Privilege on Holiday

One million white people moved back into Detroit on June 10, 1997. They celebrated the Red Wings seizure of hockey's Stanley Cup, absent from the city for 42 years, and the recapture of a city white people mostly fled 30 years ago. They were unafraid and took great pride in their propriety, the decorum that a teenage Bubba helped raze in 1984, after the beloved Tiger's won a rare pennant, as he posed and waved a red team flag beside a burning overturned black cop car. In 1997, thirteen years later, the million white people march, unlike Farrakhan's in its spontaneity, promised not a hint of revolution. Rather, white people rallied to prove their reliability as respectful spectators.

The white people celebrated the four game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers, waved brooms, and attached a hammer and sickle to the flying red wing emblem of the home team. They scoffed at the anti-communist screams of Philly fans, bitter over the Russian presence on the Red Wings, their Flyers individualist style overwhelmed by the Soviet influence on collective hockey play. Some Red Wings fans shouldered red flags. The white people sanitized the revolution and consumed the city's best temporal offerings. They spent more than 40 million dollars in downtown Detroit, underscoring the heady times of the stock market and the rolling dice of Tiger-Red Wing-Pizza-Casino owner Mike Illitch. Capital reigned triumphant, no alternative in sight.

Worried class-conscious heads three miles east in the UAW's Solidarity House, on Jefferson, hoped no one would compare numbers with their dreams of 20,000 mostly white union folks at a planned march against corporate greed on June 21. Then they joined the parade--just as they used their special vantage to invite the industrial working class to watch hydroplane races on the Detroit River, a virtual open sewer but the lone river of three in the city that the demands of capital could not encase in concrete.

The UAW lost 1/2 million members in the decade. A two-year newspaper strike of mostly white people led by the UAW collapsed when the union leadership demanded the right to unconditionally surrender to Knight-Gannet, then threatened to call the police when the corporation reaffirmed its views on class war. The union did not comment about the absence of support for the strike, an action whose demands were never clearly articulated, in what they call "Union Town." The union's "Research Bulletin" says 3.8% of the city's residents are unionized. One UAW member worked the night shift, then brought his two teen-age sons to the celebration, the family hauling a huge rendition of the team mascot, a tentacled octopus sons and Dad crafted together at home.

It is a Red Wing tradition to throw a live octopus on the ice during the Stanley cup playoffs. The tradition became an anathema when Detroit fans showered the ice with plastic octopi during a losing effort against New Jersey two years ago. Then upstart Florida fans began to pelt the ice with plastic rats. The league instituted a minor game penalty for such remunerative rowdiness.

The white people in downtown Detroit on June 10th danced in a city now more than 80% black, where over 100,000 children are without immunizations and the chances of a black child completing high school are one in three, much better odds, though, than those offered gamblers at the city's projected casinos.

The white people patted the noses of mounts ridden by the once-hated Mounted Police Unit, trained to adapt to conditions even better than their masters: calm in serene areas, unbothered by the touch of curious children; in earlier days, charging with stamping feet into crowds of workers or anti-war students. The last chief of police did not make the jubilee. He is in Milan Federal Prison, 60 miles west, unable to explain the one million dollars in cash found stuffed in the ceiling in his modest Detroit home. In 1996, the Detroit Police Department caused the City Council to forfeit nearly one million dollars to citizens bringing suit against police brutality.

Thirty years ago this summer, the city of Detroit was in flames. Troops were recalled from Vietnam to make war on the city's citizens and enforce a twenty-four hour curfew. Cops in the downtown Algiers Motel tortured their captives. More than 40 people were killed. Rumors set the deaths at over 100. More still were corralled in stockades on Belle Isle, once named Pig Island, where the Detroit Grand Prix now runs. It's called an 86 mile test of fuel economy but is a favorite of the black tie set. After the rebellion, a national commission decried white racism as the source of the uprising. 100,000 black workers got industrial jobs around the U.S. Poverty programs boomed. City ADC roles doubled in four years. The night-raids of welfare workers looking for men in the house came to a quick halt. White folks left Detroit in droves, using freeways. The immediate cause of the rebellion was a fierce police assault on a passenger car.

Hockey is more white than any other major North American professional sport. It's played by the children of working class Canadians, miners kids; and with more frequency now, U.S. college grads raised on rinks and accustomed to playing on glass-ice with ample pads and mouth guards. These are the fellows with their teeth. They inherit a few of the traditions of their predecessors like Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion, "Leapin' Lou" Fontinato, Rocket Richard, Terry Sawchuck, "Gump" Worsley, no-masked goalies and corner grinders from earlier days. Surely present millionaire hockey salaries are built on the bloody stitch work done on the benches in hockey's golden era.

Urban planners at Wayne State University in central Detroit privately wonder what will happen to the black super-exploited class when Detroit's center is fully reclaimed in fact and in consciousness--when it is possible to remove the barricades in front of the Renaissance Center on the river front. The planned population shifts that disappeared Hastings Street, the Black Bottom; simply reshuffled the poor from one inner city area to another. White citizens of an area known as Poletown had some mobility, though they resisted the capture of their city by the radical Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and General Motors. One Poletown parish priest who stood with a cross in front of his church to deflect oncoming bulldozers died of related stress. GM won. Their plant won't pay taxes until the next millennium. The residents lost and moved away.

But the reassigning of downtown, now that property values are destroyed, means there will be a poor black population with nowhere to go, with ever more collapsed schools, and no tax base or good will to draw upon. It will be important to somehow move the poor again, to areas where they are not too unsightly, where they can burn yet destroy no value, but where they are a sufficient presence to remind Red Wings fans how lucky they should believe they are.

Red Wings fans did not feel hockey luck for some time. Since 1957, the Red Wings failed to win the cup. In the interim, hockey, then the domain of only the finest in the world, was diluted--expanded beyond the western world pool of good skaters--as the Wings, derided as Dead Things, lost year on year. Brawling substituted for skill for nearly a decade. Even a close series between the everyman for himself style of Canadian hockey and the incessant passing of the collectivist U.S.S.R. teams failed to influence North American clubs. In Detroit, an ex-college coach named Ned Harkness oversaw the tailspin of the Wings and the century's greatest athlete, Gordie Howe, number 9, complained that he was treated like a mushroom, kept in the dark and fed crap. Howe quit and left town.

Unrestrainable capital quietly lets the big eat the small, unconcerned as all become commodities. In 1995, Michigan's governor swept 90,000 people off public assistance. They no longer had vouchers to sleep in verminous downtown hotels whose owners quickly went belly up. Now the poor march on a trail worn smooth around the city, shelter to shelter, and their old slumlords are forced to sell cheap to the very rich who can orchestrate the future--gambling, spectacles, and food for those that can buy it cooked. The Red Wings walloped the Flyers, blind-sided them. An embittered Flyer superstar, Eric Lindross, risking all on the ice as he recovered from a back injury, demanded his coach's head. The coach's boss, Bobby Clark, a diabetic ex-Flyers star whose toothless maniacal grin symbolized the "Broad Street Bully" Philly days, fired his old pal the coach, tethering Lindross for a future Lindross believes he will control.

Ted Lindsay started the tradition of a Stanley Cup winning captain taking a victory lap with the trophy held high over his head. Terrible Ted who led the Red Wings to their heights in the fifties, the fellow with a road map face carved by competitors sticks, did not attend the play-offs and was not seen in the celebrations. Ted was the fellow who formed the players union. Only Canadian television mentioned his name. Gordie Howe, back in the city selling cheap mattresses on late night TV, was interviewed once, blinked, and smiled forgivingly.

Detroit's African-American Mayor Archer, the Democrats best hope for black votes, was prominent, broom in hand. A Clinton Democrat, he had earlier threatened to join Republican Governor Engler in seizing the corrupt Detroit schools. City voters had, two years earlier, passed a multi-million dollar bond issue to build and repair schools. No building or repairs followed. The school board rejected Freedom of Information requests to discover the money's path. The board's auditor resigned when it was learned she had no auditing background. White suburban citizens were shocked, shocked. Early in the century, Detroit's white populist Mayor Hazen Pingree ordered the arrest of an entire school board of white people who he believed he had fixed, on grounds that, "You are so corrupt, you won't stay bribed", putting the lie to the notion that black people alone cannot govern themselves, and that anyone governs capital. Mayor Archer and Engler thought twice. Once one seizes Detroit's schools, one is responsible for them. The unlikely pair disregarded the threat. Archer's good friend, pizza's Big Czar Mike Illitch, owner of the Tigers and Wings, will have a new stadium before the new high schools are built. On June 10, Archer said he was proud to be mayor of a city that could celebrate without arrests.

That same day, fans sat on the head of Hazen Pingree's statue. They also danced on top of Detroit's salt mines. The city is undergirded by a vast system of mines. The few visitors to the shafts were struck by the youthful appearance of the work force, preserved like the machines they warehoused underground once they were worn out. The workers said they did not miss their own aging. Most reported they loved the work and hardly noticed time passing. No salt miners' kids became National Hockey League players. The mines are closed now. Not long ago, the mines were considered good real estate, for sale to store nuclear waste.

Burton International School, in a wealthy suburb, dismissed ten classes to attend the parade downtown, a journey unthinkable to white suburban parents months earlier. The lead teacher said she used hockey's play-offs to incorporate geography (distances between cities) and non-violence, "Because they shake hands at the end".

The night of their final win Red Wings players took the trophy to a West Bloomfield bar. West Bloomfield is overwhelmingly white, but has a black population that earns, per capita, more than its white residents. The black bourgeoisie wanted out of Detroit as well. The Red Wings partied so long that the limo drivers left, leaving the stretch autos in the parking lot. Suburban police drove the players home, safe and sound.

Two days later, the thirty-five pound silver Stanley Cup rode the downtown victory parade in a convertible with Red Wings Captain Steve Yzerman. "I thought winning the cup was everything. But today, coming down Woodward, was what it was for. This is unity."

On Friday, June 13, 1997, at 8:45 p.m., a white limousine chauffeured by an unlicensed driver, went out of control and struck a tree in the center of Woodward Avenue, in Lindsay's fifties the artery to downtown Detroit's Olympia stadium. Two Russian Red Wing players, a Russian trainer, and the driver were severely injured. Vladimer Konstantinov, "The Vladinator", the "Ghost-Rider on Ice-skates", suffered massive head injuries and survived on a ventilator. White fans built a shrine at the site of the accident, photographing one another over wreaths and team flags. Captain Yzerman, speaking at the hospital, said, "Yesterday I thought winning was everything. Now I know it's your health". Konstantinov, days earlier, had crushed one of Philly's Flyers with a play-of-the day hammer of a check, legally levelling an onrushing skater amateurish enough to look over his shoulder to foresee a passed puck. Konstantinov, at the million white person rally, said, "This cup is for you, for you..." The fans went wild.