David R. Henderson  

Henderson's Iron Law of Government Intervention

In Time... Stop, Drop, and Roll...

How Government Intervention Helped Start the 1967 Detroit Riot

Here's the [Kerner Commission] report's first paragraph on Detroit: "On Saturday evening, July 22, the Detroit Police Department raided five 'blind pigs.' The blind pigs had their origin in prohibition days, and survived as private social clubs. Often, they were after-hours drinking and gambling spots."

These "blind pigs" were places that inner-city black people went to be with their friends, to drink, and to gamble; in other words, they were places where people peacefully enjoyed themselves and one another. The police had a policy of raiding these places, presumably because the gambling and the unlicensed alcohol were illegal. The police expected only two dozen people to be at the fifth blind pig, the United Community and Civic League on 12th Street, but instead found 82 people gathered to welcome home two Vietnam veterans. The police proceeded to arrest them. "Some," says the Commission report, "voiced resentment at the police intrusion." Who'd have thunk it? The resentment spread and the riot began.

In short the triggering cause of the Detroit riot, in which more people were killed than in any other riot that summer, was the government crackdown on people who were going about their lives peacefully. For the rioters the last straw was the government's suppression of peaceful, albeit illegal, black capitalism. Interestingly, in its many pages of recommendations for more government programs, the Commission never suggested that the government should end its policy of preventing black people from peacefully drinking and gambling.

This is from my article, "Henderson's Iron Law of Government Intervention: The 1967 Detroit Riot," in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, November 2011.

I also point out how urban renewal was a contributing factor.

Update: For some reason, the link to the article doesn't take you there. I don't know why.
[A version of the link that should function in most browsers, even with the unusual apostrophe mark, is http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/pursuit-of-happiness/henderson%E2%80%99s-iron-law-of-government-intervention-the-1967-detroit-riot/ Grant's comment is correct, but finding a url that will actually work universally is not that easy. Many browsers immediately convert any smart quotes in urls to ordinary equivalents before trying to connect.--Econlib Ed.]

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CATEGORIES: Property Rights , Regulation

COMMENTS (6 to date)
stephen writes:

These "blind pigs" were places that inner-city black people went to be with their friends, to drink, and to gamble; in other words, they were places where people peacefully enjoyed themselves and one another.

Every couple of months some 18 year old gang banger gets shot down the street from my house. Without fail, the mother always tells us what a "good boy and loving father" he was.

Anyway, I have no idea how accurate the blind pigs description is, but it has the same feel as the criminal's mother on the local news.

David R. Henderson writes:

Interesting. What gives it that feel to you?

Grant Gould writes:

The URL problem seems to be that your document title at The Freeman uses a "smart quote" character (an odd tilted single-quote that some microsoft products are fond of using) but your link is using a normal quote mark.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks, Grant.

William Barghest writes:

I presume that this sort of crackdown on forbidden peaceful economic activity has been relatively constant since prohibition. Why did it result in a deadly riot in the summer 1967? And why did several other northern US cities find reasons to riot from 1964-1968?

Whatever the answer to that is, seems to me to be cause of the riot. Otherwise it's like saying a $200 medical bill caused your bankruptcy.

David R. Henderson writes:

@William Barghest,
You ask, "why did several other [people in] northern US cities find reasons to riot from 1964-1968?” It’s a good question. I wasn’t trying to explain those riots, though. I was trying to explain the Detroit riot. Call me crazy, but I think when you’re peacefully enjoying yourself and the cops come in and arrest you, that can make you angry. And I did explain, in my article, why one poor area of Detroit did not riot during that time.

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