Rollin: The Rise of the Drug Economy in Detroit

2010, Drugs  -  82 min Leave a Comment
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Detroit was once the seed of the world's greatest economic empire - the auto-industry. Whether you came from Southern Europe, the Middle East or the American South the factories were always hiring and the pay was good. But as this empire of cars weakened and crumbled the city's economy began to revolve around a new business - illegal drug distribution.

Between 1965 and 1970 violent crime more than doubled in the United States. Why this happened has never been fully explained but the drugs, the breakdown of social control associated with the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam were certainly key factors.

Nowhere was more out of control than Detroit, Michigan, which had suffered the deadliest riot of the 60's and had become the murder capital of the country by 1971. In the spring of 1972 the bureau of narcotics sent John Sutton to Detroit on a special assignment to infiltrate and bring down the city's largest black heroin dealers.

Agent Sutton arrived in Detroit to find the city divided. On the one hand Detroit had the most thriving black middle class in the country, mostly thanks to the auto-industry, and many people were living a good life. On the other hand it was a city were the entire police force was overrun by heroin dealers and stickup men.

Detroit had few black police officers in the 1950's so the department had a hard time infiltrating the city's burgeoning drug infrastructure. Henry Marzette was a hometown boy and Korean war veteran when he entered the Police Academy. Starting off as an undercover narcotics cop in the 1950's Marzette set arrest records. But soon started playing both sides of the fence and he was convicted of corruption in the late 50's.

After a short prison time Marzette came home determined to take over the streets. In 1970 he calls a meeting of top heroin dealers, known as the "West Side Seven", he proposes that they work together to purchase and distribute heroin without the Italian mafia who controlled a group known as the "East Side Twelve" made up of mostly white high-level dealers. The alliance falls apart when certain dealers won't bow down to Marzette kicking off the deadliest drug war in Detroit's history.