Mapping Police Brutality/Misconduct
This map displays 72 allegations of brutality and misconduct by African American citizens against the Detroit Police Department between the years 1957 and 1963, located in the city's racial geography and documented through archival and newspaper research. The map also includes police killings of civilians. Most of these incidents came from the records of the NAACP or newspaper articles in the Michigan Chronicle, Detroit's African American weekly. Very few African Americans filed complaints directly with the DPD, because they feared violent reprisals, as Isaiah McKinnon explains in the interview at the bottom of this page. Click on each point to see the name of the victim, date of the incident, and a description.
- Black dots = Police Brutality
- Brown dots = Police Misconduct
- Red/Pink dots = Police Shooting and/or Killing of Civilians
All Police Incidents: Brutality, Misconduct, and Homicides of Civilians (1957-1963)
- Almost 100% of these encounters involve white police officers and African American civilians. The NAACP collected most of the complaints mapped here, because the Detroit Police Department did not yet have a formal process for citizen complaints.
- The majority of mapped incidents involve police officers pulling over African American motorists and then beating and/or verbally harassing them, absent any underlying criminal activity by the victims. Other identifiable patterns include police beating juveniles on the street and police beating or harassing civilians after mistaken home invasions and warrantless searches.
- Many incidents involve racial profiling as the Detroit Police Department enforced racial segregation and policed the 'color line' rather than protecting citizens and fighting crime. The majority of discovered incidents took place along the boundaries where black and white neighborhoods met in the highly segregated city of Detroit, or in racially transitional neighborhoods where white residents were moving out as black residents moved in.
- Most known incidents involve middle-class or solidly working-class African American residents, because they were the most likely to escalate complaints to the NAACP and to the Michigan Chronicle, and also more likely to be criminalized and harassed by police in racially transitional areas. This does not mean that police brutality and misconduct was less common in poor black neighborhoods, but rather that such incidents were far less likely to result in formal complaints and enter the archive.
- The Detroit Police Department almost always exonerated officers when it bothered to investigate complaints at all. Starting in 1958, the NAACP and ACLU repeatedly demanded a civilian review board to oversee the police department, but the city government refused to adopt this reform.
- This map does not capture the most systematic form of police misconduct in Detroit, the illegal but formal policy allowing officers to make thousands of unconstitutional "investigative arrests" annually (for more, also see the Crash section). The DPD (and the Michigan State Police) also illegally kept most civil rights and labor groups in the city, including the NAACP, under political surveillance during this era.
*Note: this map only represents incidents found through extensive research in archives and databases and comes nowhere close to documenting all actual instances of police misconduct and brutality that occurred in Detroit during these years.
Isaiah McKinnon's Story: Police Brutality as Part of Everyday Life
Isaiah (Ike) McKinnon grew up in a public housing project in segregated Detroit after his family moved north from Alabama. He served in the military after graduating from high school and then joined the Detroit Police Department in 1965, and he eventually became chief of police in the 1990s. In this interview segment, McKinnon describes a brutal unprovoked attack and racist verbal abuse that he suffered at the hands of white DPD officers as a 14-year-old boy in 1957. McKinnon further explains that he did not tell his parents, because everyone in the community knew that "if a black person went to the precinct station to make a complaint they would be locked up or probably beaten up." He also cites this encounter as the reason he decided to become a police officer, to try to change a racist system from within.
NAACP Detroit Branch Records, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan/Metropolitan Detroit Branch Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Mayor’s Papers, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library
Hearings before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Detroit, Michigan, December 14-15, 1960, Folder 001481-025-0244, Papers of the NAACP, Major Campaigns-Legal Department Files, National Archives
Detroit Commissions on Community Relations (DCCR)/Human Rights Department, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Isaiah (Ike) McKinnon Interview, Part 1, December 3, 2019, https://lsa-dss.mivideo.it.umich.edu/media/t/1_rxtil0md/145739741