Richard Viecelli, August 12th, 2016

Title

Richard Viecelli, August 12th, 2016

Description

Viecelli discusses the 1967 disturbance from a police officer’s perspective, which he considers not a riot, but a “baby war.” He was stationed at Kiefer Command Center, where he tracked incoming and outgoing calls for the police. Notably, Vicelli details the violence – i.e., the deaths of innocent people – that occurred during the disturbance. Following the unrest, several of Viecelli’s coworkers left the force, left Detroit, and/or suffered from mental illness; he recalls the shooting of his partner, Roger Poike, with emotional detail. He also mentions neighborhood turnover (from Jewish to Black) near 12th Street and in other areas. He is pessimistic about the future of Detroit and black/white race relations more generally.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

09/20/2016

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

Audio/WAV

Language

en-US

Type

Oral History

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Richard Viecelli

Brief Biography

Richard Viecelli moved to Detroit in 1935 as a five years old accompanying his father searching for work in the automobile industry. He grew up near Dequindre and Nevada, and later moved to a housing project on Oakland Avenue following his parents’ separation. Viecelli remembers the Detroit riots of 1943 in addition to the 1967 disturbance, during which he served as a Detroit Police Officer in the Tenth Precinct. He was a police officer until 2004. He believes there will always be hostility between whites and blacks.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Grosse Pointe, MI

Date

08/12/2016

Interview Length

00:42:44

Transcriptionist

Emma Maniere

Transcription Date

09/08/2016

Transcription

INITIALS OF INTERVIWEE: RV

INTIALS OF INTERVIEWER: WW

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: JW

RV: …enough room on that camera.

WW: Hello today is August?–

JW: 12th.

RV: Yes.

WW: 12th, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with:

RV: Richard Viecelli, police officer.

WW: Thank you for sitting down with me today.

RV: I beg your pardon?

WW:  Thank you for sitting down with me today.

RV: Yes.

WW: Can you please tell me where and when were you born?

RV: 10/7/30, born in Clarence, Pennsylvania.

WW: And what year did you come here?

RV: Thirty-five.

WW: What brought your family to Detroit?

RV: Coal mine closed down, my dad was a coal miner.

WW: Were there coal mines in Detroit?

RV: Not that I know of.

WW: Oh, okay.

RV: He went to work for Ford Motor Car Company.

WW: Oh, okay. And what neighborhood did you grow up in?

RV: Dequindre and Nevada area. Poor, very poor area.

WW: What was your first impression of the city, do you remember?

RV: No, I don’t. I grew up in a neighborhood that was all poor people, so, we all got along.

WW: Despite being poor, did you enjoy growing up in that area?

RV: Oh yes, oh yes. I loved it.

WW: Would you like to share some memories from growing up in that area?

RV: Yes, after probably about I would say six years, my parents separated and I went into a project.

WW: Do you remember which one?

RV: Yes, on Oakland Avenue, it was called Temporary Housing, only we stayed there 13 years. My mother and father separated, and three kids and myself went with my mother.

WW: Was that housing project integrated?

RV: No, no way.

WW: Okay. And what schools did you go to growing up?

RV: Courville.

WW: Courville. Was Courville integrated?

RV: Slightly integrated at that time, yeah. Then I went to Nolan, which was slightly integrated also, and then I graduated from Pershing.

WW: Okay. Growing up and going around the city, did you explore the city or did you tend to stay in the neighborhoods?

RV: Oh no, I explored the city, man, I was all over.

WW: [Laughter.]

RV: You couldn’t find me, man. Eight to four and out the door. I was gone.

WW: Did you tend to go by yourself or did you go with your group of friends?

RV: A couple of friends, myself.

WW: What areas did you like to explore?

RV: Detroit.

WW: Okay.

RV: And all over the other the other places. You name it, I was there.

WW: Okay. Do you have any memories from the 43 riot?

RV: Yes I do.

WW: Would you like to share them?

RV: Yes. I was in the grocery store at the corner of Ryan Road and Nevada when the riot broke out. And we were in the grocery store then, me and my friend. They were setting up machine guns: thirty caliber, tripod machine guns to block the streets off and keep the people away from the projects. Sojourner Truth, I think it was, wasn’t it? Yeah, Sojourner Truth Project. And they were keeping the people out of that area.

WW: Afterwards did you just head straight home?

RV: Hell no, I went out the back door. Me and my buddies–two buddies–and we finally made it through the neighborhood backyards over to his house. And that’s where we stayed. We got the hell out of there, quickly.

WW: Did that change the way you looked at Detroit?

RV: No, uh-uh.

WW: You weren’t any less–

RV: No, it didn’t bother me.

WW: Okay.

RV: Then when the one started in 45, was it? Yeah, 45, that was Belle Isle, that didn’t change–

WW: That was 43.

RV: 43? Oh, okay, 43. 45 was Sojourner Truth then. 42? Okay.  

WW: Um-hm.

RV: Okay.

WW: Were you around for the Belle Isle?

RV: Yeah, yeah. Still lived in the same house.

WW: Okay.

RV: Lived on McKay then.

WW: Growing up in the city, what drove you to become a police officer?

RV: What? I wanted to be a police officer.

WW: Why?

RV: Why? I thought, at that time, I was married, I’d come out of the service, I was in the skeet troops in Alaska. When I come out of the service, I had married my wife before I went into service, and I owned a steady income for my family. I didn’t want to be a coal miner and be kicked out one month after another. So I wanted to become a police officer.

WW: And what years did you serve in the army?

RV: Let me think. Christ, I can’t even remember that, and I’ve got a memory like an elephant. 51.

WW: You got out in 51?

RV: No, no, I got out in 53.

WW: Okay.

RV: I became a policeman in 55.

WW: After you became a police officer, what precinct did you work in?

RV: After I got out of the academy?

WW: Um-hm.

RV: After I got out of the academy, I walked the beat right down the street here. 

WW: What street is this?

RV: Jefferson. All by myself.

WW: Did you enjoy?

RV: Oh yeah, hell yeah, I had a great time.

WW: So in what precinct is that?

RV: 5th precinct.

WW: 5th precinct?

RV: Yes. It was called McLaughlin, McLaughlin Station. That’s long gone because there was nothing but a three-story building, and they tore that down. 

WW: Working as a police officer in the fifties and going into the sixties, did you notice any growing tension in the city?

RV: Oh yes.

WW: Could you tell me some examples?

RV: Well it depends on what years. I didn’t go to-I didn’t go to Petoskey Station, that’s number ten, until I’d been on the job about a year or so. Because my break-in period was Jefferson Avenue. And, uh, when I was transferred, I was transferred to the 10th Precinct–I don’t know when that was, but it was a couple of years. Because that neighborhood was predominately Jewish at that time, completely Jewish, and it was changing, so they sent myself and a few others over to the 10th Precinct. I’d never even heard of it, I’d never heard of Petoskey Station–the hell that’s on the West Side. So I was sent over there.

WW: Did you immediately notice a difference between the 5th Precinct and the 10th?

RV: Oh yes, by part. The 5th Precinct here was partially integrated, no problems. But over there, no way, that was a jungle, a total jungle.

WW: What about it was a jungle?

RV: What’s that?

WW: What about it was a jungle?

RV: The neighborhood was changing; they were driving the Jewish people out of there.

WW: Who’s ‘they’?

RV: The Black people.

WW: Okay. Did you feel uneasy about walking the streets over there?

RV: Hell no. When I went over there, I walked the beat by myself.

WW: Okay.

RV: And it was changing then. But there was a lot of ten-ten over there, a lot of PG coming in over there. You know, that was bad news.

WW: What’s ten-ten and PG?

RV: Ten-ten is prostitutes: ten minutes for ten dollars.

WW: Okay.

RV: And PG is paregoric that they cooked down and shot in the back of their hands, and it gives them the same high as marijuana would do. A lot of that was being bought then because it wasn’t prescription, then when it became script, they couldn’t buy it, and it started to get heroin.

WW: Working at the 10th Precinct, were you involved in a lot of drug arrests then, given these problems?

RV: No, no.

WW: Just worked the beat?

RV: I just walked the beat, you know took care of things. See, you got to picture this now: 12th Street was two different precincts: the east side of 12th Street was the 9th Precinct, at that time, when I came on the job. The west side of 12th Street was the 10th Precinct. There was two different precincts. Then, when they combined the two, it made it into number 10. That’s when the problems had started because they had already started pushing people out of there.

WW: How long did you stay in the 10th Precinct?

RV: Oh my career practically, until long after the riot was over.

WW: Okay.

RV: I probably had one of the greatest careers of a police officer that anybody could ever have.

WW: How did the police department react to–

RV: To the riot?

WW: No. To the changing conditions in the 10th Precinct?

RV: They didn’t care. They didn’t care at that time because it was in its infancy of getting bad.

WW: Okay.

RV: At that time. Because there was still a lot of Jewish people on 12th Street, which, naturally, they were pushed out.

WW: Did it get increasingly bad throughout the sixties?

RV: I beg your pardon?

WW: Did it get increasingly worse throughout the sixties?

RV: Oh yes. You mean 12th Street? Oh hell yeah. Completely turned over.

WW: Did you ever think about leaving the 10th Precinct?

RV: No, oh no, no. The more action, the better it was. I didn’t care, I still was doing my job.

WW: Throughout the sixties, did you stay working the beat, or did you move around–

RV: I moved around the scout car.

WW: Okay.

RV: I was moved off the beat at that time. See, we walked the beat by ourselves, and then they started putting two people on the job. Both of my partners, more or less–Gino [unintelligible name], he died here a couple of months back, and Roger Poike, he’s the one that was shot, my partner who was shot here and here, in the groin, and he was shot during the riot. The guy that shot him jumped out the window.

WW: Going throughout the ’60s, did the Detroit Police Department anticipate any violence?

RV: At that time, no, no. Not until it started on Clairmount and 12th.

WW: Okay.

RV: Unh-uh.

WW: Were you involved in any way in the Kercheval Incident in 1966?

RV: No. No, that was East Side, it was nothing to do with us.

WW: Okay.

RV: We had our own problems.

WW: Was the incident known around the police department?

RV: What?

WW: The Kercheval Incident?

RV: No.

WW: Oh, okay.

RV: It might’ve been on the East Side, I never heard about it on the West Side.

WW: Oh, okay.

RV: I spent most of my career as a patrolman. At number 10.

WW: Being in a scout car, and you get to explore the 10th Precinct more, did it change your perception of the area?

RV: Yes.

WW: How so?

RV: Bad.

WW: Bad?

RV: It was getting worse and worse the more integrated it got, the worse it went.

WW: Okay.

RV: Because–I’m not talking about all Black people don’t get me wrong. I worked with Black people, one of my best friends was a Black guy–him and I worked together for the court system. I was a bounty hunter for the courts after I retired from the Department, I was asked to retire by Judge–he became a good friend of mine, he lived in the 10th Precinct, and he asked me to retire and go to work for the court system. When I retired, for six years prior to me retiring for the Department, I worked for the City Council, I worked for Carl Levin for a couple of years as his driver, drive around and bullshit and all that. Then I was assigned to Mr. Roggell for five and half years. And I stayed with the Council until Mr. Rogell retired, and then the judge asked me to go to work for the courts. Which I stayed there six years. Six years and four months. You emphasize six years, four months.

WW: [Laughter.]

RV: Because it was a reason, there was a reason, six years, four months.

WW: Going into ’67, you said the police department didn’t anticipate any violence that summer?

RV: Not at that time.

WW: Did you?

RV: No, I didn’t think, not in Number 10.

WW: Oh, okay.

RV: It was almost spontaneous, almost spontaneous. But, you know, the feeling–I can’t say the feelings for the police department. But the feelings for the people that worked and lived down there, they knew they were being pushed. They knew it.

WW: How did you first hear what was going on?

RV: They called me up. Told me get the hell in the station, right away, quick. They’d already called my three partners, we all lived in the same area. In Copper Canyon, they called it. We all lived in the same area, and they says, ‘have you got a shotgun?’ I said, ‘hell yeah.’ They said, ‘bring it along. It’s started, it’s started, get down here quick.’ So I picked up Gino and Jerry Miller, that was one of my other partners, and Roger Poike, my partner that got shot, and the four of us went down into the 10th Precinct with the guns out all four windows at that time. Laughing like hell, we didn’t know what was going on. But the minute we turned on John Lodge, Jesus Christ fire all over the place. We barely made it to the station.

WW: Why?

RV: We didn’t know which way to turn. Finally we went up Elmhurst and shot up Elmhurst all the way to Livernois.

WW: When you got the call and they said, ‘It started,’ did you instinctually know what ‘it’ meant?

RV: No, no, oh no, no.

WW: Oh, okay.

RV: No, we were wondering what happened because all you could see south of us was a glow of fire, you know. At that time, 12th Street, they were burning it by that time. Then we were assigned to cars, three cars with four men in it together.

WW: When you left your house, were you worried about leaving your family behind?

RV: My wife was. My wife was very religious, she prayed every day that I went to work. I married a preacher’s daughter. She’s an angel, thank God, I married an angel.

WW: [Laughter.] Once you got to the precinct, what was the atmosphere–

RV: Oh Christ, it was crowded all over the place. There was cops all over the place.

WW: Okay.

RV: Trying to get assigned here. Like I say, assignments were three cars, four guys to a car, they called it a unit at that time.

WW: What was your first job?

RV: First job is going up Linwood Street to the restaurant where we all the policemen, ate there, Stafford’s Restaurant, that was at 8333 Linwood. Two doors down, somebody was down there going like this here to the car, we went over there and here laid this old man, he was a shoemaker about four doors away from Stafford’s. They had kicked his head in and they killed him. They stomped him to death. He was about 110 pounds, and he was laying on the sidewalk, and [choking sound]. And, you know, goodbye Charlie. They stomped him to death. And they got the guy that stomped him. Because one of the guys that was with the guy that killed him later on had called the police and told them. He was only here six weeks from down South, Georgia.

WW: Wow.

RV: He was only up in Detroit six weeks.

WW: Wow.

RV: But they got that guy. But they killed a guy too. Poor guy lived in the back, you know and goodbye.

WW: Did that affect your–

RV: Yes, it pissed me off. It pissed me off. ’Cause who the hell did he hurt? He didn’t hurt nobody. But I found a couple of them like that, dead. You ever hear of an author by the name of uh … oh God, almighty ... trying to think of his name. He wrote a book about the Detroit riot.

WW: Sidney Fine?

RV: No.

WW: Thomas Sugrue?

RV: No.

WW: John Hershey?

RV: No. This guy wrote a book about Detroit. But his grandfather was stomped to death too. His grandfather had a store just north of Davison, on the 12000 block of Davison, first or second block, and two guys went in there and they stomped him to death. And we got the call on that one. Again, the guy was still alive when we got there, but a Black woman who witnessed it told us, she said, ‘one guy was stomping him to death when his heal.’ We didn’t know it on the way down to–I almost had the author’s name–Christ that’s 50 years ago. Not Charlie LeDuff, not Charlie. It’ll come to me.

WW: Okay.

RV: But it was his grandfather, his father, excuse me, his father. When he got down there, we told him, we had shipped his dad to a hospital. His wife said, ‘is he still alive?’ I said, ‘yes he is.’ But that was a lie because he died on the way down there. She cursed me up and down for lying about it, but I thought he was still alive. But that’s another thing. But he died too, he was killed.

WW: Did the police department have any concrete plans to put down the riot in the beginning?

RV: No, not at the beginning, no. It was just mass confusion until they started bringing in the National Guard and the state police and everybody else.

WW: Okay.

RV: But how the hell you going to put something down when you don’t know what’s going on, you know what I mean? It’s not until you’re there and find out what’s going on. But, what I want you to know is I was only on that riot for three and a half days. We had come in on the third day and we were at that time it was called Kiefer Command. You remember that? Well, that was Inspector–Christ–Donley, Inspector Donley, Inspector DeLuca, and some Sergeant, I didn’t know the Sergeant, he was from the East Side, and myself, assigned to Kiefer Command at that time, because they took me off the street, I was sittin’ there... All of my partners, we were all sitting there taking a break because we’d been on the street all night, we were tired, and the Salvation Army truck came in with sandwiches and coffee and doughnuts, and we were sitting there eating and Inspector Donley come out and says, ‘anybody know how to operate one of them phones?’ I said, ‘yeah, I do.’ He said, ‘you, come with me,’ and that’s the last time I was on the street.

WW: What phones?

RV: We had the cell phones, you know. We talked to each other and talked to other units.

WW: Oh, okay.

RV: I knew how to operate one of them, but I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, ‘come with me.’ That was the last time I saw the street. But I had a job inside that was just as important.

WW: What was your average shift length, when you’re working?

RV: Oh shit, ’round the clock.

WW: Okay.

RV: I mean, whenever you got a break, you got a break and came in. Otherwise that, you were out on the street until … We got reinforced by the National Guard and state police.

WW: When the National Guard came in, was there a sense of relief?

RV: Oh yes, to everybody–God, you know take me off the street for a while, we’re going around the clock with no sleep and all that crap.

WW: For you, did the round-the-clock shifts add to the stress?

RV: Oh yeah, oh hell yeah. You didn’t have any sleep, you were tired, you were cranky, you know. Besides that being shot at, you know. Ugh, get the hell out of here, let me sleep, you know? Show you something my friend, you too. You can talk all you want about the riot. It was a war, it was a baby war. That’s all it was. Being shot at: you call that a riot? No, I’m sorry, no.

WW: Um-hm.

RV: I was in on the incident where the little girl was killed. She was four years old. We were come up on 12th Street, and we’re being sniped. We had sniped shots fired at us. So we ducked in the driveway, Gino, my partner, was across the street. Roger was over from the street, and I was right on the corner twice the distance from here to that wall to a side street. And I was shot at I think two or three times, and other shots were being fired, but I didn’t know where the hell they were going, you know. They could’ve been shot at my partner and everybody else. But then when I was hiding in the doorway and this place was on an angle from me, and I hear this truck coming, and I could hear this noise, tremendous noise, and I thought it was garbage trucks. They were pushing cars out of the street, you know, to open the streets up because they were abandoning cars and everything else. And it was a tank. And the tank pulled out about half the distance to that wall and I could see the front of the tank and the guy behind him talking to him. Boy, when that guy starts shootin’ out that window again [mimics sound of tank, gun shots]. Pow! The whole corner of that building came off. The windows were flying all over, the road was flying all over. And then the guy says, ‘commence firing,’ and then another bunch of rounds went off, .50 caliber, not .25 or .30 caliber. Fifty caliber, and it ruined the whole corner of the building, and that’s when that little girl was laying on the porch, killed. Four years old.

WW: Did that take a toll?

RV: I beg your pardon?

WW: Did that take a toll?

RV: We didn’t know it at the time, no.

WW: Okay.

RV: We didn’t know it at the time. But at the same time, I don’t know how long difference it was, my partner was being shot at a different location, you know, that’s something else. No, uh-uh. It could be a riot to a lot of people, but it was a war to the police department, that’s all. They just didn’t want to call it that because, you know, you’ll get the people worked up, you know what I mean?

WW: Um-hm.

RV: Shit, get out of here with that crap. Anyway, that’s all in there.

WW: And what happened to your partner?

RV: He got shot. He got shot twice. No, here, that’s another story. When they took me off the street and I was manning that radio, my partner’s father-in-law was on the job, Howard. Howard was on the job. And he was only two blocks away from where we were, not where my partner was, where I was. When the run come out that my partner was shot, and I was on the radio and I says, ‘we need the badge number and name of the officer that’s down.’ And when they come out with Roger Poike, that was my partner, I says, ‘oh no, Jesus Christ, no, not Roger.’ And I told the inspector, I said, ‘inspector, my partner was just shot.’ I says, ‘his father-in-law’s a couple of blocks over.’ He says, ‘take the car, and go.’ So I took the inspector’s car. I picked up Howard, and we went right over to Ford Hospital which was only five minutes away. And Roger was upstairs, and they called Judy [voice cracks], and she was on her way down, he was shot, we didn’t know if he was going to live or die. But, excuse me, she came down … but anyway …

Don’t tell me it was a riot. No, I’m sorry. I saw too many people drove out of their stores and burn down and crap like that, you know?

Abe Goldstein, one of the finest guys you’re going to meet in your life, big distributor shop that used to sell to sellers, you know? The sellers would come in there and buy the product. Burned to the ground. He said, ‘I’ll give $10,000 to anybody who finds my safe.’ He said, ‘there’s a $100,000 worth of jewels in there.’ Nobody ever found it. Esquire Pawn Shop, 230 guns all gone, all gone. They found 122 rifles in there. All looted and burned. Did you know that the little restaurant on the corner of Clairmount and 12th Street where this thing started, the little restaurant there? That belonged to the Jewish, the gangsters and the Jews. Ah, what the hell was the name? Anyway-

WW: The Purple Gang?

RV: The Purple Gang. One of the Purple Gang was sitting there, one of the big leaders sitting in that little restaurant on Clairmount and 12th Street, right across from where the riots started. Guy walked in there, boom, boom, boom, boom, killed ’em right in there and walked out. One of the leaders of the Jewish Purple Gang. That was all Jewish. Esquire restaurant was all Jewish, and then it went all Black. Oh, shit, boy, let me tell you, it was no riot, no, I’m sorry.

WW: Do you believe that the event was spontaneous, or …?

RV: The riot?

WW: Yeah.

RV: Yes, it was spontaneous. If Sergeant Hollison–I think that was his name then–yeah, Hollison, Sergeant Hollison. When they were bringing these guys out of that place, it was upstairs, over the printing shop. When they were bringing them out, a crowd had started watching, you know, bringing them out. Then some idiot threw a bottle and hit Hollison in the side of the head. And when they went to get that guy, well that’s when it started.

WW: Do you think there were any other underlying causes of what happened?

RV: At that time? No, I don’t think so. I think through a period of time, 12th Street would have went Black anyhow, eventually, because all the Jewish people were being driven out. They weren’t going to stay. In fact, I’ve only seen four violent Jewish people in my whole career over there. Four violent ones. Usually they’re subtle people, they don’t want to be bothered. And that’s coming from a cop [laughter]. Shit. I’d go home with bagels and everything else, they were all halfway decent people. No, I can’t say that about them. I could say that about the Blacks because they drove ’em out. And they did a good job, because most of ’em moved out to Oak Park and Southfield just to get away, to save their lives. Shit. I been through it, brother.

Read it, it’s all in there. Every bit of it’s in there. Here’s my partner getting shot. [Pages ruffle.] Yeah, right here: Roger, Roger being shot, right there. Took two in the guts, and you know what, when Roger moved out of there, him and Judy and the boys and his daughter, and naturally we were still close, but he moved 200 and some miles away. He says, ‘the best thing that ever happened to me was being shot,’ that’s what he said. He says, ‘I got a chance to retire on disability, I can’t work no more. I live up north, my kids go to a good school, I live in a good neighborhood, I don’t have to go south of Eight Mile road for nothing. That’s the best thing that ever happened to me.’

 And my other partner, the same way. He moved 85 miles north. And another partner of mine, he moved way the hell out of the state of Michigan after that. They all abandoned their houses too.

I could tell you it all, brother, I could tell you it all.

WW: What made you want to stay?

RV: Well, my family, my kids were still going to school, and it was a white neighborhood then, then. It’s destroyed now. Every house that I have ever lived in has been destroyed. Every one of ’em. I lived in a nice neighborhood, I lived in Copper Canyon up on Cadieux and Mack between Mack and Cadieux there. I lived in Copper Canyon.

WW: In the closing days of the riot, you worked at Herman Kiefer Hospital, is that right?

RV: It was called Kiefer Command Post, that’s where I worked.

WW: Okay. And you worked in communications for them?

RV: I beg your pardon?

WW: You worked in communications for them?

RV: Yes. No, no, I was working for that office with the inspector on that phone.

WW: Okay.

RV: Keeping contact with outside, any calls that came in or anybody injured and stuff like that.

WW: Oh, okay.

RV: At that time, I kept notes of the incoming and outgoing calls. But who the hell knows where those went.

Now, let’s get to another thing. After the riot subdued a little bit, we had a newspaper man from New York City, a Black dude come rushing into the office. He say, ‘which way is the riot? Which way is the riot?’ As he was standing there at the door with this Black fella carrying his camera and all that stuff, ping, ping, ping! Three shots came right through there. The old man says, ‘get down,’ the guy says, ‘the force of Jesus Christ they’re shootin’ out there, they’re shootin’ out there!’ He said, ‘what the hell do you think just went through here?’ They shot four shots right through that office.

WW: Wow.

RV: Yeah, the poor guy was scared, oh was he scared. We told him, ‘stay on that floor. You want to get out, back out of the door on your stomach, get the hell out.’ He ended up on the street. They sent him in from New York City.

It was something, it was really something. I was grateful for many things. I was grateful I come out of it, and I was grateful none of my partners were killed. When Roger was shot, there was–what the hell was his name?–Sal, Sal Palazzolo [?] was the one that was shot, Riese [?] was shot, my partner was shot, there was four of ’em that were shot. Riese went nuts, he went crazy. It affected him long after that riot. Anytime a policeman got shot, he was going down to receiving to kill the guy that shot him. He was a basket case. But, you know, that’s what happens. Anyway.

But I had good friends. I had a wonderful, wonderful police career. Wonderful police career. I wouldn’t trade one minute of it for anything I could have ever done. I ended up with medals. I ended up with citations. I ended up as one of the bravest police officers in the whole United States. I got cited for, I was chosen by the United States as one of the top ten. I saved a man’s life on a truck that went over, and we were hanging five stories in the air. He was bleeding to death, and I stopped his bleeding. It was all over the country.

WW: Wow.

RV: But the riot, it was no riot, it was a war. I can’t help it, that’s the way I think, feel about it. Another thing–you want that on?

WW: Sure.

RV: Another thing was after the riot, after it was all over and I was reassigned, I was assigned to the record bureau at that time. The inspector came in and says, ‘I want you in my office, I want to talk to you.’ I says, ‘Okay.’ So I went into the office and I says, ‘What’s up?’ He says, ‘tomorrow,’ he says, ‘they’re sending a helicopter in here.’ And I says, ‘for what?’ He says, ‘you and I, we’re going to go up with them, we’re going to up in that helicopter, and they’re going to point this out and point that out and you’re identifying all these places.’ I says, ‘that sounds good.’ So we went up to Selfridge Air Force Space, and they brought in the helicopter from Kentucky, and they were coming back from Vietnam, but the one helicopter was assigned to Detroit to photograph the riot. Did you know that?

WW: Uh-huh.

RV: You did know that? Okay. You knew about the book. You didn’t know about the book?

WW: No.

RV: Well they photographed and they came out with a book about this big, about that big. After we did all that photographing–in fact, one of them is in here–one of the [pages ruffling] [unintelligible]. Anyway, after all that crap, you know, transpired, I was reassigned out of the record bureau, signed out to the council. Because the chief that time, I worked with the chief–not Gerard, ah shoot, what the hell was his name?–another inspector. DeMarco, yeah, DeMarco, Inspector DeMarco, I was assigned to the Detective Bureau, and I went into the Detective Bureau and worked there for a couple of years, then the chief said to me, ‘all you through will all that that crap in the street?’ And I says, ‘Yeah.’ So he says, ‘Come in the office.’ I went in the office, they picked up the phone, they made a phone call, they says, ‘tomorrow, you go up and be body guard for Carl Levin.’ I says, ‘tomorrow.’ So I called the inspector and told him I was being transferred. I went up there, And I stayed up there six and half years.

WW: And what year did you retire?

RV: I don’t know. I think 12 years ago. But I went to work for the courts for six years and four months.

WW: [Laughter.]

RV: And the judge specifically, the chief judge, said, ‘six years, four months.’ And I looked at him and said, ‘what the hell you talking about, judge?’ He said, ‘six years and four months, you’ll be eligible for a pension from the county. Now, do you want to go to work for me?’ Hell yeah.

WW: [Laughter.]

RV: So me and Black Jim, my partner, we went to work for him for six years and four months. He was a great guy, great guy.

WW: What year did you move out of the city of Detroit?

RV: When I moved outside the city of Detroit, it was after, long after this, long after. I stayed there. Well, Roger left first because he’s the one that got shot.

WW: Uh-hm.

RV: Then Gino was living out of the city right after the riot. We all went up there, there was eight of us went up there, he bought an old junk farm house up in Sandusky, Michigan and we all went up there and cleaned it up and painted it and everything. He took his family, and he moved up there, but he stayed in Detroit til he retired, then he moved back up to the farm. Because we weren’t allowed to move outside the city. We had to stay in or be fired. He stayed in, and after his retirement came, goodbye Charlie, you know, he was out that door so fast there was nothing but smoke. Get the hell out, you know.

WW: After you retired, did you immediately want to move out?

RV: Yeah, after I retired, yes. Because that’s when I went to work for the courts. I went to work for the courts and was a process server, and then I became a bounty hunter, me and my partner, Black Jim. I called him ‘Black Jim,’ he called me, ‘Dego Dung’ [?]. So, we got along real good, Jim and I, he was my brother, my Black brother. He sure was a great guy.

But, again, I had a great career. Just a great career. I loved my job. I loved going to work every day. My wife knew it, and that’s why she stuck it out. What can I say?

WW: Do you think the summer of 67 still affects the city of Detroit?

RV: Yes, yes. It will always affect Detroit for a long time. A lot of people remember the riot of Sojourner Truth and the riot of Belle Isle, they all remember that–my age, not your age, but my age. Because I remember people, when that Belle Isle thing started, my neighbors across the street all had guns out, because I lived right on the border of a Black section of Detroit. Anybody that come cross Nevada better look out. And nobody ever bothered, nobody. I had three policemen lived down the street from me: Promansky [?] brothers. And my judge lived way down the street from me, my Black judge. Shit. Did it come across Nevada, look out: there’d ’a been some shit, you know. That’s past, a long time ago.

There’s always going to be hostility. Always. Those people, like I said before, when they took over the Jewish section at 12th Street, 14th Street, Linwood, Dexter especially–because Dexter, we called it Little Israel–had a lot of fun down there too.

WW: You think there will always be hostilities between whites and blacks?

RV: Yes, I think so. Always, always, always. Because to quote, quote Charlie LeDuff, ‘Everything they touch turns to shit.’ And Charlie LeDuff was the man who said it. You know who Charlie LeDuff is?

WW: From Fox 2?

RV: Yeah. He wrote the book. He wrote the book. What they did to his mother, what they did to his sister, what they did to him. Read that book, that’s the greatest book I ever read. Charlie LeDuff told it like it was: ‘Everything they touch turns to shit.’ They ruin neighborhoods, they ruin businesses. The easy living, easy living. Welfare. That’s easy living.

WW: Do you have any optimism left for the city of Detroit?

RV: No.

WW: No?

RV: No, no.

WW: You think it’s down and out?

RV: I think the hub is going to be a great thing for Detroit, the hub. I think they’re trying to do the thing, but that little inner circle that they’ve got down there is great, and I hope they do bring it back. But here? No, no. You come out there trying to bring it back, you can’t, not for many years to come. I’m sorry to say, but that’s the way it is.

WW: Okay.

RV: That’s it.

WW: Is there anything else you’d like to share today?

RV: Anything you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell it like it is.

WW: Can’t think of any more questions right now, but if I do, I will get back with you. [Laughter.] Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.

RV: Yeah.

TIME STAMP END OF INTERVIEW: 42:44

End of Track 1

Original Format

Audio

Duration

42min 44sec

Interviewer

William Winkel

Interviewee

Richard Viecelli

Location

Grosse Poine, MI

Files

IMG_1151.JPG

Citation

“Richard Viecelli, August 12th, 2016,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed August 23, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/402.

Output Formats