But that was just the beginning. On the very hot night of June 16, 1969, about 500 U-M students and street kids began an unplanned celebration on South University Avenue with wine, firecrackers, and unrestrained good cheer. In the midst of all this a motorcyclist engaged in some stunt riding, and the police ticketed him. Energized by the confrontation, the party continued past midnight. The next day the Detroit media pumped up the story, and that night the disturbance swelled to about 2,000 participants, prompting about 300 city, county, and state police to use night sticks, Mace, and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The next morning, kids distributed leaflets inviting everybody to party again. The White Panther Party, in coalition with Students for a Democratic Society and the Rent Strike Committee, issued a list of demands, including closing South University to traffic and putting police under “Community Control so the Fascist Pigs won’t continue to run amuck.”
That night, an estimated 1,500 people showed up. Douglas Harvey, the hard-nosed, confrontational county sheriff, established a beachhead at Washtenaw and South University, placing a borrowed army tank in the center of the street, flanked by parallel rows of snarling police dogs. More peaceably, Mayor Harris and U-M president Robben Fleming met with several hundred of the dissidents in the square behind the Administration Building. Although the meeting was predictably raucous and punctuated with catcalls and insults, it helped to calm the tension. So did a performance by the White Panthers’ “house band,” the MC5. Finally, the air cooled, the conflict dissipated, and the streets returned to the People (well, some of the People).