Investigative Reports

The Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab is developing a series of multimedia investigative reports that present specific events or themes covered in the Detroit Under Fire exhibit in the style of long-form digital newspaper articles that center the visual documents rather than the narrative text. These are designed to be more succinct accounts of key episodes and to be of particular use for classroom audiences. The series utilizes the ArcGIS platform and will eventually have around 12-15 investigative reports. Those published so far are hosted on the Policing and Criminalization section of the website of the U-M Carceral State Project and also embedded below.   

1. What Happened to Cynthia Scott? A Brutal Murder, Blatant Coverup, and Cries for Justice

Drawn from the "Brutal Murder of Cynthia Scott" and "Protesting the Cynthia Scott Killing" pages of Section I of Detroit Under Fire and created by M. Mann and Brianna Wells for the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab. This investigative report revisits and documents the police murder and police/prosecutorial coverup of a 24-year-old African American woman killed in Detroit on July 5, 1963. The report utilizes the long-hidden Detroit Police Department homicide file, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and other previously unknown archival documents. The murder of Cynthia Scott, and subsequent finding of "justifiable homicide" by the county prosecutor, generated massive protests and was a turning point in the civil rights and anti-police brutality movement in modern Detroit.

Click here to access the report directly (recommended).


2. Barbara Jackson, Detroit 1964: One Black Woman’s Courageous Battle Against Police Brutality 

This multimedia investigative report, drawn from Section I of Detroit Under Fire and created by Lily Johnston for the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab, explores what happened after white police officers viciously beat Barbara Jackson after arresting her on prostitution charges in August 1964. The 22-year-old Black woman immediately began a long quest for justice, demanding an internal investigation by the Detroit Police Department, which covered up the incident, and then appealing to the newly established Michigan Civil Rights Commission. Her courage resulted in the commission’s first police brutality investigation, a long forgotten story that deserves to be remembered as a milestone for the civil rights movement in Detroit.

Click here to access the report directly (recommended).


3. CRASH in Detroit, 1960-1961: Racial Profiling, Mass Arrests, Police Torture, and Civil Rights Resistance to Detroit’s ‘War on Crime’ Crackdown 

This multimedia investigative report, drawn from the "Sweep the Streets: Implementing Crash" section of Part I of Detroit Under Fire, is a story design by Caroline Levine and researched/written by Jamie Murray and Matt Lassiter for the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab. The report documents the monthlong "crash program" launched by the Detroit Police Department in December 1960 that resulted in the illegal arrests of around 1,500 African American males on suspicion of murder. The police department brutalized and tortured many of these innocent citizens, justifying its actions based on the alleged "Negro crime problem," while civil rights organizations condemned Crash and demanded major reforms to protect the Black community from the systematic violation of constitutional rights and civil liberties. 

Click here to access the report directly (recommended).


4. The Kercheval Incident, Detroit 1966: The Police Department’s Illegal War on Black Power Activists 

A multimedia investigation of Black Power activism and the police-instigated ‘riot’ on the East Side of Detroit, drawn from the "Radicalization and Civil Protest" section of Part II of Detroit Under Fire. The Detroit Police Department received national praise for preventing a riot by Black youth and radical activists in August 1966. This report reveals the origins of the unrest in the illegal police surveillance and systematic harassment of civil rights activists, especially a Black Power organization that mobilized to expose police racism and brutality. The Kercheval Incident exposed the hypocrisy of white liberal reformers in city government, who promised color-blind law enforcement but instead enhanced police militarization and racial profiling. Researched and written by Jesse Blumberg, Hannah Thoms, and Matt Lassiter; story design by Francesca Ferrara and Caroline Levine.

Click here to access the report directly (recommended).


5. New Bethel Incident, Detroit 1969: Black Radicalism, Police Repression, Mass Arrests, and an Enduring Mystery

This multimedia investigation of the infamous New Bethel Incident of 1969 is drawn from the "Repression of Radicals" section of Part IV of Detroit Under Fire. In March 1969, a dozen Detroit Police Department officers invaded the New Bethel Baptist Church, shot several people and brutalized many others, and made a mass arrest of 142 African Americans gathered for the national convention of the Republic of New Africa, a Black nationalist organization. The FBI and DPD had the group under illegal surveillance, and the incident began with a murky confrontation outside the church that left one white officer dead. This report documents the police repression, murder conspiracy trials, and Black community protests that made the New Bethel Incident a major milestone in the history of modern Detroit. Researched and written by Aidan Traynor and Matt Lassiter; story design by Francesca Ferrara and Caroline Levine.

Click here to access the report directly (recommended).


6. Precinct Violence: Hidden Brutality inside Detroit Police Stations during the Civil Rights Era

This multimedia investigative report, drawn from multiple sections of Detroit Under Fire and created by Madeleine Turner for the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab, explores the largely hidden phenomenon of police violence inside precinct stations. Most accounts of law enforcement brutality focus on what happens outside, on the streets, but violence and misconduct inside precinct stations is also an extensive although difficult to document phenomenon. This report highlights episodes and patterns of precinct violence based on complaints filed by ordinary African American citizens and documentation by political activists targeted for repression by the Detroit Police Department, along with a small number of cases in which officers who broke the “Blue Curtain” of police silence to report brutality then suffered retaliation. 

Click here to access the report directly (recommended).


7. Silence, Power, and Injustice: Historical Patterns of Police Violence against Women in Detroit

This multimedia investigative report, created by Lily Johnston for the Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab, illustrates the patterns of police violence against women by the Detroit Police Department between the 1950s and the 1990s based on materials from Detroit Under Fire and the follow-up Crackdown exhibit. In addition to high-profile protests against police killings and beatings, the report documents recurring violence that resulted from everyday traffic stops and home invasions; retaliation against women who filed brutality complaints or sought to protect their sons and partners; systemic police violence as well as sexual assault against female sex workers; and frequent failure to respond to requests for assistance from poor Black women and their families.

Click here to access the report directly (recommended). 


8. Cops or Robbers? The Dangers of Invisible Policing

This investigative report, created by Zev Miklethun for Policing and Social Justice HistoryLab, examines the deadly and corrupt history of plainclothes and undercover policing in the city of Detroit. Plainclothes or off-duty officers in the Detroit Police Department shot and killed at least 96 people between the late 1950s and the early 1990s, around one-fourth of the known total of police-involved homicides. Plainclothes and undercover policing also facilitated high levels of corruption and criminality by law enforcement officers, especially in drug markets. “Cops or Robbers?” investigates the undercover STRESS decoy unit and other plainclothes operations that escalated in the 1970s and 1980s, finding that invisible policing heightens the risk of violence not only for the public but for police officers as well.

Click here to access the report directly (recommended).


Look for more reports coming soon!

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