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Dateline Detroit: A Photo/Commentary…

I recently ran across a photo-essay publication contest that I came to realize was what I call a “Coffee-Table Scam.” There are a variety of these cons but they all involve submitting photos/essays/poetry for possible publication and a modest award.

Detroit 1967

Detroit 1967

It involves submission, subscription and admin fees, ad varia. Eventually you “win” a spot in their publication, a copy of which you must purchase. Once paying the fees of course, everyone “wins.”

Since I already took the time to select the photos and write a commentary, I decided to present them here….

I took Photo #1 in July ’67 during the Detroit Rebellion. It was in front of the old Addison Hotel (1905), now a renovated apartment building where I currently live.

With a police/fire press pass as a writer for the Fifth Estate newspaper, I covered the event throughout some 10 days. I recall the governor and mayor (Romney & Cavanaugh) going on TV on the 3rd day to appeal to the people of Detroit that the “riot is not a carnival,” to “please stop the wholesale looting and go home.”

Soldier's & Sailor's Monument, 1968...

Soldier’s & Sailor’s Monument, 1968…

Up to that time both blacks and whites were more united in a common activity than ever before in Detroit’s history…at least as far as the “fire-sale” was concerned.

That passed as the police and National Guard soon went wild, shooting at everything in sight. My old unit, the 101st Airborne Division, was finally called in to put them back under control.

Photo #2 was shot at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit at one of our antiwar demos, 1968.

At the time I was a co-founder of the Veterans Against the War (VAW) and Chairman of the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam.

Photo #3 is a picture of the Detroit Renaissance Center with a tourist trolley at Hart Plaza, circa 1983. The site is down on the Detroit Riverfront.

Detroit RenCen, 1983...

Detroit RenCen, 1983…

Detroit never had the problem during Prohibition like Chicago had (w/the mob in violent competition w/gov’t police).

All the alcohol one could wish for was less than a mile away across the Detroit River. The river is a 24-mile long border with Canada. Try covering that, Eliot Ness!

In the winter the river sometimes froze over. I’ve spoken to witnesses who described seeing (and participating in) dozens of long lines up and down the riverfront snaking across the ice bringing back booze. Radio Flyer had a unique niche in the Detroit market in those days.

Sixto Rodriguez, AKA "Sugarman"...

Sixto Rodriguez, AKA “Sugarman”…

Photo #4 is one I took of Sixto Rodriguez at Hart Plaza in the summer of ’87, I believe.

It was the only time in a total of more than 45-yrs that I’ve ever seen Sixto wearing a suit.

A documentary on his life, “Searching for Sugarman,” won an Academy Award this year.

At home in Detroit, Sixto could be somewhat eccentric. He was quite the rage in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as an urban folk singer, but in Detroit he affected the role of an itinerant, grown-up street urchin. The documentary? Well, it’s a movie…

One of Detroit’s well-known performers (I’ll omit his name) tells me that he booked Rodriguez into several gigs. “He soon would turn his back to the audience facing the back wall and mumble thru his songs. Strange guy.”

When I took this photo, Sixto got mad, telling me to destroy it, that I had not asked his permission. I assured him the I would slice the negative and never use his image for commercial purposes. Carrying a guitar case, I assume he was on his way to gig somewhere…

Street Justice, 1987...

Street Justice, 1987…

In Photo #5 I was at Detroit’s Recorders Court where I was working on a case as a Criminal Defense Investigator, circa 1987. There was a huge boom that shook the building.

Exiting the building, I realized that a construction crane had crashed from the wind directly in front of the court, destroying all of the cars parked there. Fortunately, no one was sitting in them.

One of the usual comments one heard in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice is that there is more justice in the halls than in the courts. Perhaps one can find some out on the street as well.

Urban Garden, Detroit, 2010...

Urban Garden, Detroit, 2010…

Photo #6 was shot out on East Jefferson in 2010 when I got out of federal prison after 20-yrs.

I soon learned that about half of Detroit had been abandoned and returned to prairie land replete with pheasant, rabbits and coyotes. (Today, ferrets and weasels are running the City.)

Many people have turned to urban gardening. This one is grown by ex-prisoner’s in a local halfway house. A sign erected out front informed drivers that they could have the produce…free. We’d even pick it for them.

US-Canada Freedom Celebration, June 2011...

US-Canada Freedom Celebration, June 2011…

Photo #7 is one I took off of  the TV during Detroit’s annual US-Canada firework’s celebration, June 2011.

This was the next to last such “freedom celebration” before the Republican governor appointed a corporatist dictator to loot Detroit’s people of the last of their public control and resources for the banks and other financial vultures (“creditors”).

I recall one year some 25-yrs ago when the event–typically bringing a million people downtown on both sides of the riverfront–included a laser light show.

A Moog synthesizer was set up on a local auditorium roof playing in sync to the fireworks, lasers and a combination of the William Tell Overture and Star Wars. Reflectors were also set on the Ambassador Bridge and buildings in downtown Windsor and Detroit.

A War of the World’s scenario advertised and simulcast on several radio stations astonished the crowds.  It was like being on LSD…better!

Scott Mansion, April 2013...

Scott Mansion, April 2013…

In conclusion, Photo #8 is a picture of the old James Scott Mansion that I took last month around the corner from where I live.

Scott built this Romanesque marvel in 1887. Despite being an Historic Site it was abandoned in the 1970s. Today it’s owned by developer, Joel Landy in the Cass Corridor (Midtown) Detroit.

Unfortunately, given its condition, Joel can’t obtain a loan for its restoration…not for lack of trying.

Scott was an eccentric drinker and gambler. In part he could have inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. Much of Detroit’s Campus Martius area was developed by his real estate father.

Upon his death Scott bequeathed to the City enough funds to build the Scott Fountain on Belle Isle.

I conclude this article with the Scott Mansion as it’s an unfortunate but representative metaphor for Detroit.

A brilliant history as a temperate hunting ground for Algonquians; a thriving French fort-village (1701, Sieur Antoine la Mothe Cadillac) that controlled the upper-lakes’ beaver trade (plush hats for European aristocracy and landed gentry); a major destination on history’s underground railroad for slaves fleeing Southern terror; the center of the auto trade; World War-II’s Arsenal of Democracy; and the current front line in the class war being waged by the corporatist elite.

As they lay waste to everything in their path in their quest for personal profit, privilege, property and power, they’re only creating the means of their own destruction…and quite possibly ours…

Dr. Publico

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