Mike Stacy, August 22nd, 2016
WW: Hello, my name is William Winkel. Today is August 22, 2016. I am in Detroit, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am on the phone with Mike Stacy. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MS: I missed that last question?
WW: I said thank you for sitting down with me.
MS: Oh yeah, you’re welcome.
WW: Can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
MS: I was born in Dearborn, Michigan.
WW: What year?
MS: March 24, 1931.
WW: Did you grow up in Dearborn?
MS: I grew up in Dearborn and graduated from high school there, yes.
WW: Did you enjoy growing up in Dearborn? What was it like?
MS: It was home. I enjoyed it. My dad worked at the Ford plant and one summer, I even worked at the Ford plant when I was 17 because I forged my birth certificate so I could be 18 and I got a job there for the summer.
WW: Wow [laughing.] During your time growing up in Dearborn, did you come to Detroit at all?
MS: Oh yeah, we used to go to Detroit but there were a lot of gangs there so the only way we could go to Detroit, we’d take the Baker streetcar. But we’d have to have five or six of us go in a bunch to one of the theaters to see the movie because the Detroiters didn't like the folks that were from Dearborn. So, we didn't want to fight like hell all the time to go to Detroit. So we always went to Detroit in a group.
WW: So you didn't feel comfortable whenever you came to the city?
WW: After you graduated high school, did you continue to work at the Ford plant or what did you do?
MS: After I graduated high school, my friends and neighbors sent me a draft card and I was drafted into the Marine Corps.
WW: Lovely. How long were you in the service?
MS: I wouldn't call it lovely, but it turned out to be lovely.
WW: How long were you in the service?
MS: Two years.
WW: Did the city seem any different to you after you came back, or was it still the same city?
MS: Things were improving, Detroit was moving along in a very positive way at that time. Things looked good. I was impressed with Dearborn and I was impressed with Detroit. I had essentially no problems when I returned. Then I went on to Michigan State to take advantage of the GI Bill.
WW: After you left Michigan State, did you return to the city?
MS: I returned, let me see, after I got out of military. And then went to Michigan State, and then after I graduated, my parents moved from Dearborn to Melvindale and so I lived with them for a period of time in Melvindale. And then I decided to go to Michigan State and I took police administration at that time. And now they call it criminal justice. So, I graduated from Michigan State, I was offered a job as a campus cop. I said, well, I didn't want to graduate from Michigan State and become a campus cop, but they told what the salary would be and of all the salaries of the police departments of the state of Michigan, the Michigan State campus police were paid the best. So I went with the flow and with the money and worked at Michigan State for three years. Then I decided I wanted to find out what Detroit as all about and I decided to take the job at Recorder’s Court. And I think there were thirteen judges there at the time and I was interviewed by all of them. The reason they decided to hire me—there were about a dozen applicants—and I surfaced as number one and I said, “Well, why did you pick me?” And they said, “Well, you were a cop and we have 1700 people locked up in the county jail, sleeping in the aisles and very overcrowded. We want you to do a pre-sentence report on all of them to tell us what to do with them, whether to send them to prison or put them back on the street. I did that for two years and I cleaned out the crowded conditions in the jail and then I at that time was living in Warren, Michigan.
WW: Did you enjoy your time at Recorder’s Court?
MS: Oh, it was the best job I’ve ever had. I enjoyed it immensely.
WW: And what two years did you do that job?
MS: At Recorder’s Court?
MS: I’m trying to think. I left Michigan State in September of, I want to say ’61. From September of ’61 I worked at Recorder’s Court and I worked there until May of ’68. I was there during the course of the riot and the thing that’s interesting about it, if you allow me to editorialize a little bit about it here—
WW: Go right ahead.
MS: The riot, you know, that occurred – I’m trying to get my thoughts together here. What was the question you wanted me to respond to?
WW: Oh, I was just asking what years you worked there and then I was going to go into ’67 after that.
MS: Okay, well, the years that I worked there was from ’61-’68 and I was there during the riot of ’67 and in that July of ’67, we were coming back from a vacation at Camp Dearborn. I was doing 80 miles an hour on I-94 and I looked in the rearview mirror and I said to my wife, “ Oh damn, I’m busted” because a blue goose- you know, a State Police car was fast approaching. And it passed me at about 100 miles an hour and that was followed by about 30 other State Police cars. And I said to my wife, “Something bad must have happened somewhere.” And I had no idea what bad meant. And we finally got home to our home in Warren, Michigan, turned on the TV, and I saw Detroit in flames.
WW: Did you have to go into work that week or did you stay home?
MS: That was Sunday and I got a phone call about five o’clock and it was the chief probation officer who told me, “Mike, don't come to work until we call you.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Well, the snipers have taken the high ground and they’re shooting into the courthouse. They’re shooting the windows out of the courthouse and we can’t do any business there. So as long as the snipers hold the high ground, we can’t do any work. So we’ll call you when the Detroit Police clear the snipers off the rooftops.” So I was called to come in the following Friday after the riots began.
WW: Oh wow.
MS: Yeah. And the thing that’s interesting that you should probably know about is Governor Romney, as a matter of fact, he activated the National Guard and they were understaffed and undermanned and he said, “I’m going to petition the President, Lyndon Johnson, to send in the Federal Troops.” So he contacted President Johnson and President Johnson said, “This is unprecedented, this is unheard of and I’m looking for a set up. I don’t trust you” —you know, to Romney—“because I think things cannot be that bad in Detroit.” And Romney insisted that things were bad. And he says, “Well, I still don’t trust you so I’m going to send in my administrative assistant, Cyrus Vance. Cyrus Vance finally came in, he took a tour of the Detroit area which was burning in flames and he said to the President, “Yes, it’s that bad. It’s worse than bad. Bring the federal troops in.” Well, they didn't have enough federal troops to bring in so they brought in the 37th Airborne from Vietnam. And they surrounded the courthouse. So then on that following Friday, I went in, I see these 37th Airborne troops sitting in front of the court eating an apple out in front of the court with a couple of the guys and they were doing perimeter security. The guarded all of the courthouses and city hall, the critical-where you get your drinking water and all that kind of thing. And they were very angry because they said, “We could solve this riot in about a week or so and bring things back to normal but they got us guarding these installations like the court house here.” Anyway, they were not happy campers. And so, in answer to that question, okay?
WW: So you know, the federal troops that were brought in were recently already back from Vietnam. They were already in Kentucky.
MS: They were brought in from Vietnam, yes.
WW: So what was the mood of Recorder’s Court when you did come in to work?
MS: When I came into work, we had to process 7,200 folks who had violated the curfew. In other words, when the riot began on that Saturday night, early Sunday morning, John Conyers was on top of a car pleading with the rioters to settle down and go home and then word on the street came out that the Detroit Police were not shooting looters. And the switch boards opened up all over Detroit. They said they’re not shooting looters and so then the riot intensified and they broke into stores and began stealing all of the merchandise and began kicking in doors and all of that business and so forth. And things literally went to hell in a hand basket. And so that’s another reason why they brought in the federal troops. Because the local state police, the Detroit police, the suburban police, they brought people in from police departments all over the state and we could not stop the rioting and looting and burning until finally Cyrus Vance came in and told his boss, Lyndon Johnson, “Yeah, it’s that bad. Bring in the federal troops.” So it was a political issue too, you know.
WW: Oh yeah.
MS: Johnson and Romney didn’t trust each other, you know.
WW: Going back to before that Sunday, did you sense any tension in the city? In the months leading up to it?
MS: I was totally blindsided and flabbergasted because my particular jurisdiction as a probation officer in Recorder’s court where Gratiot and Woodward Avenue meet, Mack Avenue and all the way down Mack Avenue to St. Jean’s and over to the river, that was my district. That was- in other words, Detroit was chopped up into pieces of pie and I was probation officer. Anything that happened in that particular district from Gratiot to Mack Avenue to St. Jean over to the river, that was my responsibility and I would do pre-sentence reports on any of the individuals that were there and then I would supervise that district. So that was my area. Now, when you say did you sense anything? No, I did not sense anything, I was totally blindsided and it was a horrendous overreaction. It was like an explosion and I was flabbergasted. I thought that the people of color really overreacted and not only people of color, but Caucasians and Hispanics as well. Not only blacks were arrested but of that 7,200, it was a combination of blacks, and whites and Hispanics. But no, I did not sense anything. I still haven’t been able to figure it out, I’m still searching for answers as to why it exploded the way it exploded, it made no sense at all. Everybody, including the blacks, the Hispanics, the whites, lost a great deal over the overreaction by the folks that rioted. And once it started, you couldn't stop it. And once again that’s why Cyrus Vance recommended, “yes, it’s bad, bring in the federal troops.”
WW: So, you spoke about how the arrestees were integrated, would you say that it’s simply a riot and not a race riot?
MS: No, it wasn't a race riot, I want to say it was probably an opportunity to steal, break open doors because the word on the street was “Cops were not shooting at looters so that we can take any damn thing we want to take because the cops aren't shooting at us.” And there were not enough police to protect the city and it was a license to steal because of the undermanned staffing of the Detroit police and even the suburban police that were called in. Even the National Guard, up until when the federal troops came in. That’s when things began to settle down. Anyway, after the riot I said, “I’ve got tp get out of here.” Because I could see Detroit going to hell in a hand basket now, there’s no way to salvage this community. So I stayed in Recorder’s Court until 1968 and in 1968 I took a job at Macomb Community College. And they hired me because they said, “We noticed that you’ve been a campus cop at Michigan State and we want you to start a police department here at Macomb Community College like you had at Michigan State.” And I said, “Well, that’s a no brainer.” So I went to the community college for three years and set up their criminal justice program and their police academy and so forth and got them operational and then I was recruited to go to Kalamazoo to do the same thing. So I went to Kalamazoo and ran the criminal justice program at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where I trained police officers for 22 years and retired in what was it? ’96 I want to say, yeah it was 1996.
WW: Wow. So the reason you left in May was you were just trying to find the right reason to leave or you decided to leave in that May?
MS: Well, I could see Detroit going to hell in a hand basket. The city had been destroyed and I knew it was going to fall on hard times so I decided to get out of dodge, as did thousands and thousands of other blue collar workers. They fled to the suburbs, including myself, you know. I had fled to the suburbs before because I didn't want to work in— Warren isn't that far from my district—I couldn't even have my home phone number and address in the phone book because of possible reprisals. You know, by the folks I was doing pre-sentence reports on and recommending that they go to prison or that they be released back into the community. That’s another reason that I moved to Warren. You get some safety and security that was faltering badly in Detroit.
WW: Did you ever return to Detroit—
MS: Oh yeah, we go to Detroit. We have friends in Detroit that we visit. As a matter of fact, we’ll be going to Detroit tomorrow to visit some friends that we have there—
WW: How do you feel—
MS: But Detroit is on the mend. The yuppies and people mover wanting to build new homes and move there, that’s a mighty big question. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city moving forward?
MS: Well, I think Duggan is doing a marvelous job. I’m optimistic to the extent that I think yes, Detroit can recover but they have to make some really, really hard decisions. As I said earlier in the interview, the turning point in Detroit, in my opinion, occurred when they disbanded the Big Four. The Big Four was the safety net for keeping gangs at arm’s reach, where they could control the streets and the hoodlums and the gangs. The Big Four did a fantastic job but politically, they were a liability and so that’s why they disbanded them. And then they identified 200 cops, they called them TMU “Tough Mother” you-know-whats. “Tactical Mobile Unit” “Tough Mothers” [laughing]. Anyway, they would move in and then computers began to get very-computers came into being and they could track crime more effectively than they were able to. So they would take these 200 tactical unit officers and put them into a high crime area. And yes, crime would stop in its tracks. So then the hoodlums, they said, “Well if you’ve seen one tough mother, you’ve seen them all.” So they would get in the ditches in the expressways and go to an area where the tough mothers weren’t. It was cat and mouse. The criminal element, they out-foxed the TMU units. So it’s cat and mouse kind of a game. It’s tough keeping crime under control. The tactical mobile unit was disbanded because they were not sufficiently effective to that particular problem. You move them from one area to another, then the mercenaries, they were smart, they’d move them to another area where you didn't see a TMU.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
MS: Well, if you got any more questions, I’d be happy to answer them.
WW: I think I’m all set. Thank you so much!
MS: Well, thank you and I appreciate the opportunity.