"In Detroit, when you were the wrong color, at the wrong place, at the wrong time…"
In 1964, the City of Detroit was a different place. The radio airwaves were filled with the sounds of Motown, the Beach Boys, and the eclectic songs of the British Invasion. Young teenagers were racing their Ford Mustangs and Pontiac GTO’s down Woodward and Gratiot Avenues. They were living carefree lives, far away from the urban unrest, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War.
Back then, the streets of the Motor City were aggressively patrolled by its racist police department, led by their tactical four-man patrol squads who forcefully controlled the city. They enforced an unspoken curfew that only applied to African Americans, as many of them were harassed for simply walking the streets after midnight. In the Thirteenth Precinct, their ‘Tac Squad’
was notoriously called ‘The Big Four’
. These four corrupt police officers pursued young blacks, as many of them were abused and detained. Black prostitutes who walked the streets after hours were routinely raped and beaten.
The Big Four exploited those victims who happened to be of the wrong color, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Some of them were ruthlessly beaten. Some of them were arrested and held in jail cells without cause. Some of them were anonymously murdered, with their lifeless bodies left in abandoned lots far away from the lights of the city.
Anthony ‘Tony’ Fiorello
and Wesley Norris
were University of Detroit law students who became the best of friends. Tony was a spoiled rich kid from Grosse Point who barely finished law school, while Wesley was a poor African American who graduated at the top of his class. Their bond was an unbreakable friendship, vowing to have each other’s backs. When Tony took an affluent job with a boutique law firm in downtown Detroit, Wesley was hired as Wayne County’s new assistant prosecutor.
Once Norris became wise to the unfathomable crimes of The Big Four, he used the full force of the law to go after them. A shooting incident at a motel on Eight Mile Road instigated the infamous Detroit Riots of 1967
, and the young prosecutor knew they were responsible. Norris was repeatedly warned, ordered to step back and walk away. But as he attempted to bring justice against them, they were subsequently exonerated for their crimes. Wesley’s life was now in danger.
One evening in November 1968, Wesley Norris was found dead in the basement prison of the Thirteenth Precinct, hanging by his necktie in a caged jail cell. Broken with grief, Tony Fiorello left his cushy job and took a low-paying position as a prosecuting attorney. What happened afterwards changed the trajectory of Detroit’s minorities and its urban unrest by those who were harassed and abused by ‘The Big Four’
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