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This website is live but not public/finalized and will be published by Dec. 2020. Sections 1-4 are complete and the final section is still under revisions. All inquires to

Detroit Under Fire: Police Violence, Crime Politics, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Civil Rights Era is a public history exhibit created by the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab, an initiative of the University of Michigan Department of History and a component of the U-M Carceral State Project's Documenting Criminalization and Confinement initiative. The research team--sixteen undergraduate students, one graduate student lab supervisor, and one professor--constructed this digital exhibit and the accompanying Arc GIS StoryMap exhibit during the Fall 2018 semester in History 393: "Cold Cases: Police Violence, Crime, and Social Justice in Michigan." Detroit Under Fire is a pilot project of the UM HistoryLabs program, established in 2018 by the History Department to promote public engagement, student-faculty scholarly collaborations, and digital humanities. This exhibit, covering the period from 1957-1973, is also the first installment of a broader curricular and extracurricular project by the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab to research and document the history of policing and criminalization in Detroit throughout the twentieth century; to analyze the politics of crime control and civil rights activism; and to excavate and map police-civilian encounters, including homicides, brutality, and misconduct. Visit the overall project site for all research publications. 

Research Archives: The design of Detroit Under Fire combines historical narratives with around 1,000 archival documents, photographs, and video clips--allowing audiences to explore original sources and multiple perspectives in depth. The team conducted much of this research at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit, the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library, and the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. We thank these archives and their dedicated archivists for their support as well as permission to reproduce these documents and images for a public audience. The Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab also thanks LSA Instructional Support Services at U-M for providing funding for the Detroit policing project through the "New Initiatives/New Infrastructure: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion" grant program.

Navigating the Exhibit: Visit the About the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab Research Team page for more information about the student researchers and their visits to archives and field sites. Proceed to the Overview section for an introduction to the Detroit Under Fire exhibit and discussion of the project's mission, major research findings, data visualization through mapping, and reflections on archival politics and silences.  Use the drop-down menu to begin exploring the history of police violence, crime politics, and community activism in Detroit during the civil rights era. And please visit the accompanying ArcGIS StoryMap exhibits, "Mapping Police Violence and Misconduct in Detroit," 1957-1973," to visualize this history through a platform that synthesizes the maps and metadata on police-civilian encounters utilized in Detroit Under Fire and created by the Policing and Social Justice Lab.

Feedback and Research Ethics: Difficult questions regarding research ethics and complex issues of publicity vs. confidentiality are involved in the construction and publication of an online digital exhibit about state violence, crime and criminalization, surveillance and protest. Please see the Overview section and the Politics and Silences in the Archives page for elaboration. Please send any feedback or inquiries about the Detroit Under Fire exhibit--including requests for removal of personal material, and contributions of personal stories and documents to fill in gaps in the archives--to Professor Matthew Lassiter (, the Director of the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab.


Image Credits (above, left to right): "Reporting the Detroit Riot," 1968, Box 1, Joseph L. Hudson Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; "Civil Rights, Demonstrations, 'March to Freedom,' Detroit," Photo # 25333, June 23, 1963, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University,; "Kenneth Cockrel, Police, STRESS, Rallies, Detroit," Photo # 32643, March 26, 1972, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University,; Detroit Police Department, Street Scene for "Good Time" Brochure, c. late 1960s, Box 2, Folder: PR Files, Photographs, 1969-1970, Detroit Police Department Additional Papers (1965-1993), Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.   

Banner image from Detroit Urban League, “The People Beyond 12th Street: A Survey of Attitudes of Detroit Negroes after the Riot of 1967,” 1967, Box 1, Joseph L. Hudson Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.