Anthony Fierimonte, October 10th, 2014
NOTE: This interview contains profanity and/or explicit language.
Ric Mixter: Tony, can you tell me first your first and last name? So I have it on tape.
Anthony Fierimonte: I’m Anthony Fierimonte.
RM: How do you spell that?
AF: I was born Antonio Luigi Giuseppe Fierimonte. My mother thought I was going to be the Pope. She was mistaken [laughter]. Anthony Fierimonte. F-I-E-R-I-M-O-N-T-E.
RM: Tell me about your folks. Your dad did what?
AF: My dad, Pasquale Fierimonte, worked for the city of Detroit. The Department of Street Railways, which was the bus line. Streetcars and the bus line.
RM: What was his job specifically? What would he do?
AF: He was a mechanic and unfortunately one of his jobs was grinding brake drums that were made of asbestos and that’s what killed him. He died of —but I gotta tell you a story about my dad. When he retired – it was in the sixties – he retired and got a job somewhere else and then he retired again, but he wanted a new house. And he informed me that because the city of Detroit hired him and gave him a job for all those years, what he’s gonna do is build a new house in Detroit. So in the sixties he built a new house in Detroit. And he told me, “Son, you’re a policeman now and you've got to do exactly the same thing. You've got to live in Detroit.” So, I bought a house about eight blocks from him in Detroit. And he was so dedicated to the city, it was amazing.
RM: I’ll bet.
AF: Really, really nice.
RM: What age was it where you thought, “I want to put a badge on.” When did you become –
AF: Well, I went to Pershing High School and I got so many tickets from speeding and stuff. I really said, “Boy, I’m in trouble.” And there was a police cadet program that you could start at age 17 and then you worked in different police stations, in downtown and headquarters. And you answered switch boards and bank alarms and all kinds of stuff that came into the switchboard. And I said, “Well maybe if I became a police cadet I’ll quit getting all these tickets" [laughter]. But my buddy’s father worked in a cruiser called “the Big Four” and there were three plainclothes officers and one uniformed driver and he told us stories about the Big Four. And they had DeSotos or Buicks, while all police officers had Fords. So I thought, “Boy, this is great!” So that’s really what— It was Mr. Jepson. I remember his name and I applied for the police cadet program and I made it, and I started 17 in the police department.
AF: Right out of high school.
RM: Now, you took it very seriously, because I saw you were first in your class when you –
AF: Yeah, I was scholastically and that was a lot of fun.
RM: Why was it so important for you to achieve like that?
AF: I just – I wanted to be the best at whatever I did. And I said, “If I’m gonna be a policeman—” Oh! I gotta tell you another story. So there was an Italian inspector, Pete DeLuca, and he used to live with my dad in a rooming house. And he said to me, “What precinct would you like to go to? I can send you anywhere you want.” And I said, “It doesn’t make any difference.” And he sent me to the tenth precinct and I worked the area where unfortunately the riot started. But I said that and so, therefore, that’s where I ended up.
RM: Describe the city at that time, what was happening?
AF: Oh my god. Great! It was the biggest single family residential city in the United States of America. And there were probably between 1,400,000 and 1,600,000 people at that time, so vibrant. And the black community came in Detroit [during] World War II because there were jobs here in the factories and stuff. And that’s how Detroit became a terrific city to live in and I just love Detroit, it was great. J.L. Hudson’s downtown, the toy department on the twelfth floor [laughter] and we’d take the street car down there. And it was just a great place to live.
RM: What was the department like was it becoming more integrated at that point?
AF: That’s really interesting because I actually became a police officer in 1962 and they just started integrating [squad] cars. So having gone to Pershing, where [it was] half black and half white, I didn’t understand this integration as being a problem. Yet, a lot of white police officers really fought it. They didn’t want to be part of the integration. Some police officers quit and I just didn’t see any problem with it. So, we got integrated and it was a slow process, but it worked. It worked because later in the ’67 era, the Federal government started having civil rights classes for police officers. Plus, the Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAP) started paying for college if any police officer wanted to go to school. And then when you went to school, they taught police service in the community and race relations and slowly it broke the ice. And I was so excited; I signed up for the first class and went for 16 years until I got my doctorate [laughter]. And I really appreciate the federal government. What they did and it was just wonderful. And it really helped break the ice for the police department.
RM: And still in the city there were dark sides, where you needed a VICE team. And you kind of gravitated towards that didn’t you?
AF: Yeah what happened, I had about 40 or 50 days on the police force and a sergeant, Gus Cardineli, pulled over one day – I was walking the beat on Twelfth Street, no PREP radio, by myself, no problem. And he said, “Hey kid, you want to go undercover?” I couldn’t believe it! I had 50, 40 days on the job. I said, “Absolutely!” So he took me under his wing and he says, “Show up. You’re going to be arresting prostitutes, going at the illegal gambling casino, blind pigs where the illegal liquor is sold, and you’re going to do that kind of stuff. And oh my god, I went home just jumping up and down with joy. It was just great. We worked every other month nine at night till five in the morning and then on days, we looked for numbers men. Do you know what numbers men–? Numbers men is just like when you go in and play three numbers. It was illegal then and the people would go around and say, “You want to bet today?” and they would give them a quarter or fifty cents and they would bet three numbers and then at a certain time, based on horse races, they would calculate different horse races and come up with a number. Now, the number was the mafia number. The Italian community ruled that. They ruled that for probably about 15 years, but half way through that there was the black Pontiac number. There was a black number and a white number and the numbers were different. It was supposed to be the same scenario [laughter]. I think when too many bets came in on a certain number, they changed it. I don’t know. But anyway, that was on the day shift and on the night shift we did the other thing and it was really exciting.
RM: Was there a bigger crackdown when Cavanagh came into office?
AF: No. I've got to correct something. Every precinct had a “clean-up crew” that did this type of thing: liquor enforcement, beer and wine stores selling to minors, bling pigs. Every precinct had one, white community and black community. It wasn’t singled out for just the black community at all. And I've got to admit to you, working in the black community was twice as much fun as working in the white community and I’ll tell you why. Because as we made these raids and stuff, they would go along with it and say, “Hey, you busted us. This is it.” And I did eventually go into the white community and do the same thing, and they always had a friend who was a judge and a police commander or lieutenant and “you can’t take me in. It’s going to be the end of my life,” and I said, “What B.S.” You know? It was much more fun in the tenth precinct. And that’s the true story.
RM: Can you explain the Blind Pig, what’s the origin of the name?
AF: Yeah, it started during prohibition because you couldn’t get booze anywhere, so people – oh I don’t know where the world started “blind pig” but that was the nickname they gave it in the prohibition days. And this is what’s happening with Detroit which was really kind of exciting. The Baptist ministers, especially the black Baptist ministers they were all tight with any administration it was, Cavanagh, Cobo. Who was the Italian mayor? Miriani. And what they would do, they would say, “Hey you've got to stop these people from doing, going drinking all night, you know, we’re the church.” And so they made sure all the bars closed at 2:30, liquor quit being served at 2 o’clock, so you got this element saying, “This is it, come to church tomorrow” then you got this other element saying, “I’m not ready to quit drinking I want to have some fun.” I always wondered what would have happened if the city would have allowed bars to be open until 4 or 5. Las Vegas of course does, some other cities, Florida allows – you buy a longer license so you can stay open till 4. But they didn’t, the Baptists were strong, so you had this dichotomy. And so we were told to enforce the law, and that was the law. You couldn’t do anything in that venue after 2:30 in the morning and you had to be licensed. And now a blind pig you could, mostly to sell liquor, then a step up there was prostitutes and you could go in a room and do whatever you wanted the prostitute to do. Then there would be dice tables and you would gamble and you could do all that stuff in a blind pig. Any time somebody took a cut of the money it became illegal and that gave us the right to break in to rescue the undercover officer that was inside the place. So we would give him, after we saw him walk in the door, we’d give him five minutes to make a wager or buy a drink and see the guy accept money, see him take his cut, gambling table take his cut, and then we would raid the place. And it was, from ’62 when I started, to the riots, the night of the riots July 23, 1967, a crowd would gather when we made a raid it was something to look at, you know. But we never had a problem. But the country was getting tense and things were happening all over, and a lot of the black community was unhappy [with] what was happening. Because they felt they were segregated and they couldn’t get employment that they wanted, and they were stuck in, apartments that had been cut up and one apartment became two. And just a few people had air conditioning in the hot summer nights and they would go out on Twelfth street and Linwood and Dexter and they would go out to see what’s happening and it got out of hand.
RM: You sent in two officers in to the one that happened in ’67?
AF: Yes, yes, we had a Sergeant Howison who told me he would kill me if he ever saw me again [laughter] he was a relief sergeant, he was a patrol sergeant but he was filling in for the night. I was the crew leader and we had two black officers, Charles Henry and – my mind just went blank.
RM: That’s okay.
AF: So, Charles Henry and [flipping through notes] I’m not going to tell you ever [laughter]. Joseph Brown. Charles Henry and Joseph Brown. And Charles Henry ended up becoming a commander, and he was a really, really nice guy – and I don’t know the career of the other officer. Sergeant Art Howison stayed in the patrol. But I've got to tell you a side issue, so now Congress calls the police commissioner in Detroit, I’m guessing Ray Girardin—no it wasn’t Ray Girardin. Anyway the police commissioner, the number one guy, he was an appointee, and Sergeant Art Howison went with him to Washington, DC to testify in Congress and Sergeant Art Howison was really clever on the way back I believe on the train, he asked the commissioner if he could have permission to live out of the city, because at that time nobody could live out of the city, police or fire, and he gave him permission. So I was always, wondering what if I would have gone along, I could be living on a lake somewhere, in a cottage but anyway. He was a fine sergeant, and all the guys were great, really great.
RM: The day you went in, what was the cue that you guys could come in then? Did you have wireless?
AF: I had an informant, and the informant, I would, he would give me stuff, you know, you work with informants and you gave him breaks because you've got to barter. And he says, “I got a hot party going on tonight at 9123 Twelfth Street, Twelfth Street just north of Clairmount, two buildings, upstairs,” and so got together with Henry and Brown, and I says, “Hey, let’s give it try, you go down there and see if you can get in.” They did and they couldn’t get in so then they came back and I says, "You know what, wait ‘til some beautiful ladies go up to the door and go in with them." Sure as heck, they got in. So then it was real simple, all we had to do was wait five minutes and they knew they either do it or come back out, you know. And they actually were able to get up there and make an illegal buy and so I says, “Hey this is easy we’re going to break the door down," so we went up and we, just four or five of us, because we had no problems with blind pigs, and we couldn’t get the door down. We couldn’t break the door down. And you know, now they have all those [gestures a ram], but then we didn’t. And the fire truck happened to come by and says, "You wanna borrow our ax?" and I says, "No, you do it," and they were able to break the door down. So we went up these tall flight of stairs and we go into the room. We expected 15 people, 20 people. There were 85. 85 in a room that fit, tops, 40. And we went in and announced, “Police, everybody calm down it’s a raid, dah dah dah dah dah.” And they started throwing cue balls at us, there was a pool table. So I grabbed my police officers to pull them out of the opening into the hallway and other blacks held onto the black police officers. "You’re not taking anybody to jail!" [laughter], they meant well. Anyway, we got them out there, we closed the door and they started throwing things out the window. Chairs, throwing cue balls and they drew a crowd so then we had a PREP – I think we had a PREP by that time, PREP radio – and I called for a paddy wagon, you know to take the prisoners in. And I says, "I think I’m gonna need two or three paddy wagons," I says, "They’re really a fight in there." I could hear them fighting. And the dispatcher says, "We don’t have enough personnel in the city,” honest to god truth I can’t believe this, “to send you the paddy wagons.” We have 204 – I learned later, we had 204 police officers working the whole city of Detroit, 1,600,000 people. And we had 5,000 police officers at that time, but it was a weekend and all kinds of people got time off. I don’t know, I don’t know. So, they had a special patrol force, these are people just out of the academy that are being trained and the sergeant that is in charge of the patrol force heard my calls and he came with the men, and then the cruiser, remember I told you about the cruiser, they pulled up and a crowd gathered and somebody broke the back window out of the cruiser, the Buick—great looking car—and it got out of hand. We finally got paddy wagons and we loaded the paddy wagons and took them into the tenth precinct, which was brand new on Livernois and Elmhurst, brand new police station. We were at Joy and Petoskey before in a building that was built around 1900. So this was such a nice improvement and I told one of the police officers, go into the deli on the corner and call us on the phone every once and a while and tell us what’s going on. And I go into the police station with the prisoners and Lieutenant Ray Good, I’ll never forget this guy loved him, older gentleman, and I says, "Boss, you better get out there. There is a big problem brewing." and he said to me, "Fierimonte, you’re always exaggerating, every time you do something you exaggerate." I said, "Boss, I’m telling you, go." He says, "You know what I’m going to 5 o’clock mass, I’ll stop out there and take a look, but you know Tony, I’m wasting my time." Half hour later he comes in he’s bleeding from his forehead, [laughter] somebody threw a stone at him, "Fierimonte, I’ll never talk to you again! What did you do, you dumbass? What the hell is going on?" Anyways, he then started the ball rolling for MO4, which means calling all police officers in. A huge crowd had gathered and they started to break in to these stores. Now what was interesting, I consider it a riot; I don’t consider it anything else, because unfortunately they broke into black businesses, they broke into white businesses, they started stealing everything out of the stores and then the mayor was notified and he went out there with Senator, god who was it, state Senator. I think he’s still a state senator.
AF: No, no, no, black senator.
AF: Conyers! Could have been Conyers. I’m almost positive. And they gave the order, don’t shoot, be cool, just let it go. That was the order they gave them, and word got out. Word got out, and suddenly there’s, you know, 50,000 people on Twelfth Street just helping themselves to everything. I think part of what they said was okay, but part of it was not, because people started dying. They got into a fight in a meat market, looting the meat and they hung one of the guys on a meat hook, and killed him. Then on Seward and Twelfth was a liquor store, and while they looted the upstairs, some guys went down to get the cases of booze downstairs and the guys upstairs put the place on fire and everybody in the basement died. And that really started to escalate, and the most – I’m jumping ahead a little bit because this was a 14-day situation. I’m jumping ahead a little bit, but picture this: when the fire department came out, they would shoot at the fire department. So on Linwood – and I have pictures of this for an eighth of a mile – on Linwood they were breaking into the stores on Linwood and then they would set the stores on fire and then they would go down Pingree to put the stuff they’d taken into their homes. Now you gotta understand, this is very important, this was probably ten percent of the people in the community. This wasn’t everybody. I mean all kinds of blacks came up to us, saying, "Please help us" and ten percent of the rioters, easily, were white. It was a festive occasion but it was deadly. Then every single house on both sides of the street for an eighth of a mile burned to the ground, and I have the pictures and everything. And it was just mind boggling.
Now I want to lighten this up. So two guys stole a Munzt TV with a stereo and a radio. These were really long – you probably got them in the museum here, and they got into a fight. One guy split the damn thing in half and the other guy called the police. So, that was the easiest two arrests ever made. [laughter] Another thing, they went into a carpet store and stole a ream of carpeting and put it on the roof of a Volkswagen and all four tires splayed out and it was just funny and tragic at the same time. Now you've got to remember the majority of the black community wasn’t involved in this but then you've got to look at it another way, they were destroying the stores in their neighborhood that they had to shop in and a lot of people in the neighborhood – it was a poorer neighborhood – didn’t have cars and they had no place to shop to. And this lasted for years after all this fire and everything. I became an anti-sniper, working 12 midnight to 12 noon and I got that silly police car that I loved with no back window. And we put a piece of plywood under there and we put a Thompson submachine gun on the trunk and we were supposed to shoot back at the snipers. Trust me, I couldn’t hit anything with that machine gun, if I had thrown it at them, maybe I would have hit it. That thing danced all over the place, it was a .45 and it was a joke, you know. Then a company called Stoner lent us weapons that could go through brick, and they brought in a special squad, dressed in all black who – they would go out, if somebody shot out a window they’d shoot back. 47 people died during the riots in 1967, but what really stopped it was not us. The State Police couldn’t stop it, the National Guard couldn’t stop it, the 101st Airborne came in from Vietnam and they brought tanks and the tanks went down the street, and I only have one story about the tanks that I was involved in. We had somebody shooting out of a church steeple and we were at Davidson and Woodrow Wilson, and south was the church steeple, we could see the flashes. And the guy opened the lid on the tank and said, "Block your ears," and he shot the steeple right off the church [laughter] with the gun and once that started happening and, there was you know, military in there and they treated it very aggressively, everything stopped. Now if I can go aside for a minute there was something else to think about, a year later unfortunately, Martin Luther King got killed and the instructions from the police department – I was 28 when that happened – was to take enforcement action immediately and within two or three hours everything had stopped and nothing happened. There was no problems, but for the first two or three hours there were. They were looting on Grand River and everybody’s coming home from downtown Detroit out Grand River to the Redford area and everything stopped. So, you know, it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback, do you go back and say, "Well we shoulda done that," you know. But Cavanagh was feeling for the community, you know, and they were suppressed and they note they had problems with jobs and a lot of it exists today unfortunately. You know it amazes me that there isn’t even good bus service to the suburbs so people can take a bus and get a job in the suburbs, a lot of people would like to do that. Now I know Detroit’s making a comeback and I love it and the community, it’s going to be strong and great but it’s going to take time. I went on to become an adjunct professor at Wayne State University and I taught Police Service in the Community and some race relation classes and when they put my name on the syllabus they would say police officer and I’d get 98 students because what police officer could say anything about race relations? We had a ball. We had a ball. We did a lot of role reversals and all kinds of really neat things and it was so much fun. And when I got my doctorate, I had retired, and I started helping troubled police officers. I worked with a physiatrist in St. Clair Shores and then when the patients would not show up, because police officers have a tendency to not show up because they don’t want to deal with the problems they have. I started investing in real estate and that became my third and final career, I have a Fierimonte Street in Clinton Township, we built a couple hundred condos, I was a small partner —25 percent— shopping centers, built a restaurant called Tony Pepperoni’s and retired from there moved to Florida and now I buy condos on the intercostal, fix them up and sell them. I’m on my twenty-ninth one.
AF: I did volunteer work in Broward County, Florida, which was really really nice, it was in a major crisis situations I worked with the families of the deceased. And I’m also on the Pension Board for the City of Deerfield Beach and three other organizations. I don’t wanna bore you to death.
RM: No, you’re not.
AF: But, I’m 74 years old and the police department was the greatest job I ever had. Really the greatest
RM: Tell me a little more about when the tanks rolled in. What did the Police Department feel? What was the feeling of this massive military force was coming in? What were you feeling?
AF: Great relief, really great relief. It was, we needed it. We couldn’t handle it, it’s just sporadic shooting and you’re driving down the street and suddenly somebody’s shooting at you from a window and they came in. Now, there was a Lieutenant Bannon, he retired as I think a deputy chief, now he could hear radio communication between people. The Panthers, you remember or have you ever read about the Panthers? So there were groups and they’re organized to do the shooting and everything. And I always wondered what did they think it was the end of the world? Now the flip side of that was there were some police officers, I know one that got fired, who thought it was gonna be the end of the world, who thought we were gonna rule the community with, you know, all force. But the Black Panthers were a big issue with the sniping.
RM: Let’s talk about once the tanks came in, you said you saw the one steeple get blow up?
RM: Did you see that it was starting to calm down at that point?
AF: Yes, it really calmed down quickly, in a matter of I think three or four nights.
RM: Wow, and then what happened? How did—?
AF: Everything got back to normal, it just ended. And that’s how they happen that way today. They just end. You know the Rodney King thing in California, they do 3-4 million dollars’ worth of damage and then it ends. And, did Rodney King deserve to be beat up that night, you know? It’s up to the courts, that’s the court’s decision to make not a policeman’s. That’s how it goes.
RM: Was there a grudge by the police then because of what had been happening?
AF: Yes, after the ’67 riots there was a grudge, and that’s when the Federal government came in and there was some great reports, the Kerner Report on the riots and all kinds of instructions of how to quell – how to improve the relationships between the police departments and the community. Now, I gotta tell you an interesting story, when Coleman Young became mayor in 1974, the black community was seventy percent of the population and in the police department they were thirty percent of the population, so I mean something to think about. I had the honor of working for Deputy Chief Frank Blount, who is deceased now, and he became one of my best friends, and he wanted to make that right. I proposed to him and the mayor at a meeting that we hire – they were laying off at Chrysler Corporations in ’74, the gas crisis and everything – I said, "Let’s go after the black community those people that worked at Chrysler for 5, 10, 15 years, let’s hire them as policemen." I says, "You know they’ve got a proven track record and everything," and the mayor said – it was his call – "I got elected by the people of the City of Detroit and I don’t care if somebody was arrested once, let’s lower the qualifications, let’s hire the people off the street, that’s the people who voted for me," and I always think that was a problem because why not go for the best? But he felt we’re going to hire black people that live out of Detroit? Should we do that, shouldn’t we do that?’ And he made it clear we’re not doing that. And I got involved – if I can go for a minute – I got involved in Boston Bussing, Judge DeMaso ruled that they had to cross district [bus] in Detroit. So they sent me to Boston with Deputy Chief Frank Blount, Sergeant Vivian Edmonds and two other officers and we talked to the police department there, how did it go, what problems did you have? And one police officer that was on a motorcycle between buses as they were being crossed district, somebody threw a brick out of a window. It didn’t hit him, but he died of a heart attack and so the Boston Police Department was up in arms a little bit. But, Boston is segregated. The Italians, the blacks, and the Irish, they’re segregated geographically because there’s water between the neighborhoods, and there was a third way. And I’ll never forget this as long as I live, I went up to an Irish superintendent, I mean he was like number one, and I says, “How do you feel about blacks being cross district into your schools and your neighborhoods?" He says, “Blacks? We don’t even want the Italians!” [laughter] I thought this is great, you know when I teach college, this is going to be great. You know, it was a great response. It brings back a lot of memories.
RM: I’ll bet. What happened right after the riot?
AF: They decided they had enough of me at the tenth precinct. I don’t know why. [laughter] So they sent me to the fifteenth Precinct on Gratiot and Connors and there —
Oh I've got to stop for a minute. So, my mother was from the old country and my dad, and my mother didn’t want me to be a policeman. So I told my mother because I took business in high school, and I knew how to type, I’m a clerk in a police station. [mimics Mother] “Bless you son, bless you. You have this wonderful job, don’t go outside. You could get hurt. You can get hurt” And then the riots broke out [laughter, mimics mother] “I should spank you like I used to when you were young!” But I got transferred to the fifteenth precinct and I worked plain clothes, I was a patrolman still, I applied for a job as Chief of Police of Clinton Township, MI and I came in number two and there was an inspector in the police department that didn’t get accepted and nobody could believe it. Anyway, I didn’t take the job, I had no choice. But interesting how I didn’t get the job, there was a black constable working the black community in Clinton Township, this is a good lesson, and they says he’s been there forever, we’re going to become a police department, would you make him a police officer and he’s really good with the community. And I had been reading managers associations on police departments and how to organize them and everything and I say, "Yes, I definitely would, but he’s got to pass the basic test." And I didn’t get the job because of that answer, they wanted me to say, "Of course I’ll make a policeman out of him." What I should have said is, "Yes, let me train him, let me talk about how to pass the test, let me work with him, and we can get him through, once he qualifies." I made the wrong answer. And they told me why I didn’t get the job and that was why. They hired a Police Sergeant from Grosse Pointe who ended up stealing from the property room, you know where evidence is stored. He lost his job. I then applied for Chief of Police in Lighthouse Point, FL and I came in number one. 300 applicants. I was a Lieutenant and came back and I told them I’d accept the job and I hired an attorney to do the negotiating, Calkins was his name, and they started calling me at the Detroit Police Department. I was Head of Staff for Deputy Chief Frank Blount, and somebody cut out an article in the Sun Sentinel and sent it to the Chief that I had accepted this job and Frank Blount got wind of it. Oh my god, between him and my mother! My mother: "You can’t move, you can’t leave, you’ve got two sisters here to take care of. This is terrible how can you do this!" I says, "Ma, come to Florida it’s a great place, you’ll love it down there." “No, no, no. You can’t go.” I turned the job down, but I got two more promotions from Coleman Young, I became an Inspector and then a Commander. So I was number 3 out of 5,000 men. That wasn’t bad. But there was a lot of Commanders, it’s not. But, I went to the fifteenth precinct and suddenly they asked me if I wanted to work white rackets, clean up, morality, or whatever you want to call it. And I said sure. But it wasn’t as much fun like I said previously. Everybody, "You can’t do this to me I’m important,” you know, “I’m this, I’m that.” But I did it there, then I was sent to research and development as a writer and I stayed there a year and a half and I became a detective and got transferred to the fifth Precinct. Then three months later I became a sergeant – you had to take tests for this. And sure enough, they put me back in morality in charge of this crew and then I became a lieutenant of special operations which included all that stuff. Then I went to work for Deputy Chief Frank Blount, then I went to the FBI Academy, I did three months there, session 112 they call it. That was an honor. And that’s about it.
RM: How about the police department itself in ’67 did you see a big change? You mention all this stuff coming from the federal government to kind of change the mentality a little bit?
AF: It was a very slow process. Very slow process.
RM: What did you see?
AF: When affirmative action started, they would take an exam. People would take an exam, and if you were an officer in the first ten then they would pick an officer that was 40 and promote him over you it became embitterment, really, really — you know. And Frank Blount used to always say, “I got all my promotions by being on top of the test and I earned them” but the mayor had a point because we gotta get supervisors of the black community as supervisors to even out the score card because every time somebody called the people it was all white. So it’s a tradeoff, and it was a slow process. Let me ask you a question, what do you think of the police department now?
RM: It’s tough for me because I’m from Saginaw, I don’t follow this close.
AF: Oh are you? [laughter]
RM: Yeah, I’ve got family members that are officers.
AF: Do you?
RM: Yeah, so I guess I’d be a little more jaded. Do you think it could have been done different? Would you have done anything different during that blind pig or during the time that you were there?
AF: Well, we made a raid, a crowd gathered like always, but suddenly they started breaking into windows and stuff and stealing, and they never did that before. So how can you do anything different, you know? And when we made raids after that, it was totally different. There were a lot of police at the raid and – we didn’t even have uniformed policemen when we made the raid. There was nothing to it, just nothing to it. It was just a "hey you’re drinking, you got caught, you’re running a blind pig" and we would normally take the engagers to court, the ones running the place.
RM: A lot of the same faces then? Would you see a lot of the same people?
AF: Yeah, mostly in the numbers rackets you’d see a lot of the same people. And, I was working with a guy nicknamed Harry the Horse and we caught a guy with a stash of numbers and money and stuff. And he says, “Hey you can’t arrest me I know Harry the Horse” and he was talking to Harry the Horse [laughter] stuff like that, you know. We had great cooperation, remember, all of our information was coming from the black community, so they wanted these places closed down because they couldn’t sleep at night and it was in residential neighborhoods, with the exception of the one on Twelfth Street, but still there were houses right behind it, you know.
RM: People might think that riots are inevitable, if you look at what’s happening in Ferguson. What are your thoughts on that? With people and all the studies you’ve done.
AF: You know that’s a good question and that’s one I don’t have the answer too. I really don’t. Now there saying that the Ferguson Police Department is too white, you know, but how many black citizens applied for a job to be a policeman. That’s another way to look at it too. And can you pass the qualifications?
RM: Do you think the police are under fire?
AF: Oh! [nods head]
RM: Do you see that at once every kind wanted to be an astronaut, a cop, or a firefighter? Do you think that’s true today?
AF: No, not at all, it’s dangerous. Not because black or white, because of dope. You get people on drugs and they need a fix. I mean they kill you even though you start to give them the money, they’re so jittery they’ll kill you. And that’s the biggest problem. You know, forget about race. In Detroit the crime is high, Flint is higher, right by where you live in Saginaw and it’s the drug issue over and over and over again. I always wondered if we would legalize this stuff in some kind of orderly way so they can get it, would it really make a big difference and stop a lot of these crimes, it’s an interesting issue.
RM: Tracy mentioned, when I first started talking about you, that you came to the museum and said, "I started the riot!" How do you fit into all of this, what do you feel?
AF: I was sitting at home flipping through my scrapbook for the first time in ten years and I says I wonder if anybody would be interested in hearing my story” and I went to — I forgot where I went. I was talking to somebody and he says, "Go to the Detroit Historical Museum. They’re really down to earth and nice people, and they’d like to hear it." So I called and I talked to Adam Lovell and suddenly they were interested because they were going to do this presentation in 2017 and I met them with Joel Stone and we talked for an hour until they got sick of me and they says, "We’ll get in touch with you."
RM: Why do you think it’s so important to preserve this, this piece of our history?
AF: Well, to learn from our lessons, of course that’s always the case and we gotta put all these civil disturbances all together and come up with a way to put a stop to them. Because the end result: nobody wins, nobody wins. Communities are destroyed, businesses are gone and nobody wins. And that’s why I’m here.
RM: What did I miss? Is there anything else, I mean what’s the number one thing I can’t miss when we tell this story? What do you want, I guess you kind of put it in a nutshell right there.
AF: Yeah, don’t forget the comedy part, because there was a lot – Oh! I got another one but I don’t think you want to tell it. [Laughter]
RM: Well, let’s hear it! I’ll be the judge of that. [Laughter]
AF: We were, there was an African Antiquities place and they broke in and as I’m running down the alley after one of the guys he turned and threw a spear at me [laughter] and I still have the spear! [laughter] Course it was funny at the time but I felt sorry for the business owner, they had destroyed the place, and it was a black owned business, you know
RM: It’s hard to put any kind of, I guess any kind of reason, into a lot of that isn’t it?
AF: No, it is. They’ve – all the fires, you know. The fires have been a big thing in Detroit, at least the day before Halloween it’s kind of subsided, you know. And everybody loves this new mayor, so I think if he tears the burned out houses down —and look at the renaissance of the Grand Boulevard area and Downtown and its exciting, you know.
RM: So you think something was learned in ’67?
AF: Well, it never happened again. Never happened again. Wait let me knock on wood [laughter, knocks head].
RM: That’s awesome.