Interviewer: Sheila Bernard
Production Team: C
Interview Date: June 7, 1989
Camera Rolls: 2149-2151
Sound Rolls: 270
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Dr. Grant Friley, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on June 7, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK, so, what was it like being in Detroit in that week?
It was, um, an uncomfortable feeling, a feeling of frustration, of realizing that the ultimate had happened in Detroit, ah, knowing that it had happened all over the United States and, and other metropolitan areas, and hoping like hell it never would happen in Detroit and then boom, it happened.
OK, but paint a picture for me, it's night time, what's out there?
No, I'll paint a different picture. It was day time, it wasn't night time when it happened. It happened in the early evening, and, ah, it was hot, and when it happened, it was not the explosive situation that a lot of people think it was. It occurred and it was almost frivolous, it was a air of, of--
OK, stop for a second, I'm sorry, I just think we're, we have, we're building a story, we need to know.
OK, So what was it like?
It was crazy, it was difficult to understand what in the hell was going on, and to know that as a police officer, I was part of this problem, OK, and it was chaos, ah, movement of police officers to strategic precincts, a command post being set up, ah, hearing the, the, the, the televisions and the radios blasting about the insurrection and problems and not seeing, ah, what they were talking about, OK? And then finally as a police officer, ah, seeing the smoke at a distance and saying, "Oh, hell, ah, there are some things burning," and hearing sirens and, and seeing people running and, and, and just being totally confused.
You talked about looting in terms of you know, it was OK to buy milk, to take milk but, and bread, but can you talk about the looting and what your sense was?
Well, ah, I don't believe we're ever in the position to say what's in the mind of a person who is in need of something, OK? So here's a grocery store or a market that has been fire bombed or the windows are busted out, and you're in the inner city, and you see a 13 or 14 year old child go in and come out with, ah, bologna, bread, milk, cheese, OK? You take a deep breath and you know it's wrong, but you can understand that growing up in poverty in the inner city, to be able to get something for nothing, ah, you don't turn your back on it, they did it. But then you get highly frustrated and angry at people taking advantage of the same situation and the television store next door, OK. You say, "I'm doing this because we don't have anything." But you walk by the grocery store and the bread and the milk, and you go in and you grab television sets, and watches, and rings and everything that's available--that's wrong. I don't give a damn whether it was the 1967 in- insurrection, or whether it's 1989, it's wrong.
So you're a cop, what's your response? You're watching this.
My response at one time to the children doing it was--I stopped them, I talked to them and I tried to, to, to make them aware of the dangers of going into a store, grabbing things that didn't belong to them. No, I didn't arrest them, I didn't do anything to them because, ah, and then my list of priorities, ah, in doing things that day, was not dealing with milk and cheese and honey with children. But I got damn angry when I saw people looting businesses and walking out with televisions and, and, and, and, and other kind of items like that, and we made arrests, and we stopped and we talked to people and we, at times I took items away and threw them back into the store as opposed to arresting people because, ah, to just continually arrest and grab people. We would have been there forever because everybody and his uncle was grabbing things.
What's the worst thing you remember about this week?
The, ah, frustration of seeing, ah, people making complaints about what had happened to them because they were Black, and to, to be in the middle of 12th Street and look down the street and see the entire block burning and know that the very people who were raising all that hell about, ah, the problems and why they were doing the things they were doing, not having control of their own homes burning, because they initiated some of those fires and the fires got out of control. And then to see fire departments, engine and ladder trucks coming to attempt to put out the very fires that they had started, and these people turning around and bombarding them with bottles and insults and everything else, and those ver- fire people, having to be escorted by either National Guard or police officers, to put out these fires. It was, it was frustrating. It made me mad as hell because the aftermath was, after it was all over, the very people who did it were the very people to make the complaints, and that ate me up, it ate my insides up to see these kinds of things happening. That probably was my low point.
Can you tell me about where you grew up and what, how you felt watching this community?
I grew up in Detroit on Eight Mile Road and, ah, ah, it was, ah, a place that was predominantly a, a Black community. After leaving Eight Mile Road, and I went to school in the city of Detroit and went away to the service, and ended up coming and, and getting on the Detroit Police Department. And it, it bothered me because, ah, those people who know me knew that I had a, a, a bitterness and a hatred of my own prior to ever becoming a police officer and that was something that I had to overcome and I overcame that and I became a police officer, ah, attempting to rectify some of the wrongs that I had experienced as a child, OK.
You had watched, as a, as a Marine you were saying you had watched White people being completely abusive to you and by the end of the week you were watching White cops, your fellow cops, being abusive to Black people. Can you talk about that, how did that make you feel?
I, not only did I see White police officers being abusive, I saw Black police officers being abusive. And it was extremely difficult for me to watch this abuse taking place. But I also understood the frustration that a police officer had at that time. We were--
-we were frightened, we were- the mystery of the unknown, being in the environment, being in the situation that was catastrophic, OK, and here we were um, ah, attempting to do a job that we were duly sworn to do. And a lot of us did things that, that, ah, were terrible, OK? And who is to say whether or not, ah, ah, I would not have done it or somebody else would not have done it if the situation would have been the same. It was not a, a, a pretty picture. Any time that people are brutalized or eventually killed, is not a pretty picture, that's not our jobs.
I want to switch gears for a sec. Will you tell me again what it was like being a kid and having the Big Four, and what the Detroit cops were like when you were coming up?
I grew up on Eight Mile Road, as I said, and, and, ah, the Big Four traditionally rode around in a big Black Buick, and at that time as a child, it consisted of a White uniform police officer and three other White plain clothes officers, and they were the terror. When the Big Four pulled up, you jumped**. And that terror was founded terror because they, they'd whip your head, I have seen them beat up on people and they have beat me before. And it was--
So what would you be doing when they would come by, would you be doing anything wrong?
No, I wasn't doing anything wrong. It was just the- just that time, I mean when they said move off the corner, you moved off the corner. And where do young Black men have but a corner? They don't have swimming pools, they don't have estates, they have corners in cities, and they stand around, they harmonize, they clown, they have fun, but when the Big Four would say give me that corner, you gave them that corner, or else**. I have been stopped and, ah, ah, checked by the Big Four, and my seats were pulled out and thrown out on the street and they found nothing and then they drove away and said, "You put it back in there."
So it's early `67, nothing's happened in Detroit yet and you were joining a predominantly White police force, what kind of reception did you get?
I had been in the Marine Corp for almost six years. I was determined to be the best police officer that they'd ever seen. I was going to join the department because I wanted to be a police officer, I had always wanted to be a police officer. The reception was the typical reception, you're one of, of 70 or 80 Black people on a force of predominantly, ah, ah, non minority people. You have to be an exception, and I tried to be an exception. I had problems, OK, but there were problems that you dealt with, it was just, just the times.
So what was unique about your position as a Black officer in the middle of a riot?
That I had been where the White officers had never been. I had been on the other side of the fence. I had been part of the frustration. I had been part of the racist attitudes that, ah, were coming from society. I had been on the other side. And now I had sympathy, empathy, but also was a police officer, and I had a job to do. So, ah, I had an advantage.
So did you share, I read that by the first day there was- the police were restrained and they couldn't do anything and they were watching all this looting going on and they were watching the city go up and then, and there's a sense that if they could have gone in faster they could have stopped it and now it's out of hand. Did you have that sense? Can you tell me about it?
No. I, I didn't have that sense that, ah, had we, ah, almost like an occupying force, had we been able to invade and, and do this, no. I, I really felt though, that the, the first one or two days, had there been more involvement from the community, the community leaders, more positiveness coming from the media, ah, than, than a story of fires and destructions and all of that, that we might have been able to do somethings. But, ah, all you heard of, ah, the country, ah, then the city of Detroit, was the problems, the problems, the problems. So, ah, you know, that's hindsight, I don't know what would have occurred.
So, when you were on the street, can you tell me about being on the street and how, how you know, about whether you got a chance to sleep, about how you were feeling by the third day or something when you--
I was tired, exhausted, frustrated, but I was a police officer, and I was determined to do the job that I was paid to do. And, ah, I wanted it to end, it was an embarrassment for me as a Black man, it was an embarrassment for me as a Detroit police officer, it was an embarrassment for me to know that our city, the city of Detroit, was doing the same thing that the other cities were doing. I wanted it to end and go away, and it wouldn't go away.
And what about the sense of the Black communities wrecking the Black community and not the White targets, can you tell me--
It was, it was crazy to say the least, that you would hear, ah, young men and young women damning, ah, White people, I mean damning them and saying, "Down with the Honky! damn the Honky!" over and over, and, ah, then you watch them torch their whole block, break in the very, very stores that they had to shop in, OK, and, ah, there was, and I'm not condoning anything, but there were all of these surrounding communities, OK, that had all Whites in them, so the logic was crazy to say, "Whites are no good," and then burn your own house. I mean it didn't make any sense, OK, and that, that, that blew my mind, I just didn't understand.
When were you most scared, what was the most scary moment then?
On Hamilton and Puritan, on my way to work, being in plain clothes and having a gun, and being stopped and being locked up and thrown in the back of a car and taken downtown.
OK, can you start again and tell me you were on Hamilton, say I was on Hamilton--
I was on Hamilton and Puritan, in Highland Park, on my way downtown to work, in plain clothes, and I was stopped along with a, another fellow officer, and we were arrested and thrown in a car, all right, and, and on our way downtown before they realized we were police officers, that was terrifying because by the time they got to my identification, OK, they could have done something to me before they got to my identification. They saw the gun, the bulge of that gun, OK, was enough for them to put us in the back of their car and head downtown with us, and that was frightening because I knew what was happening in the city.
Do you think the cops over reacted by the end of the- by the middle of the week? Were, were people really over reacting or no?
Yes, we all over reacted by the end of the week. Everybody was walking on pins and needles. It was self preservation, and the rumors, there were continually going on, ah, unfounded rumors some of them, put all of us in a, in a, in a bit of hysteria. It was a very uncomfortable feeling for whether you were a Black police officer or White police officer, didn't make any difference. You were very uncomfortable.
OK, if you could tell me that again and let me know a little bit about what these rumors are.
There were rumors of--
Rumors of, of, of, of police off- a police officer getting shot, police officers being shot at, snipers on buildings, fire trucks, ah, ah, under attack, police officers caravans under attack um, the whole situation being out of control so now we got to bring the airborne in, I mean - hell yes, that put everybody in an uncomfortable state. You know, when you start talking about bringing the airborne in, OK, you bring the National Guard in, that means that the police department, the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police, Wayne County Sheriff - were saying that we could not do the job that was necessary. So yes, everybody was uptight, it was a very uncomfortable feeling for me.
OK, stop. Did you see, ever see law enforcement weapons?
So what was the city like?
The city was very uncomfortable. Prior to the problems that occurred in Detroit, I had had an opportunity to see what had had happened in Jersey and in L.A. and, and um, ah, the interviews that they had with police officers and the films of the police officers, and then boom, here it was, Detroit, and the very thing that I had seen on television, I was part of. Um, to be in the inner city of Detroit, ah, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock at night, a curfew, pitch Black, dark, smell the smoke, see flames, hear sirens in the distance, ah, it is like a combat zone, very very uncomfortable. You're walking on pins and, and needles. And, ah, it was, it was an experience.
What was your sense of the National Guard?
That they were brought in to--
Say the National Guard--
The National Guard? They were brought in to--
No, I'm sorry, you just need to start the sentence--
Oh, the National Guard.
I blew that one again didn't I, OK. The National Guard was, in my opinion, in a very uncomfortable position. They were the men who 24 hours prior to them being federalized, were, ah, your, your clerks and your truck drivers and your lawyers and your doctors, whatever - and now they were asked to, ah, play police. And, ah, I had the highest respect for them, I had it because they were put in a very uncomfortable position, asked to do a very uncomfortable job that all of us who were duly sworn police officers, were having a hell of a time trying to do, then they bring the National Guard in and they say - hey, do it. And, ah, ah, it, it had to be hell for them. A lot of the young people were from the suburbs, from upper Michigan, some of them had never been in Detroit, and then you bring them into Detroit and say - OK, do the job. It had to be hell for them.
But they were also armed, and I've, and I've talked to other police being afraid of being shot by other law enforcement people in the craziness. Were you ever afraid of being shot by one of--by a law enforcement person?
Yes, by a law enforcement person I was being af--ah, I was afraid of being shot at, I was--
Can you just start from I was afraid of being shot.
What about as a Black officer - did you receive any, any special treatment, either negative or positive from--
OK, so you're a Black police officer, you're not even just police--so what's it like.
Being a Black police officer during that time was an extremely difficult--it was extremely difficult. Um, Black people would look at you and they'd call you a Tom, you're a Tom, you're doing your job but you're a Tom. Your fellow White police officer would look at you to see if you were going to do your job, OK? So there you were - here's a White police officer who was concerned about the Black officer next to him, as opposed to just being concerned. And then there are the people that you're dealing with who are saying that, ah, you're an Uncle Tom because, ah, you were a police officer. Ah, they didn't realize what this was really all about. They looked at the uniform and they saw that you were Black and you were in the uniform so you were the enemy.
Knowing how you fe--I mean knowing how, how frustrated you were by the, when it just continued to go. Can you tell me about how frustrated you were and then try to figure how frustrated if you didn't have--if you were a White cop, how you must have felt. How were you by the end, by, as it continued and continued?
I was, I was totally wiped out. It got to a point where I had to watch out for my temper. It got to a point where the, those persons who were yelling and screaming about - down with the Whitey and, and all of that, I was looking into his eyes and wanting to knock the hell out of him because he didn't know what the hell he was talking about** and he was the same sicko that was burning down his own house, OK. Ah, it, it got to be hell for me. And then I looked at my fellow officer who happened to have been a, a, a, a White officer, and I could empathize with what he was going through, OK - day one, day two, day three - I knew what the hell that was going on inside of me, and I knew that he had to be catching hell. And it was basically, not only because he was a police officer, but he happened to be a White man and that was two strikes against him - he was White and he had the uniformon, so he had two strikes against him.
What about the res--his response to the community since he was White, since he didn't have any ties to the community and he was living out in the suburbs and it was them, and they were the enemy. Did they become the enemy?
No, I don't believe that. I, I really don't believe that. I believe that, that, ah, it was an action/reaction thing, that a lot of White officers were caught up in it, and they reacted, and we all react differently. And I don't think, ah, ah, a White officer reacted just because he was a White officer, then a Black officer reacted because he was a Black officer. I think in the heat of battle we all reacted and it was not because of a White officer saying - hey, these are Black people, hey I got a chance to really do them in. All right? Like I said, I saw some Black officers, ah, get frustrated and tired of the crap that was going on, and they vented their emotions also. So it was, ah, for that six or seven days there were a lot of blue people and all those blue people were people in uniforms.
OK, cut. Story, besides the house, anything--
OK, so tell me about where you sitting.
I was in the gym, Detroit Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, and, ah, I just sat there and I was by myself and I looked at rolls and rolls and rolls of, of televisions and radios and watches and bikes and just stolen things and stolen things - and it just didn't make any sense to me. I just was totally frustrated, and I couldn't do anything, it was too big for me, there was nothing that, that I could do that would have made any difference because all around me were the goodies, and that's what this ended up to be all about. It was not the frustration of, of, of--
Let me interrupt, let me go to back to--what about the argument that it wasn't their community, people didn't own that community, other people controlled it, White people controlled it, why not burn it down.
Ah, wh--after you burn it down, you know, zero from zero leaves zero. So you burn down a community that supposed--you say belongs to somebody else. Then you have nothing. Granted that a lot of the shops were owned by non-minorities, but, ah, a lot of those shops were owned by Black entrepreneurs and, and they also were burned down and that is not the way to solve a problem, by destroying a community - a community is what the people make it, has nothing to do with buildings, has to do with what the people make that com--community. And when they burned that community down, they, they destroyed themselves.
When it was all over were things different, were things--what, what cha--changed?
Initially--you have to give me a fuller sentence.
OK. Ah, when it was all over, ah, although the looting was completed, there were no more fires, but the aftermath of that insurrection stayed a part of my life and a part of this city's life for years - and continues to be a part of our lives, because all we have to do is shut our eyes for a moment and we can relive it any time we want to relive it. Hopefully, ah, those six or seven days, in time, will be something that we can say made some positive changes.
OK, stop. What haven't I asked you.
So can you just tell me again, what, what was the most painful part of this week for you?
The most painful part for me as a police officer was the feeling of frustration, ah, being a Black man, being on the job and, and, and, and having people despise and hate me because I was a police officer, and to know that those very people, many of them looked up to me prior to the insurrection and after the insurrection was over, I guess I was OK, but during that time I was called every kind of damnable name that you can think of, and I was treated unfairly by the very people that, that I was part of. It bothered me to know that I could be hated that much just because I had a uniform on, and it was that, that, that feeling that, that the people really don't know what, what good police officers are all about, and I really thought I was a good police officer.
Could you start and say--if they hated you that much--
If, if they could hate me that much, I had a feeling how much they must have hated my fellow White officer. To hate me as much as they hated me, they had to despise everything about him. And, ah, I think that if there was any sniping going on, ah, the sniper did not say - let's ignore that Black officer, ah, let's shoot at the White officer. Ah, they hated all of us.
Were we two societies like Kerner said? EYES ON THE PRIZE II DR. GRANT FRILEY CAMERA ROLL 2149, 26
Yes, there were two societies like Kerner said.
How did that make it when you
How did it make me feel?
I don't even know if I can describe it.
Bad or good, or--hopeful/hopeless.
Hopeless. I mean we're talking about 21 years ago, how I felt 21 years ago. As opposed to how I feel now. You know. I've got a bachelors, a masters and Ph.D., I've done a lot of things since then, and it's difficult to know how my--
Have you--I mean having gone through that, having gone through the Marines and that kind of racism, and having gone through the riots, how do you feel?
Same bullshit it's the same stuff. You know deal with me one on one, that's what this is about-- can you respect me, I don't hate you because you're White, I mean that's bullshit, they got a lot of Black people that just, would wipe me out in two seconds, so I don't don't deal with that, but there is more subtle racism now, the overt racism isn't as prevalent but the subtle racism, but damn you, you know, I don't worry about your subtle racism, because me, I feel good about myself as a human being. I got my act together, so you know, you don't threaten me, no body threatens me, I don't worry about that, but there's too much of it, in 1989, OK, where is the progress. So we don't hang you any more Grant, we don't hang out on Boulevard, but dammit when you go--