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‘Detroit’ film tells Algiers Motel story; citywide police brutality, terrorism

Racism and terrorism led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for many of the Detroiters and those caught in the crossfire.

True story about 1967 Detroit riots; five-day civil unrest left 43 dead; most at the hands of Detroit police officers and National Guardsmen

HOLLYWOOD — Award-winning director and trailblazer Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker) is known for tackling difficult topics. Bigelow’s feature film “Detroit” may prove to be one of her most controversial projects.

The true story about the 1967 riots in Detroit was not widely known outside of Michigan. The acting is superb and most likely will leave you numb from the brutality and terror suffered by a group of young Black men and two White girls caught in the web of hatred and bigotry of a handful of White law enforcement at the Algiers Motel.

“Detroit” stars include John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), Anthony Mackie as Greene (“Captain America: Civil War” and “The Hurt Locker”), Algee Smith as Larry (“The New Edition Story”), Joseph David-Jones as Morris (“Nashville”),  Jason Mitchell as Carl Cooper (“Straight Outta Compton”), Jacob Latimore as Fred (“The Maze Runner”), Peyton “Alex” Smith as Lee (“The Quad”), Nathan Davis Jr. as Aubrey (“Glee”), Tyler James Williams as Leon (“Dear White People” and “Everybody Hates Chris”), Ben O’Toole as Flynn (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Kaitlyn Dever as Karen, Hannah Murray as Julie, and Laz Alonso as John Conyers, and many others.

July 23, 2017, marked the 50th anniversary of the untold story of racism that never made the history books and talked about on late night television. The five-day civil unrest left 43 dead, 33 were Black, and 10 were White.  The majority of the 7,200 people arrested were Black.

Detroit takes the audience on an intense ride that never lets up. Emotions for many movie goers ran high.

Detroit residents who were there

“The movie shows racism and violence by White police officers who terrorized young Black men,” said Judge Craig Strong, a Detroit native. “The film will make you mad at the police and the judicial system.”

Strong was a college student in Detroit at the time of the riots.

“We had a curfew but held vigilance from our porches to protect the storefronts we patronized. Along with my classmates and my Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. line brothers, we looked out for trucks with Ohio plates that drove in the city to ransack our community businesses.”

Looting and arson were occurring throughout the city. Nearly 8,000 Michigan Army National Guardsmen, 4,700 paratroopers from both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and 360 Michigan State Police officers had been dispatched to bring law and order to the city.

“I remember soldiers pointing guns at us and instilling fear,” said Strong who has served on the bench for 38 years in Detroit. “I went to law school at Harvard in Washington, D.C., and returned to Detroit to carry out justice.”

The incident inspired many of the Detroiters to become police officers, lawyers, and judges to bring positive change to the city. “At that time, we believed that if it can happen to those young men, it could happen to us.”

The records show that the Detroit police officers and National Guardsmen shot 24 Blacks; store owners or security guards shot six people; one was electrocuted by a downed power line, and two died of asphyxiation from a building fire.

It was a dark time for Detroit and has opened up painful memories especially for those who are natives of Detroit, Mich.

“I’d just turned five years old on Sat., July 22, 1967,” said Limuel Flowers, a Detroit native. “My memories of the riot that started in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, are vivid because Johnnie’s Records, a small record shop owned and operated by my dad Johnnie Flowers at 3940 Fenkell was broken into and looted.”

The Flowers family lost everything and the memory of that for Flowers was devastating. “On the news, we saw our shop in shambles and my mother exclaiming in shock and horror, “Jesus, have mercy,” Flowers recalled.

Limuel’s dad with the family drove to the record shop on Monday, July 24 to survey the damage. “Every store on the block was robbed and looted.”

Flowers’ brother Barri was 10 at the time.

“I remembered seeing the windows of my dad’s shop smashed and the interior empty,” he said. “It was a very sad day and really unnerved me. I can only imagine what might have happened had my Dad come face-to-face with those seeking to steal his hard-earned inventory and destroy his property. I learned what it meant to be Black in a racist America,” Barri said.

Brutality, terrorism lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Racism and terrorism led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for many of the Detroiters and those caught in the crossfire. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PTSD is categorized as an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of the event that last for many weeks, months or years after the traumatic event. PTSD symptoms include panic attacks, depression, suicidal thought and feelings, drug abuse, feelings of being estranged and isolated, and not being able to complete daily tasks.

Medical professionals say that PTSD falls into three broad types: re-living, avoidance and increased arousal.

  • Re-living include flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the event. Emotional reactions can include feeling guilty, extreme fear of harm, and numbing of emotions. Physical reactions can include uncontrollable shaking, chills or heart palpitations, and tension headaches.
  • Avoidance includes staying away from activities, places, thoughts, or feelings related to the trauma or feeling detached or estranged from others.
  • Increased arousal includes being overly alert or easily startled, difficulty sleeping, irritability or outbursts of anger, and lack of concentration.

Miyume McKinley,  a licensed psychotherapist, says, “There is a misunderstanding about PTSD – it can be based on individual experiences from 9/11 news, Hurricane Katrina, police brutality and the actual events of the civil unrest, riots, and the aftermath of traumatic episodes, not just a military incident.

McKinley states that she has treated several clients who were hyper-vigilant about their sons when they saw someone in a police uniform, heard a siren, or are followed by a police car.

“PTSD can negatively impact their ability to do simple tasks and normal activities or follow their dreams,” she said.

“We hear PTSD mentioned most often in regards to the military, but anyone who has suffered a major trauma can be impacted — rape, brutality, sudden death, a major loss, seeing something horrific and many other incidents,” said Anne-Marie Lockmyer, a Grief and Loss Specialist.“The results can be the same — you have been traumatized and that trauma needs to be addressed. Your brain has been impacted.”

“Brutality of any kind can be traumatic. Fabricated accusations would be especially traumatic as what is happening would make no sense to the person,” said Lockmyer. “Their sense of security is destroyed.  It does not make rational sense. Even if the accusations are proven false, the effects of the trauma can remain and need to be addressed or dealt with.”

Story lives on with Detroiters

Detroiter Marc Cayce, who now lives in Hollywood, said he was fortunate that his father Cary Cayce told him first-hand events and stories about the 1967 riots.

“My mother’s wedding ring was in one of the Detroit pawn shops that were looted and burned down on 12th street. My father went to the pawn shop and was told by the owners that all items were either looted or burned and there would be no replacements,” he recalled.

“There were numerous clashes from the predominantly White Detroit Police Department,” Cayce continued. “White officers were recruited from some of the harshest Jim Crow southern states like Mississippi and Alabama to control the Blacks in Detroit who had this new freedom of good paying jobs from Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

“My father said it was well known and documented that White cops used to drive around the city looking for groups of young Black men to beat down for just being Black. Unfortunately, my father was one of them that was beaten,” said Cayce. “The motion picture ‘Detroit’ does not reveal how or why the tensions build up in the Black community and exploded in 1967. The heartbeat of Detroit was the music scene, which was on fire straight out of Motown from the Supremes to  Martha Reeves, Mary Wells Smokey Robinson to name a few were on top of the charts.”

Ironically, one of the number one songs of 1967 was Aretha Franklin’s “R.E.S.P.E.C.T!.”  The movie does give a back story about the “Dramatics.” The lead singer Larry Reed played by Algee Smith left the group after he endured hours of brutality at the hands of Detroit police officers. It appeared he suffered from a number of PTSD symptoms and avoided the very music he loved the most. Prior to his run-in with police officers, Reed and his singing group were the follow-up act to Martha and the Vandellas on the stage of the famous Fox Theater.

He never pursued his R&B singing career until recently. He recorded a single with Smith, a rendition of “Grow” heard on the Detroit soundtrack.

“The riots happened 50 years ago, but unfortunately history continues to repeat itself and there are still too many incidents of police brutality and racial injustices that must be exposed and eradicated,” said Strong who witnesses the effects of PTSD on a regular basis in his courtroom. “The city of Detroit has a Black police chief and a diverse police force. The movie depicts a dark time in Detroit’s history but we are going through a rebirth of prosperity.”

“Detroit” is produced and distributed by Annapurna Pictures, which was founded by Megan Ellison. Detroit opened in theaters nationwide on Aug. 4, 2017.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov

Anne-Marie Lockmyer – www.comfortforthehurting.com

Detroit – www.detroit.movie/

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D. – www.douglascowan.me

National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – www.ncptsd.org/

Psychological Care & Healing Center – www.pchtreatment.com

Marie Y. Lemelle is founder and owner of Platinum Star Public Relations, an award-winning, global marketing and communications firm. Platinum Star’s clientele includes the sports, film, music and health & wellness industries, as well as corporations and nonprofit organizations.


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