Interview with Ronald Scott

Okay, you had talked about the police as an occupation force. Can you talk about the relationship?


Well the relationship between the Black community and the Detroit Police Department was one that was, um, at best, uh, tenuous. It was at worst a continuing conflict, a continuing series of, of conflicts whereby, as was customary in those days and is customary today, a lot of, uh, Black guys would stand on the corner, lot of other friends of mine stand on the corner back in those days, in the '50s and '60s, you'd stand on the corner and you'd doowap, you know, so forth. But just maybe just standing around would draw what, uh, uh, came to be known as The Big Four. It was a group of four police officers, usually White, who would ride around and basically terrorize individuals who were standing on the corner. And, uh, tell 'em, ride around the block, for instance, and say, "We want that corner, and you better not be there when we come back." I mean it didn't matter what you were doing. If they told you to leave, you had to leave. So when they would come around the corner, if you weren't gone, usually one person would be singled out, beaten, harassed, maybe taken down, or whatever the case may be. And in those days the police department, uh, was the pardon the pun, they were the law, I mean they didn't have to answer to anybody, um, except their own, uh, peers. The community was, the Black community was not represented in the police department to any great degree. Ah, when you saw a Black cop it was a, a unique occurrence. So generally speaking, the police department uh, as represented by The Big Four and... a number of other uh, individuals cops. The cops back in those days as individuals all had reputations. There was a guy called Rotation Slim for instance, who was known as a guy like a cowboy who would come and kick in your door if you did something wrong. You know, uh, there were, uh, there was a guy that they called, legendary guy called Chew Tobacco 'cause he chewed tobacco and would walk up on somebody, take their gun, and spit chew tobacco, chewing tobacco in their face. These were the legendary so-called tough, street cops who would strike fear in the hearts of, uh, people in the Black community. My father and other people would talk about how these guys were, uh, you know, to be avoided at all cost. And, um, I'll never forget. It was, uh, I was, when I was about eight or nine years old the guy, uh, who was known as chewing tobacco was, uh, shot by a, a barricaded gunman. And, uh, this was in, in a, and the, the guy was, it was in a Black neighborhood. Anyway, he walked up to the door and he was going to kick the door in. As he kicked the door in, the guy, you know, shot buckshot in his face. Now, he even became more legendary after that because though the buckshot splattered in his face he still lived, and walked in and drug the guy out. Or dragged the guy out, rather. So. You know, so these, these guys were, um, were there in my opinion, uh, basically to make sure that the Black community and people in my neighborhood never felt that they wanted to do anything that would draw the police into a confrontation with them. Ah, people generally, many people generally feared the police, except the guys who, uh, normally, uh, a lot of the guys on the street who were involved in, uh, in the life as it were. They didn't really fear the cops that much. I mean, they never really decided to fear.