Actor Courtney B. Vance said one of his earliest interactions with law enforcement occurred during the 1967 Detroit protests for racial justice when, as a seven-year-old child, a soldier "turned his bayonet" on him.
“We grew up in Detroit in '68, with the riots in '67, and we lived on West Grand Boulevard, and the tanks came right down our street,” Vance said on SiriusXM’s The Joe Madison Show Wednesday. “And I was into G.I. Joe, and I went down... and I saw G.I. Joe, and I took off, before my parents could get me. Because I was going to get G.I. Joe! And the soldier turned his bayonet on me."
Vance said that he was "in shock" as his parents pulled him away from soldier and that the interaction was a "defining moment" for him.
The 1967 Detroit riots followed a period of simmering tension between the Detroit Police Department and the city's Black residents, which was marked by police brutality, racial profiling and other forms of racial injustice, according to the Detroit Free Press. This tension culminated in a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar on the city's West Side, during which the more than 80 patrons present were arrested. Former Michigan Gov. George W. Romney called in the Michigan National Guard and President Lyndon B. Johnson enlisted the U.S. Army to curtail the protests, which lasted five days. By their end, 43 people had died, more than 300 were injured and thousands of people were arrested. The majority of those who died in the protests were killed by police.
Vance equated his interaction with the solider to other momentous occasions in his life, like casting his first vote in the 1980 presidential election, the death of his father and his education.
"My father dying at 30 and dealing with that, but probably the first one was when I was eight and my parents asked me where I was going to go to school," Vance said. "And I was going to go to the Catholic school that I was in, and my parents made the decision to take the scholarship. It was not a full scholarship, but it still was going to impact our family very strongly, and send me to a private school, Detroit Country Day and shift my life."
He said that the current protests of police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, are an "opportunity" to combat the racial injustice he first witnessed at that protest in the '60s, adding that Derek Chauvin, the white officer who was filmed kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes and who has since been charged with second degree murder, used a "hunter's move" on Floyd.
"They sit on the deer's neck until the fight goes out, and the deer just suffocates and dies after he’s been shot so he doesn't buck around and stab you with his antlers. It was a hunter’s move,” Vance said. “That’s a man there. That’s somebody’s father, that’s somebody's uncle, that’s somebody's brother, that’s somebody’s son ... This is an opportunity for us to begin to go to the table once again and say, now is the time. Not patience. We’ve been patient. Now is the time."