1890 – The Lakota are massacred at Wounded Knee

Colonel James Forsyth of the US Cavalry led a force of approximately 500 soldiers into the Lakota camp at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the morning of December 29, 1890. Their intent was to disarm the Lakota tribespeople there, as there was great concern among the European-descended American population that the Native American ‘Ghost Dance’ portended a revolutionary uprising.

Nothing could have been further from the truth, but after literally centuries of slaughtering, deceiving and cheating the native tribes, the American people and their government found it hard to believe that the Indian’s response could be anything other than violence. Tragically, due to the intransigence and fearfulness of Forsyth’s troop, as soon as a single shot was fired (apparently by accident), it became the signal to open fire without restraint or mercy.

Ninety men of the Lakota, and two hundred of their women and children were slaughtered in the ensuing violence, more than half the residents of the camp. Despite claims that the killings happened due to the chaos of battle (which does no doubt account for a good number of them), the fact that some women and children were pursued as far as two miles to be murdered by cavalrymen undermines the idea that this was just a misunderstanding. Twenty of the 500 cavalrymen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their deeds at Wounded Knee (compare this to a total of three Medals of Honor awarded among 64,000 South Dakotans who fought in World War Two).

The massacre is generally seen to mark the end of the American Indian Wars (although there were a few smaller incidents in the following weeks). Henceforth, the genocide of the Native Americans would be pursued by slower and subtler means.

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1967 – The 12th Street Riot takes place in Detroit

The second largest riot in United States history (eclipsed only the Los Angeles riots of 1992), the 12th Street Riot was begun with a police raid on an illegal seller of alcohol in the early hours of Sunday, July 23 of 1967. When resistance was encountered by the police, the raid swiftly spiralled out of control.

By sunrise on the 23rd, the riot was well underway and looting had begun throughout the neighbourhood. By the time the riot was finally quelled on the 27th, it had grown to such a point that the army had been called in, and the peace was enforced with guns and tanks. The death toll was 43 people, with another 467 injured. Police made more than 7000 arrests, and more than two thousand buildings were sufficiently damaged that they were either destroyed outright or needed demolition.

The riot remains a subject of some dispute today, with allegations made on both sides as to the conduct of the other side. The fact that the majority of deaths, injuries and arrests that took place were those of negroes has often been cited as evidence of racism on the part of the Detroit police and the US Army. There is even some question of whether this was a riot, or a rebellion that was put down very early in its progress. Certainly the aftermath of the riot was not good for Detroit. Nearly 200,000 whites moved out of the city in the following two and a half years, afraid of another black uprising, taking with them money, jobs and businesses, and crippling Detroit for many years thereafter.

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Det.riot ’67 – Moodymann
Detroit ’67 – Sam Roberts
Panic in Detroit – David Bowie
The Motor City Is Burning – MC5
Black Day in July – Gordon Lightfoot