Whose Rights Matter?

Friday, August 8, 1919, as tensions between white and Black workers at the Chicago Stockyards still seethed, the Chicago City Council returned its attention once again to policing the city’s Black citizens.

The council’s police committee met with the chief of police in Detroit. He explained that he had prevented a race riot by ordering his men to seize all guns, blackjacks, rifles and other weapons from dealers in the city. Asked how he managed to do so legally, he said: “I happened to be out in the country when I received word that the Negroes were buying blackjacks and shotguns. At that minute I ordered the police to collect all of the blackjacks, shotguns, and other weapons from all of the dealers. They obeyed orders. I did not ask for any legal view on the subject.”


Writer. Formerly civil rights attorney. Currently professor. Working on new book about mental disability and criminal law in the 20th century.

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