I’m sometimes asked, “Where did you come up with that idea?” Those who know me, know also, I can be “wordy”! I decided, to better explain this work, I’ll give you the short version in MY words, then share with you, the true inspiration for this piece. A news article from the ’67 riots in Detroit.
For a long while, I was running “swinging meat” out of Kansas and Colorado, to a meat packer in inner Detroit. I was running a double-wide cab-over Peterbuilt during that era. The procedure was always the same in that ill-fated neighborhood. Arrive in Detroit at the receiver, BACK the trailer up against a neighboring abandoned building, or butt up back-to-back against a truck who’d arrived before me. That way, “they” couldn’t break into the trailer and steal the beef, while I napped. Check in with the receiving clerk when he came to work at 4:00 a.m., then wait until it was my turn to unload. The infamous building, which hosted the notorious party that eventually brought Detroit to its knees, ironically managed to survive the riot virtually unscathed, while much of 12th Street burned to the ground. THAT building has also been razed some time ago.
Across the alley from the receiver where I delivered, sat an abandoned, burnt out warehouse, leftover still, from the ’67 riots. This piece of emergency equipment, sitting there ironically, now protected from the elements, refusing to rust away. On occasion, when there was time, I often strolled across the alley and examined the remains. As always, I took dozens of photographs, but before I could “paint” the piece I had to know more about it… The heart-wrenching stories I read, range from a police officer killed two days away from retirement to a four-year-old girl whose world of dolls and tea parties ended in a hail of bullets meant for someone else. It means more than “just a painting”.
The following newspaper account, is only part of what I tried to communicate while my thoughts progressed. You should read the article, to understand the tribute.
Fire Alarm: “As the first day of the riot ended, several hundred people had been injured, more than 1,300 had been arrested. The fire department had received 209 alarms. Nearly one mile of Twelfth Street was in flames. Police estimated that 5,000 people on the West Side and 3,000 on the East Side were involved in the looting and destruction. National Guardsmen, were appalled and angered, and one was reported as stating, “I’m gonna shoot anything that moves….” By 10:00 p.m. on Monday, the official report was fourteen dead, and more than 800 people injured, including 30 policemen and 15 firemen.
There were reports of more than 100 fires and two of those were in police stations. At 11:00 p.m., it was concluded that local law enforcement could not control the situation. By 11:20 p.m., the executive order by President Johnson was approved and Federal troops were sent, as well as federalizing the National Guardsmen. President Johnson had a powerful concern about sending troops to Detroit. Daily anti-war demonstrations branded him as the sole cause of the Vietnam War. Johnson feared the media would charge that “…we cannot kill enough people in Vietnam, so we go out and shoot civilians in Detroit.”
Carl Smith was a thirty-two-year-old Veteran of the fire department. He had worked there for 5 years. On Monday, Smith and his Company were at the Department’s Mobilization Center on the East Side, when a call came in for 1130 Grand River. The unit was dispatched, and upon arrival was faced with heavy sniper fire, between looters and the police and National Guardsmen. A Detroit News reporter was also on the scene and watched in amazement as National Guardsmen took 7 shots to hit a nearby street light, that would help cover fellow officers.
During all of the chaos, Smith was separated from his unit, and when he looked up, he noticed his truck on the other side of the street. Smith made a decision to make a run for the truck and get some cover. He ran out, right between where guardsmen and police had said the hostile fire had originated. As he reached his truck, he ducked down behind a trash bin.
Witnesses stated that Smith peeked out to look around for a safer place, when he suddenly slapped a hand to his forehead, and fell forward. Because of continuing gunfire, it took police 40 minutes to reach Smith, who was dead. A medical exam determined that a bullet passing through his head had killed Smith.
An American flag covered his casket that was mounted to a bright red pumper truck, and taken for burial at Elmwood Cemetery…”
And so you see. It’s not just a painting of an abandoned piece of emergency equipment….