One would have a hard time imagining the late 1960's and early 1970's if they were not from that era. This was a time of great social upheaval with the Vietnam War, drugs, the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and an atmosphere that encouraged students to challenge “the establishment.”
S. University Street and the Diag were commonly referred to as the “People's Park.” This is the area that the hippies and students staged their protests. These protests often led to clashes with the Ann Arbor Police Department. City leaders were forced to deal with these issues, trying to deal with them as delicately as possible, often to the chagrin of some in the community who thought the “hippies” were being coddled.
Often these protests turned violent and in April of 1968, the National Guard was called up. All of the guardsmen in the lower peninsula were kept on stand-by duty due to the disorder. When the guardsmen were in Ann Arbor, they stayed at the National Guard Armory, which was located at the corner of Fifth and Ann. The guardsmen stayed there for a number of nights in April, due to student unrest. The National Guard Armory is now the site of condominiums, but on the face of the building in brick is still inscribed “Armory.”
Police officers were often painted as the “bad guys” in these incidents. An article from the Detroit News in June of 1969, describes a riot which occurred on S. University. The article begins by stating, “Club-swinging police again clashed with Ann Arbor's “street people.” The Detroit Free Press described the riot as “two nights of head busting clashes.”
In this particular riot, students were gathering on S. University for a self proclaimed “street party.” This was organized after a group of students had protested to the city council about alleged police harassment during the investigation of the “co-ed killings.” The crowd continued to “liberate” S. University as the street took on a festive air. One couple had a sex in the middle of the street while the crowd gathered around and cheered them on. Others danced, drank and set off fireworks.
The crowd grew more violent and a decision was by command officers to clear them. University President Robben Fleming pleaded with Deputy Chief Olson to give him more time to move back the crowd. Chief Olson agreed to 15 minutes but only 5 minutes elapsed before an officer was struck in the head by a rock and fell to the ground. The chief had seen enough and ordered the street cleared.
Police officials felt they had to move in and break up the crowd as it grew more violent and merchants along S. University were fearful of damage to their stores.
The crowd turned against the police and the riot broke out. One officer was engulfed in flames as a firebomb exploded at his feet. The rioters threw molotov cocktails and other types of firebombs at the officers. Police responded with tear gas and swept the streets in riot gear. Many persons were injured in the rioting and buildings were damaged before the disturbance was quelled. Some officers had long guns with bayonets attached as they marched into the crowd.
Over 1,500 people had confronted the officers. In the end the street was taken back, but not before 16 officers were injured and 25 people were arrested. Ann Arbor Police were aided by the Washtenaw, Monroe and Oakland Sheriff's Department, along with the Michigan State Police.
Here is how a local underground newspaper described the incident: “Last night at about 8:00 p.m. about 50 brothers and sisters were getting together on South U., enjoying ourselves drawing on the sidewalk in colored chalk and diggin' the motorcycle people riding by doing wheelies and just generally gettin' down, when one lone pig (policeman) showed up to bust a cycle brother. The people charged the street and surrounded the pig yellin' to the fucker to let the brother go.
“It was too much for the punk to handle. He got on his radio and in about five minutes there were four other pig cars and about 10 pigs moving everyone back across the street. By this time there were 200–300 brothers and sisters moving about.
“Soon the people moved into the street dancing and just getting down. We blocked off S. University at Forest with anything we could find. The street was ours! The pigs never came back and the crowd, which had grown to 1000, were really understanding what ‘Power to the people’ means.”
In any event, the street was eventually cleared after they were done “getting down.” Interestingly, many of the marches were in an effort to “liberate” S. University. The protestors wanted S. University blocked off to make it a true “people's park.”
In response to rumors that the police were brutal in quelling the riot, Ann Arbor Mayor Robert Harris published a letter to the university community about the incident. He stated, “The sad events of last night were not a ‘police riot’; they were not Chicago all over again. On Monday night a group of young people, almost none of them university students, attempted to take over a city street. Last night a group attempted to take over the same street. The group came armed with bottles, cement, bricks and other weapons. When the police ordered them to leave, one youth attacked a police officer with a knife and others threw rocks at the police.
“In the course of the evening, as police tried to keep crowds off the street, they were time and time again pelted with large rocks-from people in the crowd and on top of buildings. We will not allow S. University to be taken over by a small group who declare themselves to be the ‘people.’
I hope there is no further trouble along S. University. I ask students, in the event of further trouble, to stay off the streets and not join in.”
In July of 1969, the White Panthers applied for a permit for a rock concert at West Park. City officials were warned against approving a permit, but did so anyway. During the concert there was rampant marijuana smoking, minors drinking and at least two people that exposed themselves, one of them on stage.
Ann Arbor officers only made one arrest, which enraged not only local citizens, but the police officers themselves. It was rumored that the officers were told not to make any arrests, for fear of rioting by the crowds. This decision was said to have come from the city administrator, which further angered the officers. The police officers association blasted the city's “hands off” policy when it came to the protests, that were now rampant in Ann Arbor.
Chief Krasny denied this stating, “The decision on the manner in which we would police West Park was made by me, as chief of police. At no time have the mayor or the administrator directed this office specifically on police operations.”
Sheriff Harvey decided to enter the fray stating if Ann Arbor Officers are prevented from making arrests from “local politicians” that he would have his deputies make arrests in city parks.
Sheriff Harvey stated, “It's about time somebody stood up and drew the line against this animal conduct.
“The decent people of this area have a few rights too, like not having to put up with hopheads, sex nuts and public drunks.”
City Administrator Larcom stated Sheriff Harvey could be of assistance by “working with our chief in a cooperative manner as he previously indicated he would.” Obviously there was not much love lost between city officials and Sheriff Harvey.
Sheriff Harvey thought the city should be much more forceful when dealing with the student protestors, while it is obvious that the city felt it was better to be as non-confrontational as possible. This is just one of many instances where the city adopted this type of approach.
These photographs of Sergeants Norm Olmstead and Calvin Hicks were published in a local underground newspaper.
John Sinclair, one of the major spokesmen for the “Hippie” movement was convicted for possession of marijuana in July of 1969, which at that time carried a prison term of 10 years in prison. Sinclair was the leader of the White Panthers Movement and the Trans-Love Energies communal residence in Ann Arbor.
Sinclair was a thorn in the side of local law enforcement and no doubt his conviction was met with smiles at local police stations. The case is hard to believe by today's standard as Sinclair had given two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover police officer in Detroit. Unfortunately for Sinclair, Wayne County juries were not so sympathetic about marijuana offenses and he was sentenced to 9 to 10 years in prison.
The rally cry of “Free John Now” soon became the slogan for the White Panthers and Sinclair's arrest drew national attention. Poet Allen Ginsberg came to Ann Arbor to raise money for Sinclair's defense.
Momentum built and on December 10, 1971, a “Free John Now” rally was held at Crisler Arena. Over 15,000 people crammed the arena for the rally which started at 7:15 p.m. and continued until 3:30 a.m.
The rally featured Ginsberg, Black Panther Chairman Bobby Seale, three members of the “Chicago Seven,” John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. The crowd roared it's approval when John Lennon sung a song he had written for the occasion called “John Sinclair,” which called for his freedom.
Sinclair was indeed freed after serving two years for the crime as the Michigan Supreme Court threw out the government's case against him, calling the sentence “excessive.”
Sinclair's White Panthers, which later changed it's name to the Rainbow People's Party, drew not only the attention of local authorities but also the federal government. U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell authorized the F.B.I to wire tap the phones at the Headquarters of the White Panthers at 1520 Hill street. This was based in part, due to the on-going investigations of the bombings which were occurring on campus.
When Pum Plamondon was arrested for the bombings, his attorneys objected to the wiretaps, which were authorized without consent from a judge. Federal Judge Damon Keith ruled that the wiretaps were illegal and the next day the F.B.I. withdrew them from the headquarters of the White Panthers. Charges against Plamondon were eventually dropped.
On September 25, 1969, 108 youths began a sit-in at the Literature, Science and Arts Building, on campus. The sit-in was not in protest to the Vietnam War, but due the university administration's refusal to allow a student controlled bookstore on campus. President of the University, Robben Flemming, went to the building and told the students they would be arrested if they did not leave. With him was a university photographer, who was taking pictures. The group became angry and began assaulting the photographer, pushing him down a flight of stairs and stealing the film from the camera.
Chief Krasny, Sheriff Harvey and the State Police began mobilizing their officers as mass arrests were feared. University officials wanted to wait out the protestors initially, which was agreed to by the authorities. The university wanted to obtain an injunctive order against the protestors. This angered Sheriff Harvey who stated, “I'm not going to have these men hang around all night while Fleming decides if he wants some wrists slapped. We've been ready to go for three hours. If he's not going to do anything, my men are going home.”
The injunctive order was issued, but could not be served by Chief Krasny, due to the crowd gathered outside the building. A crowd of over 1000 people blocked the chief's entrance to the protestors and he was greeted with a stream of catcalls as he was forced to turn back. These people had gathered outside in support.
At 2:15 in the morning, a line of 30 police cruisers headed for the building, as it was felt that arrests for trespassing now had to be made. At 3:30 a.m. the officers entered the building in mass and arrested all of the protestors. The protestors were placed on buses and taken to the police department, where they were booked on the charges.