Life in Detroit’s tenth precinct
I was awakened by the sound of sirens and ambulances passing by my bedroom window just before noon on this warm sunny July afternoon in 1969. This was nothing unusual, except the fact that I anticipated the rushing sounds to diminish as the caravan pushed further away, unfortunately, it didn’t. Rising, I looked out my bedroom window and saw several neighbors rushing up Linwood Avenue on Detroit’s Northwest side. Without brushing my teeth or washing up, I grabbed my pants, tee-shirt and gym shoes, jumped out my bedroom window and ran towards the crowd that had slowly amassed on the corner of Linwood and Whitney Avenue. Breezing through the crowd, I saw several Detroit Police Officers standing around a 1965 red Cadillac with handkerchiefs over their faces. Several other Police Officers about twenty-five feet away were ordering people in the area to disburse. The red Cadillac was hitched to the back of a Police tow truck. From the center of the crowd, people were yelling:
“F..k you pig, you disburse.”
As I eased closer to the scene, I caught scent of one of the most foulest odors you could ever imagine smelling. The people next to me had already got a scent of the pungent odor because many of them had their shirts and blouses wrapped around their faces. Caught off guard by this smell, it slowly seeped through to my nostrils until it reached my stomach, when it did, I began to throw up the remains of the hamburger and French fries I had eaten hours earlier. Falling to the ground, I rolled over holding my stomach for the next impact of the violent eruptions the smell had caused. For reasons beyond my understanding, it never came. As I slowly backed up, several bystanders still covering their mouth’s were laughing at me and pointing to the food on the ground that I had just regurgitated. I then heard a loud chilling scream from the front of the crowd. Standing only 5”1” at the time and unable to get a clear picture of what was happening, I pushed my way towards several cars parked less than 20 yards away and stood on top of an old Buick.
Finally having a birds eye view of the entire area, I saw several women trying to restrain Mrs. Meadows whom stayed just three houses from where my parents lived. Bucking and kicking like a wild horse, Mrs. Meadows broke loose from the three women, pushed past two police officers and grabbed the sheet from the gurney that two ambulance attendants were escorting exposing several pieces of a human corpse. At the top front end of the gurney was the head of a young black man. A man whom we later discovered, was to be the head of Mrs. Meadows youngest son Will.
Grabbing the head of her dead son off the gurney, I watched in horror as she took flight through the crowd screaming, “murderers….murderers” while waving her sons head in front of several Detroit Police Officers. Out of panic and fear, people standing around scattered away as she stood in the middle of the street screaming and waving her dead son’s head high above her own. I was devastated at the sight of seeing this human head unattached from its body. Will’s long black hair appeared to be knotted up with scabs of his own blood. Both of his eyes seemed to have been punctured out, leaving two black holes in the front of his skull and the stringy dark brown flesh hanging from his neck looked like black thin slices of raw liver. Directly to my right, I noticed several women falling to the ground on their hands and knees praying and moaning in unison. For several seconds, violence took over, and you could feel her chilling screams crawling all over your body leaving you momentarily breathless. I didn’t know whether to run or stop. Some unseen force would not allow my eyes to escape the sight before me.
Two Police Officers attempted to approach her with their guns drawn ordering her to get on the ground. Mrs. Meadows appeared to be in somewhat of a trance, oblivious to the two armed white men standing in front of her with their guns pointing directly at her head. Spinning around in circles with the head of her dead son firmly in her hand, she continued to scream and scream while waving her son’s head in the air. Moments later, several more squad cars of Police arrived. In the third squad car that pulled up, out stepped the most notorious, brutal and racist Police Officer in our neighborhood, Sgt. Rincek.
As more and more people began to gather, the Police attempted to place a barrier between Mrs. Meadows and the crowd y positioning their squad cars between here and the ensuing crowd. Although there was a commanding officer on the scene, Sgt. Rincek immediately took control by ordering three officers to take Mrs. Meadows down. In a flash, three officers rushed towards her, slammed her down to the ground, smashed her head into the pavement and handcuffed her. One of the ambulance attendants wrapped the severed head of her son in a sheet and took off in his ambulance. All of a sudden, somewhere from the back of the crowd, a bystander hurled an empty beer bottle into the street striking one of the officers on the back of the neck. When the officer fell, one of his partners grabbed him and began pulling him over to one of the empty squad cars positioned just ten yards from where I was standing on top of this old Buick. I could see the red blood oozing from a gash on his neck. Gathering that he had been cut, the officer, in a fit of rage pulled out his revolver and began shooting wildly into the air yelling, “clear the fucking streets right now!” Hearing the shots and not knowing exactly where the bullets were flying, people in the crowd began running in all different directions, some falling, while others attempting to evade a possible gun shot wound stepping on them and over them. Those whom were near several other buildings in the area, hid behind them, others ducked behind parked cars and took shelter under them. Laying in the middle of Linwood Avenue was Mrs. Meadows, still handcuffed and bleeding from the head.
Having now partially cleared the area, Sgt. Rincek ordered the three officers to place her in a squad car. Rather than pick her up and carry this 52 year old woman, they dragged her by her arms on the rocky pavement which tore most of her dress off her back. Despite being dragged, she continued to scream until one of them pulled out a six inch flashlight and smashed it dead center into her head silencing her. From a distance, people began yelling,” leave her alone, leave her alone.” Then I heard the crackling of bottles everywhere, then rocks and anything else they could find available to hurdle at the officers. Sensing that the crowd was growing enormously large, Sgt. Rincek ordered his officers to clear the area immediately.
Like scampering cats, they all ran to their squad cars rolling up the windows to escape the fury and anger of the crowd. The first officers escaped virtually unharmed, but the last three remaining vehicles were bashed with bricks, bottles and stones. One of the police officers caught a brick head on through his vehicle’s windshield, causing him to crash into a parked car just a quarter of a mile away from where Mrs. Meadows was beaten and dragged away. Running to the crash site in groves, the crowd bombarded the squad car with bricks, rocks and bottles until every window in the vehicle looked as if it had been in a six car pile up. Seconds later, one of the other squad cars that escaped in the first caravan returned. Hanging outside the passenger window like a gunman riding a horse firing at a posse in hot pursuit of him, Sgt. Rincek was firing his pistol into the crowd. Running away in all directions, the people in the crowd disappeared into the alleys and run ways in the area. Sgt. Rincek retrieved the two injured officers whom fell prey to the mercy of the violent crowd.
Peering through a small hedge of bushes across the street from the crash, I noticed both officers were bleeding profusely as Sgt. Rincek ordered them to grab their gear and get inside his squad car while the other officer stood guard watching the area with a 12 gauge shotgun. Abandoning their squad car and heading north up Linwood Avenue, everyone knew where they were headed…The infamous Detroit Police Tenth Precinct.
Still pumped with adrenaline and seeking revenge for the treatment of Mrs. Meadows with nothing else to do, the crowd demolished the squad car. Local thieves stripped the battery, radio, seats, siren, radiator and whatever was salvageable from the squad car in less than fifteen minutes. Later that afternoon, all that was left of the squad car was the burnt frame of a 1967 Plymouth Fury.
Out of the raging hail of bullets fired by Sgt. Rincek, only one of them found its mark. Old man Jake was hit in the thigh by one of the bullets and leaning up against the walls of an abandon building holding his leg asking the people running by to take him to Rex’s Pool Room just up the street on Gladstone Street. Three Samaritans picked up Old Jake and carried him to his desired destination. Rex’s Pool Room was more than just your ordinary pool room. After the pool room closed at 10:00 p.m., it turned into an after hours joint where all the neighborhood hustlers and players gambled. Prostitutes hung out and picked up most of their customers in the alley out back. Most of the prostitutes customers were factory workers and middle class white men whom often times ventured through the area seeking to satisfy their sexual cravings. Rex was allowed to operate his illegal establishment by paying hefty pay offs to Sgt. Rincek and his band of enforcers whom made sure that Rex was never ripped off or harassed by any other officers from the Tenth Precinct. Everyone knew that Rex was well connected and everybody knew that if they caused any trouble that disrupted his business, they would surely encounter the wrath of Sgt. Rincek and his immortals as they were colorfully named by many in our neighborhood.
About ten minutes or so later, I came across one of my running buddies Tyrone, whom was there from the start. Tyrone explained to me that about an hour or so before I had arrived, people were complaining about a Red Cadillac that was stinking up the area and called the Police. When the Police arrived, they noticed that the smell was coming from the trunk of the Cadillac and when they pried the trunk open, they found Will, Mrs. Meadows’ son chopped up in pieces inside a plastic bag. Tyrone also enlightened me to recall the night before when we were hanging out by the Linwood Hotel drinking Ripple Wine, that the Cadillac was not there. Some time during the night, someone had driven the Cadillac there and dropped it off. A local prostitute named Mary saw Will’s head pulled out of the plastic bag and sent a message to Will’s mother that her son was dead. By the time Mrs. Meadows arrived, attendants from the morgue had already placed his butchered body onto a gurney to be taken to the City Morgue.
On the corner of Whitney and Linwood, people were still gathering and discussing the fate of Mrs. Meadows. Mrs. Meadows was a sweet and loving lady. Her husband died ten years earlier from complications in World War II, leaving her to raise three sons and one daughter alone. Mrs. Meadows was also the toast of the neighborhood to everyone. Every summer since 1963 me and some of my buddies in the neighborhood would raid the lush fruit trees in Laselle Gardens just east of Linwood Avenue. In the gardens, many wealthy people grew apple, cherry, pears, peach and plum trees in their backyards. Some also had lush grape and mar berry vines. We often used old pillow cases from the Rio Grand Motel to carry out our cache of fruits from daylight raids of these trees. We would deliver all the fruits we didn’t eat or take home to Mrs. Meadows. In return, all of our neighbors would supply her with jars and she would make the sweetest grape, peach, apple and cherry jelly, jams, pies, cakes and biscuits you could ever imagine tasting. Most of the neighborhood soup joints and restaurants would buy jars of her jelly, jams and pies and sell them. No one in the neighborhood would have to pay a dime. Everyone loved, respected and adored her. Will was her youngest son, Clarence and Bobby were enlisted in the Army and presently serving in Vietnam and her only daughter Clarice was married at the age of eighteen and had dropped out of school and stayed three blocks away with her husband and two children.
Her son Will was at least ten years older than I was and he stayed in a lot of madness. Unbeknownst to her, or what we perceived to be unknown to her, Will used heroin, sold heroin, robbed other drug dealers and had a fierce reputation as an enforcer for a small time drug ring that operated up on Twelfth Street. Many people knew of his haunts and character, but no one had the heart to tell his mother. Will would come around the neighborhood from time to time driving all sorts of different new cars. He kept a pocket full of money, a gun and a knife. Several days before he was murdered, we were playing basketball on the small court just three blocks from where he was found. Will drove up, pulled out a wad of money and told us that he would pay us five dollars for every shot we made in the basket from the foul line. There were three of us there and we fought each other trying to be the first one to take the shot at his offer. Seeing the greed among us, he pushed us apart, threw three five dollar bills on the ground and said:
“One at a time, whom ever makes the shot gets to keep five dollars, if you miss, you lose.”
Tyrone went first and missed the shot. Will picked up one of the five dollar bills. Box Head shot next and also missed the shot. It was my turn next. I grabbed the ball, focused deeply on the rim, closed my eyes and shot the ball. The ball spun around the rim and fell in the basket. Will picked up the five dollar bill and handed it to me. Looking around, I could not see, but I could feel the anger my two buddies felt when he handed me the money. Will patted me on the back, smiled, jumped into his Thunderbird and took off. Breaking the tension, I raised the five dollar bill high in the air and told my buddies that fried chicken and beer was on me tonight. This seemed to relieve them.
As the crowd was clearing out, I heard another scream coming from a distance. Tyrone and I turned around and say Mrs. Meadows daughter Clarice choking and screaming at another elderly lady asker her what happened to her mother. Just as they had restrained her mother, several older women restrained Clarice until she was calm enough to be told what had actually happened. Clarice was a beautiful young woman and full of life. Her skin was golden brown matching her succulent brown eyes. Her small frame was delicately proportioned to fit her elegant body. Most of the young men her own age adored her and showered her with gifts in Junior High School and High School up until the time she became pregnant at age fifteen by an older man whom her mother forced to marry her when she reached her eighteenth birthday. Behind the small crowd, I heard the crying of a young child, the child was Clarice’s three year old daughter running up the street half clothed crying out for her mother. One of our neighbors picked up the young child and carried her inside the small circle the women had formed around Clarice.
The sight was becoming so emotional that every house on the block and the surrounding blocks, people were sitting on their porches and discussing what had happened. People were crying and praying in the streets. I was taken back by the support and prayers that were being delivered, however, there was a greater unsuspecting pain ahead of us all that no one ever could have imagined.
Around two o’ clock that afternoon, our neighbors began assembling together up on Linwood Avenue. Easing our way through the mass, we overheard many of them getting together to drive up on Elmhurst and Livernois Avenue where the 10th Precinct was located to inquire about fate of Mrs. Meadows. There were over twenty cars, trucks and vans loaded down with people from ages 8 to 80, willing to embark upon this journey. Walking from car to car, Tyrone, Box Head and I were looking for any space where we could fit in. At the last moment as all the engines began to start, Benford pulled up in his old tow truck and we hopped in the back and sat down beside the pulley on the back of the truck. Leading the humanitarian caravan was Brother Salamm. Salamm was a neighborhood activist whom had served ten years in prison. Upon his release, Salamm returned to the same neighborhood where he once was a pimp and drug dealer and preached against drugs, violence, prostitution and corruption. Many of the people whom knew him before he went to prison respected him and honored him, but many of his old comrades and those whom knew of his prior reputation, laughed at him, scorned him and called him a fraud. Salamm never once allowed them to discourage his new found love for peace and spiritual awareness, and everyday you could see him in the midst of a crowd of children coming home from school my age and younger, explaining to them the values of education and religion. He often pointed to the prostitutes, hustlers, and thieves walking the streets as examples of Moses’ lost flock. Many parents embraced his gallant efforts and many more often times summoned him over to their homes to lecture their sons and daughters whenever they were caught with drugs, weapons or alcohol. No one else in the neighborhood showed as much interest in the youth as he did, or as consistent, be it winter, spring, summer or fall, he was always there. Many people in our neighborhood would argue over whom would cook him a big Sunday dinner. In an effort to appease everyone, he organized a schedule for those whom wanted to cook for him. This didn’t settle all of the disputes, but it brought about a sense of harmony to all.
Tooting his horn five times and turning on his lights, Salamm gave the signal that their journey was in session. At first glance, it looked as if a funeral procession was in progress. Salamm led our caravan at barely ten miles per hour down Joy Road Avenue. Sitting on the back of this truck, people we were passing at stop signs and red lights began asking us what was going on. People in our caravan began yelling out the windows that we were heading to the 10th Precinct to see about an old woman the police had beaten and taken there. Throughout the entire route we had taken, it was the exclusive jurisdiction of the notorious 10th Precinct and many people were aware of the brutality, harassment, torture and fear many of the officers there had inflicted upon them, their families, friends and neighbors alike. Seeing this small procession of vehicles systematically winding its way, many people began to follow us, some in cars, some on bikes and some on foot. By the time we reached Elmhurst Avenue, the caravan had increased from 20 to 45 cars, trucks, vans and people on foot. When we finally reached the front of the 10th Precinct, Salamm stood on top of his car and yelled to everyone to remain calm and collective. Jumping from the back of Benford’s tow truck, we ran to the front where Salamm was standing on the top of his car. Seeing the large congregation outside, several officers, armed with shot guns stood in front of the Precinct. Salamm yelled to them to speak with whomever was in charge. One of the armed officers took off running inside and returned with a gray haired commander whom we had never seen before. Salamm jumped off the hood of his car and met the commander on the front lawn of the Precinct. With his back to us, we could not hear what Salamm was saying to him. Everyone appeared to be silent, absent a few among us whispering to each other. What seemed like an eternity, Salamm shook the commander’s hand, turned to us and yelled:
“Mrs. Meadows is okay, they are going to get her.”
Everyone began cheering and hugging each other. To them Salamm had just performed a miracle.
Mrs. Meadows was escorted out by two officers. Her head had been bandaged, and she was wrapped in a blanket. Feeling the rush from the joyous crowd, she mustered a smile and waved to them as Salamm walked her to his car. Behind her smile, I could see the long drawn pain and agony deep inside her soul. Not knowing what it feels like to lose a son, I could not even begin to imagine what she may have been feeling, but what I did know, is that her face did not express the compassionate facial features we all loved and depended upon each day to bring us a smile.
By: Tony Phish