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Detroit: The Calm After the Storm

The message on the downtown wall was brief, and the writer got straight to the point.  “Whitey,” it read, “Get out!  Your [sic] stupid f--ken [sic] prejudice [sic]!  Hit Eight Mile Road!”  After a couple of crude but potent illustrative doodles, it was signed, “Mad and Dangerous.”

If you were looking for the authentic voice of a particular type of disaffected Detroit resident in that searingly hot summer of 1976, Mr. Mad and Dangerous might be it.  I was a 19-year-old British student on my long vacation from Cambridge, and accepting a friend’s invitation to visit the United States’ most homicidal city (whose 48205 ZIP code enjoyed the status of being the “gun capital of America”) was, frankly, a gamble.  In some quarters, Detroit was then a byword for violence, and late-night TV talk-show hosts competed to outdo one another in making grim jests about the place.  Crime, one wag reckoned, had become the city’s chief growth industry.  As even a cursory glance proved, the looting of downtown stores had become an everyday sport, no longer reserved merely for spectacular set-piece riots.  Gangs of feral teenagers roamed the streets, and, on one occasion, rampaged through the dining room of the upscale Pontchartrain Hotel, randomly assaulting customers and yelling, “Black Killers!  Black Killers! ...

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