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Michigan City, Indiana: It Couldn't Happen Here

By Liberation NEWS Service

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind.-Blacks have taken to the streets in this quiet All-American city (1966 Look Magazine award).

Michigan City, a lakeside resort east of the few Indiana sand dunes saved from industrial destruction, is one of those places where people say, "it could never happen here" no matter what the issue. The main street has a new mall. The police wear American flags over their right shirt pockets.

Many of the city's 39,000 people work in local factories ranging from heavy industry (like Pullman Bethlehem Steel) or small, light manufacturing (such as Arno Tape).

Unlike the cities around Gary, Michigan City is not just a workers' town: there's a sizeable local bourgeoisie. Also, there are fewer blacks, about 13 per cent, virtually all of them segregated off into a corner of the north side of town where the houses are old and deteriorating.


Sammie's is a crowded bar and pool-room that is a favorite northside hangout. It is located within a couple of blacks of the NAACP office (the only black political organization in town). The local newspaper and the police station are also located near Sammie's.

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 11, while the city was still crowded with some of the 100,000 visitors who had come for the annual Summer Festival parade, Walter Gipson. a 27-year-old black factory worker, was heading from Sammie's to his car when a white policeman pulled up.

"I walked across the street," Gipson said. "He was pulling over. I said something to one of the fellows sitting on mycar and asked what was going on. He stopped his car, jumped out and asked me what I said to him. I said, 'Nothing, what did you hear me say?'

"I didn't hear you say anything but I read your lips." He told me to move my car and park it right (it was parked legally but improperly). I was on my way back into the poolroom and he said, 'Hey boy, if you think you're so bad you come back here.' He invited me outside for a fight. I said, 'Take your gun off and I'll fight you."

The policeman allegedly started to push into the crowded poolroom but was shoved back. More cops arrived. Suddenly they sprayed Gipson and two bystanders, Adolph Banks, 27, a welder, and James Henley, an insurance salesman, with Mace. All three were arrested.

Later that evening a few windows were broken. Part of a lumber yard and a cleaner's across from Sammie's burned, probably from molotov cocktails. Dozens of windows in local business of fices were trashed. Mayor Courad Kominiarek panicked and declared a state of emergency under a statute passed last year.

Sunday Festival activities were canceled, and the mayor and some local black representatives met, but as the curfew was enforced ??? evening, more skirmishes erupted; ???indows were broken, a few rocks were thrown at autos. Several more buildings suffered fire damage, and a few shots were fired at the police.

The governor sent in 150 guardsmen to back up state troopers, sheriffs and 73 city police. Roads were blocked off. One 14-year-old black youth was shot in the leg by police, and several dozen arrests were made.

For all the fuss, the rebellion was restrained and it seemed blacks had the situation more in hand than did the frenzied authorities. "They made it sound like a big thing," one young worker hanging out by Sammie's said later in the week, "but it wasn't shit." He pointed to a big pile of rubble from a building destroyed by urban-renewal, saying television cameramen had been photographing it as "riot damage."

"They wouldn't have sent for no troops if they weren't scared," a Vietvet home on leave said. "Police ain't shit in Michigan City. The pigs think it's all over now but it ain't even started. This is just letting the pigs here know we aren't satisfied, and we aren't afraid. We want our rights or we'll burn the place down."

Lack of jobs, bad and segregated housing, u?ban destruction with little reconstruction, and harassment from police were the basic grievances. With blacks hanging out in the parks on hot night, police had decided to enforce the evening cunfew. Any job is hard to find because of the recession, but the good jobs are almost always denied to blacks.

By Tuesday, July 14, the Guard was pulled out and the curfew cut back. Eight white city officials (there is one black city councilman in the local government and a few black police) received a middle-class community delegation in the tidy new brick courtroom in the police station.

The officials' response ranged from befuddlement to obstructionism as the community delegation presented 12 demands, including a "hot line" on community problems, regulations on police conuct, suspension of the cop who arrested Gipson, appointment of several black city officials, tenants representation on the public housing board, and pressure from the mayor on the banks to make loans for housing available to blacks.

Not only were the demands weak, but a large segment of the community noted that the middle-class blacks and whites who had long made NAACP so weak were the "spokesmen" the mayor heard.

"I don't recognize any of them," shouted one worker as he stomped out of a meeting where the argument had centered on which ministers to include on the negotiating committee.

In response to demands for regulation of police conduct, the deputy prosecutor (also the attorney for the Human Relations Commission) read off the standard police instructions to be courteous, respect property, and so on.

"Everybody has these rules," one man challenged. "That doesn't interest me as much as who punishes them if they break the rules."

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