The National Guard and Urban Uprisings: Lessons from the 1967 Detroit Rebellion

Tina Law, Northwestern University

In the U.S., mayors, governors, and presidents have relied and continue to rely on the deployment of the National Guard to respond to uprisings in cities. Most notably, the National Guard was deployed multiple times during the 1960’s to respond to demonstrations initiated by Black residents to protest police brutality in cities like Chicago, Newark, and Detroit. Despite the longstanding involvement of the National Guard in urban uprisings, there is limited research and little systematic data on the role of the National Guard in these contentious events and the consequences of their interventions in local communities. The limited research that exists on the role of the National Guard and law enforcement in urban uprisings suggests that National Guard members often do not quell but instead contribute to disorder and violence during these events. This mixed methods study examines the involvement of the National Guard in the 1967 Detroit Rebellion, one of the most violent and destructive urban uprisings in modern U.S. history. I use qualitative methods and oral and written histories to analyze perceptions of the National Guard and its role during the rebellion among Detroit residents, local police, and former National Guard members themselves. I use historical records to construct a systematic dataset on alleged misconduct among National Guard members during the rebellion and I apply quantitative methods to identify predictors of misconduct. Preliminary findings show that Detroit residents, local police, and former National Guard members agreed that while the city needed help in responding to the rebellion, the largely young, white National Guard members were unprepared and ineffective. The findings also show that there were more instances of National Guard misconduct than officially reported. The findings suggest that public and scholarly efforts are needed to re-examine the role of the National Guard in cities in times of crisis.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 75. Social Struggles in the City