolled was always the south

side of campus. And we saw the difference in the attitudes of police officers. If you talked to

police officers who joined the DPD in ’75 or before, they will tell you it was a very difficult time.

When STRESS was out there, there was a white squad and a black squad. Cop cars were not

integrated. White officers would flat out say they would not work with black officers.”

At WSU, “We were probably the second unit in the country to require a

bachelors degree. So everybody had a degree, but it was not bias-free at all.”

When Holt joined the Wayne State Police, “there were a total of three black officers. No officer

in a command position. No officer in a division like investigations or plain clothes or anything.”

Reflecting on the times surrounding the ’67 rebellion, when he was still a youngster, Holt said,

“The justice system was not looking at people with an open eye. It was

very shaded. They were just picking you up, locking you up and putting you in the precinct. And

then when you had Judge [George] Crockett go to the 10 th precinct, I’m not sure which precinct,

and held court right there. Bring people out and arraign them right there, and then release

people. I’m pretty sure it was Judge Crockett who went to the precincts and said I’m a judge,

and I’m gonna hold hearing right now. And had all these people released, because they were

just being detained.”

“They were locking people up in the elephant house on Belle Isle.”

 

“The difference in police work today, is you will be challenged. You

know, when I was coming up, police officer told you to stand still you stood still. I can

remember sitting on my porch and watching a police officer pull over two cars with a total of

about eight people in them. It was strictly about fear. They would tell you, ‘if you do this, you’re

gonna get shot.’ That fear of a police officer, people call it a lack of respect, but it’s not. To get

respect you have to give it. And I think that fear of police officers is not there now. Especially

with the younger generation. If I see these kids about to fight, I tell them to come over here,

they say ‘why?’ And they’ll come over, but they’ll come over at their own pace. They’re gonna

send you a message, I am not afraid of you.”

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