The Detroit Riots were among the bloodiest riots in American history. The strife occurred during a period of Detroit’s history when the once-affluent city was struggling economically, and race relations nationwide were at an all-time low.
The Detroit Police Department’s vice squad often raided illegal drinking establishments in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, and at 3:35 a.m. on Sunday morning, July 23, they moved against a club that was hosting a party for returning Vietnam War veterans. The early-morning police activity drew a crowd of onlookers, and the situation rapidly deteriorated.
Soon thousands of people had spilled out onto the street from nearby buildings, throwing rocks and bottles at the police, who quickly fled the scene. Looting began on 12th Street, where the illegal club was located, and shops and businesses were ransacked.
By dawn, the first fire broke out, and soon much of the street was ablaze. By midmorning, every policeman and fireman in Detroit was called to duty. Back on 12th Street, officers struggled to control the crowd, and firemen were attacked as they tried to battle the flames.
The rioting continued all week, and the U.S. Army and the National Guard were called in to quell the worst of the violence. By the time the bloodshed, burning and looting ended after five days, some 43 people were dead, many more seriously injured and nearly 1,400 buildings had been burned or ransacked.