3. Politics and Silences in the Archive

Use one of these two images of DPD headquarters for silences


RenCen from DPD HQ 1982



DPD HQ in 1970s?



A key area of consideration in the creation of this project is that while our goal is to analyze patterns and draw conclusions based on our research, we must be careful to not make broad generalizations about the actors who existed in time periods and communities from which we are not a part of. Despite our use of primary archival sources to understand and express the thoughts and motivations of historical individuals, we must keep in mind the fact that much of the narrative may be obstructed from the record, and thus, many opinions and experiences remain hidden. Hence, our responsibility as a group of researchers from a university setting is to bring light to issues that are largely unbeknownst to the general public and to interpret our findings through a historical lens that is as encompassing as possible, while remaining transparent about the limitations that exist. Our primary motivation for this project is rooted in a dedication to social justice, leading us to work towards uncovering instances of abuse, oppression, corruption, and flawed narratives that have been overshadowed. Our goal is to be able to use our research to inform and educate on police brutality and discrepancies, to counter misconceptions, and to demonstrate the importance of being aware of biases and skeptical of existing conclusions that have been drawn. Through this, we hope to make evident that history is dynamic, multi-dimensional, and doesn’t exist solely in the past, but has lasting implications.

We must also consider our role in unearthing the experiences of individuals who are possibly still alive, or whose loved ones are still alive. The time period we’re investigating wasn’t that long ago, and its effects on the Detroit community reverberate into the present. The nature of the themes we’re researching also means that we are inevitably dredging up trauma experienced by families and the community. Because many of the stories we’re documenting are of youth, we’ve carefully considered the ethics of using people’s names, or other personal identification. 

This website intends to serve as a visually compelling platform where others can advance findings on Detroit’s history with police brutality, and correct any misconceptions. We hope that our research will be used to inform high school curricula, policy, and criminal justice activism. Our findings will be available to multiple audiences, including other historians, those affected by the criminal legal system, victims of police brutality, community organizations, and the local government of Detroit. We hope that the historical context developed by this exhibit will lend evidence to aid in developing better programs and policies in the future.  

Our goal for this project is to continually honor the lives of the people included in the way that we intend. The mission of this public history project is to contribute to the historical record in a way that is sensitive to the realities of Detroiters at the time. If you see your story or the story of someone you know in this exhibit, we invite you to contact us at policinghistorylab@umich.edu with any requests for clarifications, retractions, or additions. 


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