Looking Back at William Walter Scott III, The Man Who Started the 1967 Riot in Detroit

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Bill Scott threw the first bottle after infamous police raid on his father’s blind pig

This is the first of a three-part series looking at the role of William Walter Scott III in instigating the 1967 Detroit riot. There articles originally appeared on the Bridge magazine website as: He started the Detroit riot. His son wrestles with the carnage

This story contains crude language

As much of the city slept, 19-year-old William Walter Scott III stood at the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount, watching as police escorted scores of black patrons out of a blind pig on Detroit’s west side.

It was about 3:45 a.m. July 23, 1967. William Scott, known as Bill, was among a crowd of mostly young African Americans gathering to watch the police hustle club patrons into waiting paddy wagons. He had a particular interest in two of the people being led away.

His father, William Walter Scott II, was the principal owner of the club, an illegal after-hours drinking and gambling joint. His older sister, Wilma, was a cook and waitress. The night was hot and sticky, and the crowd’s initial teasing of the arrestees devolved into raucous goading of police as they became more aggressive, pushing and twisting the arms of the women.

“You don’t have to treat them that way,” Bill Scott yelled. “They can walk. Let them walk, you white sons of bitches.”

By the time the wagons were full, the crowd had swelled, the taunts had grown more hostile and, though police manpower was thin early Sunday, several scout cars responded to the scene. Cops stood at the ready in the middle of 12th Street, billy clubs in hand, forcing the throng back on the sidewalk.

Scott, tall and lean, mounted a car and began to preach to a crowd long accustomed to the harsh tactics of the overwhelmingly white Detroit police in black neighborhoods: “Are we going to let these peckerwood motherf—— come down here any time they want and mess us around?”

“Hell, no!” people yelled back.

Scott walked into an alley and grabbed a bottle, seeking “the pleasure of hitting one in the head, maybe killing him,” he remembers thinking. Making his way into the middle of the crowd for cover, he threw the bottle at a sergeant standing in front of the door.

The missile missed, shattering on the sidewalk. A phalanx of police moved toward the crowd, then backed off. As the paddy wagons drove away, bottles, bricks and sticks flew through the air, smashing the windows of departing police cars. Bill Scott said he felt liberated.

“For the first time in our lives we felt free. Most important, we were right in what we did to the law.”

The rebellion was under way.

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Source: Detroit News | Bill McGraw, Bridge magazine