Community Pushes Back

Despite the many shootings and instances of misconduct within DPD and the STRESS unit, Detroit as a whole struggled to become unified its efforts for police reform or for the total abolition of STRESS.  Known for being more moderate in his political stances, Detroit Urban League director Francis Kornegay maintained support for unit, as long as reforms could be made from the top down. While the Detroit Urban League, a Black Detroit-based organization, officially took an anti-STRESS stance in 1972, Kornegay himself said, "Certainly, I believe some changes have got to be made in STRESS methods... but STRESS itself has not hurt police-community relations." Kornegay believed that Commissioner Nichols and the Detroit Police Department were doing their best to "prevent prejudice" among police officers. Furthermore, Kornegay said that Black people in Detroit were more willing to cooperate with police than in the years prior to STRESS despite STRESS killings. 

Among police officials and a significant portion of white Detroiters, ardent support for STRESS persisted. They held their own political demonstrations in support of STRESS at a time when the anti-STRESS movement was garnering the most support it had ever seen. As shown in the document below, following countless incidents of police misconduct and shootings of civilians, many citizens wrote pro-STRESS letters to Mayor Roman Gribbs and John Nichols. The efforts of the pro-STRESS community culminated to a petition with more than 13,000 signatures calling for STRESS to continue. 

Stop STRESS, Disarm the Police, 1972

13,000 Sign Petition in Support of STRESS

Even with maintained support for STRESS from predominantely white communities and institutions, many of the historically moderate and police-friendly Black organizations of Detroit began to adopt anti-STRESS and pro-abolition stances. The Rochester Massacre, as the Detroit Under STRESS pamphlet called it, was a turning point in building opposition to STRESS and police abuse in Detroit.  Organziations that had previously agreed with STRESS's mandate began to shift their support. Some, like the Urban League, demanded that Mayor Gribbs make major reforms to STRESS or abolish it entirely. 

Below are statements released in March of 1972 by the NAACP, the Urban League, and others supporting the abolition of STRESS.  The Guardians of Michigan, an organization comprised of Black police officers, called for Commissioner Nichols to "IMMEDIATELY DISBAND THE STRESS MURDER SQUAD" by 4pm on the day of the Rochester Massacre.  In its statement below, radical newspaper, The East Side Voice of Independent Detroit,  wrote that all its "resources, its manpower... and its black community spirit is now engaged in the battle to abolish STRESS, the most offensive, degrading, genocidal, homicidal, sadistic and psychotic police methods ever employed by any depraved and degenerate society in the history of mankind." 

NAACP Board Urges Abolishment of STRESS

Urban League Against STRESS

Urban League pro-STRESS

Letter from Clergyman to Mayor Gribbs

Guardians Press Release: Abolish STRESS

Kenneth Cockrel, Why STRESS Must be Abolished


Taking Action

While there were still influential groups and community members in STRESS's corner at this time, the moderate faction of Detroit's Black and white communities were coming to understand the true dangers the unit posed to the city. This was a significant shift in the local politics. From the earliest proposals of STRESS, there had been radical groups, newspapers, and individuals actively fighting against it. Following the Rochester Massacre, a catalyst for anti-STRESS action, those radicals found themselves receiving more support than ever before. A coalition of Black community groups led by the Labor Defense Coalition and the Guardians of Michigan launched a petition of its own to abolish STRESS. They announced that they planned to sue the mayor, prosecutor, and police commissioner over STRESS (Rally to Start Drive to Kill off STRESS). On March 26, 1972, five thousand Detroiters attended an anti-STRESS rally that kicked-off their abolish STRESS campaign at the University of Detroit field house. A variety of community activists spoke at the rally, including Kenneth Cockrel, Justin Ravitz, Tom Moss, and Michigan representative, Jackie Vaughn III. The speaker list was well documented by police, as well. In fact, the city of Detroit and its police department were concerned enough with this rally to surveil it, keeping detailed notes of each speaker and any radical or anti-police content in their speeches. Even under the pressure and close watch of thousands of angry Detroit citizens, the police department continued to use surveillance (and potentially decoy officer tactics to even get into the rally). Below is the  record that was kept by DPD.  

On April 6 of that same year, a broad coalition of Black community activists sued the Detroit city government, demanding an end to STRESS.


Abolish STRESS Rally, March 26, 1972

Detroit Police Department Spying on March 26, 1972 Rally

Radical newspaper on filing of STRESS suit

Radical newspaper on STRESS petition drive

Labor Defense Coalition and SWP below to integrate

note the blocback is also combined with McConnell 15 yo

After the fatal shooting of Curtis McConnell, the NAACP sent a telegram to Mayor Gribbs and DPD Commissioner Nichols demanding the abolition of STRESS and charging that "the wanton police  of this operation, 'Shoot first and ask questions later,' is the brutal attitude of most if not all of its officers." DFP 3-16-72

Decoy reinstated with better rules after Rochester, DFP 11-19-72

--psych testing, but all found fit; use of force training, supervisor approval of targets

LDC flyer 1

LDF flyer 2

Abolish STRESS petition


Toni Swagner Papers, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

William Lucas Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

Detroit Urban League Records, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Roman S. Gribbs Mayoral Collection, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Toni Swagner Papers, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Kenneth V and Sheila M Cockrel Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archive of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

"Polishing the Image of Detroit's Police," Detroit News, June 5, 1972

Prev Next