John Tsampikou, May 19th, 2016

Title

John Tsampikou, May 19th, 2016

Description

In this interview, Tsampikou discusses his family’s move to the Detroit area in 1947 and how he eventually joined the Detroit Police Department. He discusses how the department handled the week of July 23, 1967, as well as the various causes and effects of the 1967 disturbance.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

06/14/2016

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

audio/WAV

Language

en-US

Type

Oral History

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

John Tsampikpou

Brief Biography

John Tsampikou was born in Canonsberg, Pennsylvania in 1940 before moving to the Detroit area. He served in the military and would eventually become a police officer with the Detroit Police Department.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Detroit, MI

Date

05/19/2016

Interview Length

00:49:25

Transcriptionist

Robert Lazich

Transcription Date

06/09/2016

Transcription

WW: My name is William Winkel. Today is May 19, 2016. I am here with John Tsampikou  for the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. We are in Detroit, Michigan. Thank you very much for sitting down with me today.

 

JT: My pleasure, thank you.

 

WW: Can you first start by telling me when and where you were born?

 

JT: I was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, just before the start of WWII – 1940.

 

WW: What was it like growing up there?

 

JT: Well, I didn’t really grow up there. I had some recollections of it. But my family moved to Detroit in 1947, just a month before my seventh birthday. My father had been working all through the Depression years in the steel mills and such and after WWII, those things began to close down. So, we moved to Detroit where he went to work with a cousin of his who owned a restaurant at Grand River and 14th Street. We lived right up the street at Buchanan and 14th Street.

 

WW: What were your first impressions of the city?

 

JT: As a kid I was only interested in, you know, seeing my family again or seeing my father – I hadn’t seen him in a while. It was coming on to summertime then so it was meeting new playmates and so forth. The neighborhood we lived in was a stable neighborhood. Started school in the fall. The first day of school my sister and I got lost coming home and the police had to help us find our way home, so that was my first contact with the Detroit Police Department.

 

WW: Where you were growing up in Pennsylvania, was it rural or urban?

 

JT:  No, Canonsburg was a small town just south of Pittsburgh. It’s urban, but not like a major city. In fact, Canonsburg is the hometown of people like Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, none of whom I knew personally.  My family knew Como’s family, but I don’t remember too much about it down there. I started school down there for one year before we ultimately came to Detroit. Actually, before we can to Detroit we moved from Canonsburg to Washington, Pennsylvania, which was affectionately known as Little Washington. I can remember the house and so forth, but beyond that, not much.

 

WW: Your neighborhood at 14th and Grand River, was it integrated then?

 

JT: No, I don’t remember any blacks. I don’t remember seeing any blacks in the area at all. We were only there a couple of years. My parents actually divorced within a couple of years and then my mother was off on her own with three children. We moved quite a bit around the city but in the near area, we moved from there over to Ford Street over by the Jefferson High School. That was a stable neighborhood, predominately white, as far as I can recall. There may have been some black students at Jefferson High but I have no particular recollection of blacks in that area.

 

WW: Do you have any childhood memories of growing up around the city?

 

JT: Oh Many.

 

WW: Would you share some?

 

JT: I lived in the city for a long, long time—unfortunately because we moved so often, I changed schools quite a bit, and was always around the Wayne State area here, and we were never far from it, and I can remember playing in the excavations when they were building places like State Hall. And all the buildings, the engineering buildings, all those were going up in those days. The 13th Precinct at Woodward and Hancock had been there a long time. I was a boy scout in that precinct, and I still remember the scoutmaster, his name was Harold Walberg (?), and in years to come down the road, his son and I in the police department became good friends. After knocking around two or three elementary schools, I ended up going to the Hutchins Junior High School up on Woodrow Wilson. We lived on Trumbull at the time. Went to Hutchins—and at that time, Hutchins was, I would say that area was largely Jewish and the student population was a great many Jewish students, a lot of black students, and the rest of us. So when it was a Jewish holiday, there were just a few of us left in school. But those are good memories up at that school. And I went from there to Cass Tech, which I didn’t particularly care for Cass Tech it was just, I don’t know, not my kind of school. So I ended over at Wilbur Wright, which at that time I fell in love with school. Wilbur Wright was a great school and I was proud to be part of it.

 

WW: What year did you graduate high school?

 

JT: I graduated in 1958. At the time Detroit was deep in a recession, the recession of ‘57-‘58, and you couldn’t buy a job in this town. I think I wore out a pair of shoes looking for work, and I wasn’t in a position to go to college. So ultimately after spending the whole summer trying to work I went down to the Draft Board and asked them to draft me and they did. So I went into the service in the fall of 1958 and spent two years in the Army. Of that two years, I spent nineteen months overseas. I was stationed in Verdun, France, Verdun being of WWI fame. It was an interesting area and I got to see much of Europe. When I got back home in 1960, things were better, but I could see changes in the city then too. I could certainly see changes. Neighborhoods were changing. I ended up going to work for Winkelman’s Clothier, which was a woman’s clothing store here in town. They had 35 stores around the state, most of them here in Detroit. I worked in their data processing. I worked as a computer operator. I was trained there and I spent some time with Winkelman’s and was looking for another job to try and better myself. I went with Manufacturers Bank and doing similar kinds of work. But at that time computer systems were just changing from punch cards to magnetic ink. I worked in commercial check reconcilement, which was a big job. It was a small department, there was a man that I worked for, and myself and four or five women. Those women had been there a long time and they knew their business. Well, my boss quit and they called me up to the front office and asked me if I would take over the department. I candidly told them, “You know, I don’t know enough about the department to run it.” They said “Well, we think you can handle it, give it a try.” So I did try it and of course the women I think were resentful and rightfully so. I had to depend on them to show me what to do. So that wasn’t going very well. You’d ask a lady a question “Mary, would you do this” and you’d get answers like “Well why, John? What are you doing?” Being fresh out of the military I wasn’t accustomed to… we were accustomed to being highly disciplined and so forth. So I decided one day that I was going to go back in the military or I was going to join the police department. So I made an application to the police department and eventually was hired.

 

WW: What year did you join the police department?

 

JT: I joined the police department in ’62. It was a great experience. The academy was right downtown across the street from the old police headquarters. It was a thrilling time to be part of that organization.

 

WW: What made you think the police or going back to the military?

 

JT: Well, I enjoyed the military when I was in there. It was structured, highly disciplined and I had acclimated to it pretty well. I had two friends, two of the boys I had grown up with, were now in the fire department and they wanted me to come to the fire department. I thought, “No, I’d like to try the police department.” I did it and it was the right choice for me, for certain.

 

WW: After you joined the police department, where were you stationed?

 

JT: Well, after the academy I was stationed at what we call the old Vernor Station, which at that time was known as the Second Precinct, over at 21st and Vernor. I knew the area pretty well because I had lived in that area. I lived up on Myrtle Street, I lived on Trumbull, and the Second Precinct encompassed pretty much everything from the river at West Grand Boulevard as it ran North up around Ford Hospital, back down to the Lodge Freeway—that was all the Second Precinct. I felt very much at home there and at the time the Second Precinct was composed of a mixture of people. There were Polish people, Ukrainians, there were blacks, there were a lot of Southern whites and there were some Mexicans. We had Bagley Avenue, which pretty much was all Mexicantown at that time, and it was a diverse community and it was not hard to get along with.

 

WW: You mentioned that after you got back from the military you saw differences in the city. Did you continue to see the city changing throughout the 1960s?

 

JT: Oh yeah. Not so much in that area. The demographics hadn’t changed that much in the Second Precinct. But what we did see beginning as early as ’63 or ’64, you know, there were a lot of things going on in the country that people like Mayor Cavanagh thought Detroit would be immune to. He thought that race relations, for example, were ideal here. Well, those of us that were policing the streets knew that, you know, that wasn’t the case. As time went on routine police matters could become could blow up into serious matters. A simple arrest you might end up surrounded by a crowd of people who wanted to take your prisoner away. There were so many things going on. I think in ‘64 Rochester, New York had a major riot, in ’65, of course, Los Angeles, the Watts Riot, and we could sense all those things going on here as well. It was steaming, it was brewing. In the 60s it was such a mixed bag of things, you know, especially as it went on to 1967 and so forth. You had, for example, the Civil Rights movement, which was significant. You had the Vietnam War, which came later, ‘66, ’67 and so forth. You had a tremendous increase in crime through the 60s and then you had the wide-spreading use of narcotics, from a narrow part of the black community into the white community and to the white suburbs. To a young policeman working the street and dealing with all of these things they tell us that by and large they were all part of the same bag, they were all a headache to us and things we had to cope with. It was a turbulent and mixed bag of times. We didn’t distinguish too much. Someone throwing rocks at you didn’t matter what their cause was, they were throwing rocks at you.

 

WW: Can you share any other experiences during the middle1960s?

 

JT: From the police department?

 

WW: Yes.

 

JT: Oh sure. As you know, the raid that took place up on 12th Street that precipitated the riot that was a nothing raid, that was a routine thing. Well, I worked a similar detail in the Second Precinct and we would make raids…

 

WW: Vice squad?

 

JT: Yeah. We were called the Cleanup Squad at the time. But we would make raids and there may be only three of us and we might arrest 30, 35, 40 people without incident, no trouble at all. But as time went on, we got more resistance to those things and we would have to call for more backup. It was turbulent times, you could tell things were brewing for trouble. People here were not unaware of what was going on around the country. While I think a lot of it had its roots in the Civil Rights Movement, there were people who were looking to agitate, who were fomenting trouble. The raid on 12th Street, for example, there were really only two people who started all the problems. When they were loading those people from that raid, and as I’m sure Tony has told you—if you interviewed Tony—it was, you know, frivolity. It was not a hostile environment, but there were two people in particular that agitated that crowd and started some of the trouble.

 

After the riot I was working staff work out of headquarters, and I wrote and documented a lot what happened by interviewing other officers and command people and so forth and I’m really familiar with the details of that—at least I was at that time. Yeah—it wasn’t something that started all of the sudden—it was building. There in the Second Precinct up on Hobart Street and Brooklyn Street, they were two dead-end streets, they dead ended at the railroad tracks. One street was largely black and the other street was Southern white and I can’t remember which was which now. But I remember one hot summer night there were some hostilities there. They were throwing bricks and bottles up over the houses, from one street to the other and then back again. I don’t recall anybody was seriously hurt in that confrontation. No, there were many small incidents that took place and we could sense that things were getting tougher and tougher out there and something was going to happen. Meanwhile the mayor, God bless him, said “No, Detroit has great race relations. It can’t happen here.” Well, it was going to happen here as it happened in every major city. It was the fact of the times.

 

WW: You mentioned there was increasing tension in the community—was there increasing tension in the police department giving the mounting concerns?

 

JT: Well, before the riot I was transferred downtown and I was doing staff work. I knew the inner workings of the department pretty well as a result of that assignment. We had, for example, what was known as a “riot squad.” But it was a small number of people. I don’t remember the exact number—I don’t believe there were 50 people, there might have been 20 or 30. They largely came out of what was known as the Motor Division—motorcycle cops—traffic cops. There hadn’t been anything in the city significant to use that kind of force in the preceding years that I knew of. In 1966, out on Kercheval, there was a small incident and while I have a documented history of it, it was quelled rather quickly and easily. What happened in ’67 blossomed so big and so fast, it was beyond the police department’s capability of handling it. The people running the department at the time, particularly John Nichols, he was an astute individual, he was worldly, and I think that he, you know, sensed what was coming. But I don’t think anybody anticipated the size and scope of what happened which is largely why it took so long to get under control.

 

WW: Did the rank and file—was it a common belief that something big was happening? Or was it just a few people saying, “Hey, something is coming.”

 

JT: Oh no. I think every policeman working the street knew that it was only a matter of time. I think if there was anyone that didn’t think so, that they were terribly naive. I believe that the average street cop—It was common knowledge, you know. This is going to explode one of these days. And it did. The raid up there on 12th Street – I certainly wouldn’t call it a cause, I would just call it the opportunistic incident that tripped the hammer.

 

WW: The police department was primarily white then, correct?

 

JT: Yeah, it was. It was primarily white and I don’t know that it would have mattered if it had been largely black or half black or something. I don’t think it would have made any difference because it was the mood and the social fabric of the time. There was going to be riots and not just Detroit, think of every major city—New York, Newark, Los Angeles. I think that it could have been minimized had the police department been able to mobilize fast.  And mobilization was a big part of what let this get out of hand. At that particular time on a Sunday morning, we were at absolute minimum strength and I’ve got actual numbers as to how many people were actually working.

 

WW: It was about 300 on duty.

 

JT: Well, it was a little bit more than that. I know some of the numbers you got from other people suggested less from what I’ve got from logs and so forth. But in any case, not all of those people could abandon their present assignments and go across town or come from various parts of town to deal with that. There’s a lot involved in it. Number one, you have to get them together, and then you have to give them instructions and make sure they have equipment, and then deploy them. That’s a big task. Those were some of the things we ran into on our post-riot analysis. You know, we didn’t have enough radio equipment. When things started on Sunday morning everyone was notified -- State police was notified, the National Guard, the FBI, the Sheriff’s department. Fortunately that afternoon we got the first contingent of State policemen in.

But now you’re talking about State policemen who worked all over the state of Michigan, some of them had not even seen the city of Detroit. They didn’t know their way around town, likewise with the National Guardsmen. Most of them were young, very young, had no experience, they hadn’t been to Vietnam, if there were any I don’t know who in fact they were. All of these people had to be integrated into our system so we ended up with three car patrol units. Every three car patrol unit had to have Detroit policemen who knew their way around town. They had to have radios so that we’d have common communication. They had to have equipment, you know. The department at that time had very few long guns. I don’t think any precinct had more than three or four or five rifles in its arsenal.  We were having sniper fire from buildings, apartment buildings and so forth. I have a long list of sniper reports that would shock you to see it. Fortunately, either they were very bad shots or they weren’t serious about shooting policemen because not one policeman was shot by a sniper. There was one fireman killed by a sniper. One policeman was killed as the result of a shotgun blast from wrestling over a shotgun with a prisoner.

 

WW: Where were you living in 1967, in July?

 

JT: In July of 1967, I was single at the time and living in an apartment at Tireman and Greenfield. The riot, or riot activity, had not reached that area out there. So even though my first shift was 20 hours, I got called in Sunday morning. I know I worked 20 hours straight through—after that I can’t remember. It was go home and grab a few hours sleep, and then come right back to work as soon as you were able. In Sunday, things were rampant, almost out of control. The attempts that were made to control the crowd were futile. Crowds would form, a squad of men might go down the street, the crowd would split and then after the squad went through the crowd would form again. Early Sunday, when the first fires were set, and the looting started—The policemen, I don’t think anyone had fired a shot.

 

Now it is debatable to this day—many policemen might tell you that they were told not to do anything. If you talk to the administration, the administration would probably tell you—and I was in the proximity to that activity—they would tell you we didn’t have enough people assembled to take any decisive action. But by Monday, on Monday night, I went up on the roof of police headquarters and I could see a ring of fire starting out in the Fourth Precinct down towards the river going all the way north towards the Tenth Precinct, the Eleventh Precinct and back down into the Fifth Precinct on the East Side. It wasn’t a continuous ring of fire but there were fires all over the city. But it was also on Monday night that a directive was issued—I’m sorry I don’t have that one—which talked about the use of force. It was after that, I think, that the police started shooting back, and unfortunately a lot of people were killed. But that began to quell things. After Tuesday night, things had fallen off considerably. There’s a lot of talk about the Army coming in. It came in later in the week. By the time the Army got here things were already winding down. The army wasn’t really—except for their presence—they weren’t really actively involved. They were deployed only on the East Side of Detroit. They weren’t spread out throughout the whole city. These guys, of the ones that I had any contact with and talked to, they didn’t want any part of this. They had just come back from Vietnam and they couldn’t envision themselves using force in an urban area in their own country. I’d been overseas and I had seen tanks and so forth—military equipment everywhere—but it was really disconcerting to see it in your own city. There was a time I thought “God, things will never be normal again,” you know. But the time moves on and things change—and for the better.

 

WW: What was the working relationship like between the Detroit Police Department and say the National Guard?

 

JT: Oh, I think it was excellent. They were willing to help, they wanted to help, and they would take whatever direction you gave them. The more interesting relationship, I think, was between the Detroit Police and the State Police. Up until that time State Police and Detroit Police didn’t have much contact with each other. They were out in the hinterlands and doing traffic control. They didn’t have the urban problems that we had. But bringing them in and working side by side, that really tightened the relationship between the State Police and the Detroit Police. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been great ever since. It’s only in the last couple of decades, two or three decades, that you had State Police working within the city limits, whether it be on the freeway or any other capacity. In over those decades, too, they’ve also been exposed to the kind of urban problems that Detroit had. They hadn’t had them up until then, except in very rare circumstances.

 

WW: Throughout the course of the week, you mentioned you were working 20 hour shifts, was that the normal shift?

 

JT: No, the shifts in a more structured environment -- such as in the field -- they would have been working 12 hour shifts. I was working at headquarters for the command staff. When they wanted you there, you were there and when someone was there to relieve you – after that first shift I don’t remember what my hours were. I worked days and nights and at least one night I went out with a group, with a lieutenant and a couple of other people, and did some reconnaissance on the streets and about the city. That was on Wednesday night and you could tell things had really quieted down. Quite frankly, once the police started shooting back, things quieted down quickly.

 

My wife was a policewoman at the time and she was out at the police station at Saint Jean and Jefferson at the Fifth Precinct. They’d didn’t work in uniforms in those days, the policewomen didn’t, they were all plainclothes officers. She had an aunt that lived on Parker, between Jefferson and Kerchaval – an elderly woman living by herself. I think it was on Sunday night or Monday that she went down there and got her aunt out of there because that was a hot area at the time too.

 

WW: So, you didn’t really leave police headquarters – except to go home, of course – but you didn’t go out in the field at all that week?

 

JT: One night I did, just to do a reconnaissance and to make an evaluation of where we stood on behalf of the headquarters group.

 

WW: And you saw that it was quieting down?

 

JT: Oh yeah, considerably.

 

WW: During your time in headquarters what was the atmosphere like—in the beginning was it more chaotic?

 

JT: In the beginning, in my opinion, it was very chaotic. I would say it was a controlled chaos because they understood that this thing was growing. They knew the limitations that they had at the time, the limitations being the time it takes to mobilize. Number one, it’s Sunday and it’s in July. You’ve got large numbers of people on vacation and out of town. It’s the weekend, even those who weren’t on vacation might have been out of town. So tracking people down and the time it takes to get them back in. They’ve got to get back to their homes, they’ve got to get uniformed, they’ve got to be equipped, report someplace, usually to their home station and then from there be assigned someplace else. All that ate up an awful lot of time, and in the meantime, the situation was still brewing over there at the Tenth Precinct. The fire department on the initial fires had no problems at all with the crowds. Later in the day the fire department met resistance. They were getting stoned and bottled and people that wanted to let it burn let it burn. A place would get looted, and then they’d set fire to it.

 

WW: Did the riot in July have a significant impact on how the police department functioned?

 

JT: During that time or thereafter?

 

WW: I would say thereafter.

 

JT: Well, thereafter and I was deeply involved in documenting some of the problems and doing the analysis of what our shortcomings were and what our strong points were. We immediately started planning for a large scale event. Over the coming year we had done a lot of work in preparation for that – plans for radio equipment, updating mobilization systems, generally in anticipation of another large scale event. In April of the following year, 1968, was the assassination of Martin Luther King and we knew right away that, you know, we had to react. There was no hesitation or minutes of evaluation. We immediately – I personally was with another partner and we were sent out to open a command post in one of the schools, in fact it was Hutchins, up there in the Tenth Precinct. That was in anticipation of a staging area and if we needed to bring in the National Guard or anyone else. Interestingly, there were some minor incidents which the police responded to very quickly and it was quelled. There was never any large scale breakout. I can tell you from driving around the city, and you could see it on the faces of many black residents, they didn’t want any part of this nonsense. They didn’t want that to happen, but it did happen. Of course, not everyone was involved in it. If you look at the arrests, who we arrested, they were mostly 14-39 was the largest group of arrests, we arrested over 7,000 people in that week. We filled up every precinct detention area, which are minimal, filled up the Wayne County jail, filled up four other county jails. We shipped prisoners to Jackson State Prison. We shipped them to Milan Federal Penitentiary and ultimately we opened the bathhouse on Belle Isle and made that a detention center. So we had over 7,000 prisoners and over 1,000 of them were juvenile, I’m sure. Not all of them were prosecuted, not by a long shot. Surprisingly, the DSR—the Detroit Street Railways as it was known then—was key in transporting prisoners. We had a busload of prisoners with a couple of guards, drive them up to Jackson Prison up in Jackson, Michigan or out to Milan or Oakland County, Macomb County, I think we had them in Washtenaw County and, of course, Wayne County.

 

WW: And Ionia.

 

JT: It may have been. I think there were five county jails that we filled up. It was a remarkable time.  Looking back, I’m glad I had the exposure. I wish I hadn’t, but I’m glad to have been part of it rather than sitting on the sidelines.

 

WW: What was the mood of the police department afterwards? Was there relief that it was over, anger that it happened?

 

JT: I think both. I think there was relief and I think there was anger. As far as the administration went, the people that I worked with at headquarters, it was “Let’s get down to business and make sure this doesn’t happen again. And if it does happen again, make sure we’re better prepared.” I think a lot of things changed, the relationship with the public at large had to be more stressed, particularly the black public. It’s certainly unfair to talk about the black public as a single group, you know, because there were a lot of people that were very helpful to the police and clearly did not want to see what was going on go on. It was regretful and it hurt them. All of the sudden the stores and the businesses that they shop in were burned out. Who burns out their own stores? Many of those were black-owned stores too.

 

WW: You mentioned earlier what you believed were some of the causes of the riot. Were there anymore? Or do you think the citizens of Detroit were just got swept up in the national social discord?

 

JT: I think that was a large part of it. It was a mixture of things. The Civil Rights Movement affected every black person in the country to one degree or another. You also had an element of people who thought that “Gee, it would be cool to riot and loot.”  There were a lot of people who were anti-police, black and white. This was a chance to express that anger. No doubt we contributed to that in our dealings with the public. Unless you’ve had that experience of dealing with a hostile public, not just a hostile public but to arresting people you know, it can be trying. It can be difficult. It’s a two way street. This person has a job to do and if he does it honestly someone is going to be unhappy. See, most contacts people have with the police department are negative.  You know, either you get stopped for a ticket or you get stopped for drunk driving or you get arrested committing a crime or you call because you’ve been a victim of a crime, and that’s an unhappy contact as well. So, you know, there weren’t many positive contacts that the average person has with the police department. There have been many attempts over the years to improve that but it’s not easy, you know. When was the last time you had contact with a police officer on duty, probably not very often—unless you get a ticket or something. I don’t think you’ve done any looting lately, have you? [laughter]

 

WW: No, I’ve not. You mentioned that you lived on the far West Side. What was it like driving across the city to go home afterwards?

 

JT: It wasn’t bad. You didn’t linger but as far as anyone could tell—you didn’t wear your hat in your car, number one, and a lot of guys would put on a civilian jacket over their uniform and drive home and a lot of us were in riding clubs too.

 

WW:  Were in what?

 

JT: Riding clubs. There might be four or five of you riding together. You see in those days, most of us were one car families. And we rode back and forth if we worked the same shift. If you had riding clubs, maybe you only drove once every four weeks or so. No, you didn’t linger. You got out of town. We all lived in the city then too. We got back to our own neighborhoods where things were relatively quiet. At that time we had the tactical mobile unit, which was supposed to be a rapid response and strike force. They were never committed to the riot in any significant way and a lot of those officers were unhappy about it. They felt that they were there for that purpose and not used. But as I recall John Nichols, who was the deputy superintendent at the time, later became superintendent and commissioner, he made it very clear, he and Inspector Anthony Vertoni, who was in charge of the attack unit at the time. They said that they kept them in reserve. This was their military background. They kept a reserve unit, they said if things had broken out in one of the other neighborhoods where nothing was happening, that they had to have some force available to send out there. That’s why they were never committed.

                                                                                                           

WW: Did you stay with the police department afterwards?

 

JT: Oh yeah. I stayed there and I stayed in that staff job, then in 1969 I was promoted to detective. I worked at the Seventh Precinct out at Mack and Gratiot. I was there for a short time because I was promoted again to uniform sergeant. I went out to Gratiot and Connor at the Fifteenth Precinct. I can remember we had an incident back then of looting and a store being burned but it was – I don’t even know what precipitated it – but it was down around Harper and Gratiot. It was quickly quelled; it was truly an isolated incident. Things were changing. In 1969, 1970 – we had some tough years then—I think ’70, ’71, we lost seven or eight men. Seven or eight people were killed, seven or eight policemen were killed. We had more serious incidents with guns. Guns were becoming more prevalent. If you go back just before the riot most homicides in those days were committed with long guns – shotguns and rifles. Handguns were not that prevalent. So if a patrol crew caught someone with a handgun everybody in the station knew about it and talked about it for a day or two because it was an unusual thing. After the riot it became more common. Moving into the 70s after that, you had a number of things that were happening in the country still. You had things like the George Wallace thing, I don’t remember too much about that now. The Black Panther movement—We had officers killed in that process. It was not an easy time to be a policeman. Although I think that today, by and large, they have it a lot tougher. These guys today are earning their money and whatever they’re paying them, it’s not enough.

 

WW: Did you continue to live in the city afterwards?

 

JT: I lived in the city up until the time I retired. I got married in 1969 and we lived in the Harper and Chalmers area, which was a very nice, stable area. It was an old German neighborhood. See, I lived so many years in this central corridor they didn’t call it the inner city then, it was just the city. Where I lived up on Trumbull Avenue, I found out later the local cops used to call it “Little Harlem County.” There were a lot of  Southern whites in that area. That Second Precinct was a mixed area. Well, you got over to the East Side you had Belgian neighborhoods, German neighborhoods, Polish neighborhoods and the neighborhoods were more defined. The neighborhood that I lived in initially, we were renting house from my wife’s parents. At one time it was more convenient for me, I walked down to Harper in 1969, ’70, ’71 and I could get on the bus in 1971 and be downtown to headquarters in my assignment faster than I could drive down there and park. We lived there for a while and then we finally bought a house of our own in 1973 on Harvard,  just north of Mack Avenue, other side of the border was Grosse Pointe Park. Well, my kids went to school at St. Claire Montefalco, which is right on Mack Avenue and Outer Drive. They could walk to school. There was never any problem until the time they graduated from elementary school. They went to Regina High School and they had to drive there. They graduated from high school in ’86 and ’88 while I retired in ’87 and we moved out of the city.

 

WW: Was the only thing keeping you in the city your job in the police department?

 

JT: Uh, yes and no. It would have been nice to live in a more rural area, you know, it had an appeal for me. But I loved the idea of being convenient to work. When I was assigned to the Fifth Precinct and from where I lived, I was five to ten minutes drive away. I never cared for long commutes. After I left the police department I went to work at the Detroit Medical Center. Living out of the city, I detested the long drive down the freeway. So, I missed the convenience of living in the city. Detroit was my home and as I come down here today I have only the fond memories. I don’t have the negative memories. I spent two years across the street at the DIA. My last two years in the police department I had to do a little assignment. I was over there dealing with their security and it was a great experience. Of course, I went to Wayne State here through undergrad and grad school and eventually taught there as part-time faculty for about ten years, night school. I have fond memories of Detroit and from time to time I’ll drive through my old neighborhoods but they’re all gone now. Not one house is standing that I ever lived in down here.

 

WW: A couple final questions: Where do you see the city going?

 

JT: Well, the city will never be what it was. I don’t believe that. I had people even from other states ask me “Is Detroit coming back?” I said it’s not coming back, it’s changing. Coming back to me means being what it once was and that isn’t going to be the case. Unless one day you hear someone say “I’m moving my family to Detroit because they have good schools and it’s safe.” That’s not going to happen, at least in my foreseeable future. I’d like to see it, but I don’t think I’ll be around to see it happen. The nature of the country has changed. If we were still an agrarian society where the urban areas were populated – just the news today talked about how many people have been lost from the Tri-County Area in the last 20 or 30 years, several hundred thousand. Well, people move around the country. You talk to the average person and their families aren’t close together anymore. They’ve got children scattered all over the country. Most of them will gravitate to where they see safety and good schools for their kids and things that they need. The people that are in Detroit, it’s hard to categorize them. Yourself, who might be single or married with no children and living in a cosmopolitan area, it has a lot of appeal. But for someone who wants to raise their family, it’s got to be tough today. As you look out in the neighborhoods the buildings themselves have been decimated. Good old neighborhoods that just aren’t there anymore. So, I don’t know where the answer is but for Detroit to be what it once was, you have to have a large influx of families, not just commuters and people living a cosmopolitan life. If that sounds pessimistic, I don’t mean it to. That’s just the way I see it.

 

WW: No worries. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

 

JT: No, not really. As far as the riot goes, it was a tough time for everyone. We learned a lot from it.  I don’t think we’ll ever see times like that again, at least not for the same reasons. If we ever see any large scale disorders I think it’s going to be more of an economics and maybe even national politics.

 

WW: Thank you very much for sitting down with me today.

 

 

 

[TIME STAMP END OF INTERVIEW 49:25]

[End of Track 1]

Original Format

M4A on iPhone; converted to WAV

Duration

49min25sec

Interviewer

William Winkel

Interviewee

John Tsampikou

Location

Detroit, MI

Files

IMG_0403.JPG

Citation

“John Tsampikou, May 19th, 2016,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed May 25, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/266.

Output Formats