No Crime Day

Listen to this episode

Speaker 1: In 1986, there were more violent crimes in the U.S. than had ever been recorded in a calendar year. The murder rates in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and a bunch more places all spiked by double digits. But in the papers and on the TV news, it was Detroit that got branded the worst of the worst.

Speaker 2: There are some who call Detroit the murder capital of the nation.

Speaker 3: This summer has been especially violent, with more than 500 shootings reported in two months.


Speaker 4: You better look behind your back because you’ll know when somebody can jump you or try to shoot or kill you anything.

Speaker 1: Detroit had 648 homicides in 1986, the highest per capita murder rate of any major American city.

Speaker 5: It seemed like every time you turned around, someone was getting killed.

Speaker 1: That’s Fred Bell as a patrol officer on Detroit’s northwest side. He saw deep poverty and the destruction wrought by heroin and crack cocaine.

Speaker 5: They had teenagers, young kids, 14 and below selling drugs. If they can’t go home to a meal, they can’t do what they have to do. If you’ve never lived it, it’s sort of hard to understand it. People getting beat up. Home invasions and the murders.


Speaker 1: Georgella Muirhead was Detroit’s director of public information. It was her job to build up the city when so many others were tearing it down. She thought the press sensationalized violence in Detroit and pathologized its majority black residents. But she didn’t believe the crime wave was a media myth.


Speaker 5: It was impossible to live in Detroit and not be touched by it. And I really felt violated when I came out of my house one day ready to go to work. And my car that was sitting in my driveway was sitting on cinder blocks, cinder blocks that they had taken from my back yard. And so all of my tires were gone. People had those kind of experiences all the time.


Speaker 1: Plenty of Detroiters refused to accept the status quo. They did whatever they could to make the city safe and get drugs out of their neighborhoods. There was even a law enforcement phone bank at three. One, three. No crack.

Speaker 3: No crack hotline can help you. 3000 calls have come in since July. They give me a description of the house, sir.

Speaker 1: But the truth was, all those efforts felt like trying to empty the Detroit River with a teaspoon. So it was easy to feel stuck. Doing nothing wasn’t any kind of solution. But fixing Detroit’s problems felt totally impossible.

Speaker 5: It just seemed so senseless. And it just seemed that there was nothing you could do to even protest against it. You can talk until you blue in the face. I mean, it was a lost cause.


Speaker 1: But then all of a sudden, the conversation in Detroit shifted. The man who changed it was one of the city’s biggest celebrities.

Speaker 2: Isaiah Scoop, and he scored. Boy makes it look so easy. He stopped me going, right. I’ll go left. Stop me from going over. I’ll go under. I fled town to go to long ago.

Speaker 1: Isaiah Thomas was one of the world’s greatest basketball players, a brilliant point guard with a famous smile when he talked, people listened. And in the summer of 86, he had a message for Detroit.


Speaker 4: I ask on this day that we all chill and make it a crime free city. A day where we can all feel safe.


Speaker 1: Crime’s root causes were tough to grapple with. But the solution Isaiah was proposing, that was simple.

Speaker 4: September 27th is no crime day. I’m asking the dope man on this day, don’t sell dope. I’m asking you who steals for a living on this day? Don’t steal. I’m asking you who kills for a living on this day? Let them live.

Speaker 1: It was a crazy idea. A famous athlete asking an entire city to just stop committing crimes for one day. On September 27th, 1986, Detroit would find out if it worked.

Speaker 1: This is one year a series about the people and struggles that changed America one year at a time. I’m Josh Levine and our third season, we’re going to rewind all the way back to 1986.


Speaker 6: There has been an accident at the Chernobyl Atomic Power Station. It gets stopped by.

Speaker 3: Just say no to drugs.

Speaker 1: It was an era of swaggering excess on Wall Street and in cineplexes.

Speaker 5: I feel the need for speed.

Speaker 1: It was also a time of hardship and deprivation in cities all over the U.S..

Speaker 6: Millions linked hands to raise money for America’s hungry and homeless.

Speaker 1: This season, you’ll get new perspectives on the moments and scandals that defined 1986, like the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the opening of Al Capone’s vault. You’ll also hear forgotten stories about a school hostage situation in Wyoming that took a miraculous turn. And the unlikely American who became a Soviet propaganda star. But first, what Isaiah Thomas vision of a crime free world set Detroit on a new path? Or was it a recipe for failure?


Speaker 5: No crime day. We’re not going to get out there and do anything stupid. We’re hey, we’re going to be good. Detroit. When you are branded as the murder capital of the world, you have to really be bold.

Speaker 4: It’s a goal. It’s an idea to thought. It’s a dream. And it’s you. People give it a chance. It may work.

Speaker 1: This is one year, 1986. No crime down.

Speaker 1: Do you do the Detroit basketball thing on demand? Can we go on Detroit basketball? Amazing. That made my week. John Mason has been a Detroit institution for almost 40 years. A morning radio host in the Pistons P.A..


Speaker 7: ANNOUNCER Pistons fans up on your feet. Time to meet and greet. Representing the DE.

Speaker 1: In all those years, there’s never been a better player. The number 11. Isaiah Thomas.

Speaker 3: His basketball game was elite, and wherever he went in, whatever game he played, just carried the whole city with him at all times.

Speaker 4: Inbound pass to Lanphier.

Speaker 7: On top by a three.

Speaker 1: How old were you when you could tell that you had a gift for basketball?

Speaker 8: I don’t know what other people were thinking. I just know I had no idea my basketball playing ability was special.

Speaker 1: Isaiah Thomas was born on the West Side of Chicago in 1961, the youngest of nine children. Everything felt stable until his father got laid off and left home. Isaiah’s mother, Mary Thomas, worked hard to support her family. But even so, there was never enough food to go around.


Speaker 8: And when you are hungry, you cannot think clearly. Those who have been hungry understand instantly what I’m saying.


Speaker 1: Isaiah’s hunger drove him to steal other kids lunches and to dine and dash at pizza parlors. Three of his brothers fared much worse, getting addicted to heroin and cocaine and ending up in jail. As a kid, Isaiah spent his days tagging along with his older siblings. That’s how he became an athlete.

Speaker 8: Basketball was just the every day recreation in the neighborhood. There was no babysitters or anything like that. So everywhere they went, I had to go.

Speaker 1: Isaiah was a hoops prodigy. He developed a halftime stunt routine when he was still in kindergarten. By the fourth grade, he was starring on his school’s eighth grade team. But on the west side of Chicago, sports weren’t always a refuge, even for an elementary schooler.


Speaker 8: We were playing on Gladys Clay, and one of the kids just pulled up and they started shooting.

Speaker 1: Isaiah saw a man drop to the ground with blood gushing out of his chest.

Speaker 8: I remember running and jumping and hiding under a car until it was safe to come out.

Speaker 1: Isaiah’s talent eventually earned him a ticket out of the neighborhood, first to a prep school in the suburbs and then to Indiana University as a sophomore. He led the Hoosiers to the 1981 NCAA title.

Speaker 7: Isaiah Thomas When it comes down, Indiana.

Speaker 1: A few months later, the Pride of Chicago got drafted by the Detroit Pistons. His first NBA contract paid him $400,000 a year enough to buy his mother a house. But at 20 years old, he didn’t feel like a grownup.

Speaker 8: Living in another city for a time. Scared me to death. I mean, I didn’t know anything about living on your own. So I was nervous. I was afraid.


Speaker 1: How did you kind of get to know Detroit?

Speaker 8: I was so fortunate to have my mom. She was just fearless. Somehow she called the mayor’s office and was like, Take care of my baby.

Speaker 1: The mayor was Coleman Young, and he was happy to help.

Speaker 3: Detroit is a very generous city, a city where people are concerned with each other.

Speaker 1: That’s young. In a 1985 interview. He was one of America’s first prominent black mayors and a fierce advocate for his hometown.

Speaker 3: The thing that really special about the city is the warmth of its people. But it’s not a warmth of weakness is the warmth, the strength and the strength at the same time to persevere in the face of incredible hardship.

Speaker 1: When Isaiah came to Detroit, that hardship was everywhere. By the 1980s, the city was a shell of its former self.

Speaker 9: Then the 1950s. My goodness, we were the fifth largest city in the country.

Speaker 1: Herb Boyd is the author of Black Detroit A People’s History of Self-determination.

Speaker 9: When we got out of high school, I mean, you could get a job at Ford, get a job at Chrysler. But then when you get into the 1960s, it’s a whole different character. Then the companies begin to leave the city.

Speaker 1: White flight and corporate disinvestment were already well underway when Detroit exploded in civil unrest.

Speaker 2: In 100 places, Detroiters are fired. And as you walk through the area, people shout from their homes, watch out for the snipers. This is going to happen all over. America is going to be a hot world, not a hot summer.


Speaker 1: Segregation, joblessness and police brutality all helped instigate the 1967 riot and its aftermath. Everything got worse. Hundreds of thousands of white residents fled the city, leaving black Detroiters increasingly isolated in low income neighborhoods.

Speaker 9: How do you pay the rent? How do you buy groceries? You try to make do. That’s why you had then a proliferation of drug dealing going on in this city.

Speaker 1: Coleman Young campaigned against racist policing, but also sent a strong message about law and order.

Speaker 3: To all no pushers.

Speaker 7: Oh, rip of irony. Oh, mother. It’s time to leave.

Speaker 3: The Troy hit Eight Mile Road.

Speaker 1: The mayor’s rhetoric didn’t do much to stamp out crime. And by 1986, a city that was already teetering found itself facing a new American epidemic.

Speaker 2: This is the typical tiny bottle for the new illegal drug of choice in America. Crack. We’ve learned where people have gone to elementary school kids and offered them 1500 dollars to run a crack house for a week.

Speaker 5: And drugs are also.

Speaker 6: Behind a new and growing crime problem in Detroit, where children are murdering children. This youth drew a gun on someone who asked him to give up his shoes.

Speaker 1: Detroit often got singled out, but the devastation of crack cocaine wasn’t isolated to any one city. It was spreading all over the U.S. And it wasn’t just the violence of the drug trade that was destroying young lives.

Speaker 2: The Maryland medical examiner has now issued his report on the death of the college basketball star Len Bias, and it confirms the worst suspicions. He died of heart failure because he used cocaine.


Speaker 1: Len Bias had been touted as the next Michael Jordan. He was powerful, graceful and incredibly skilled. His death in June 1986 shocked the nation. At the time of his overdose, Baez had just been drafted. Number two overall by the Boston Celtics. That’s the same slot where Isaiah Thomas had been selected five years earlier. Isaiah had seized that opportunity, making five straight NBA All-Star Games and transforming the Pistons into contenders.

Speaker 2: Past of the good Isaiah Thomas. Here he is, 3.5.

Speaker 7: What an unbelievable shot that was.

Speaker 1: Now, at 25 years old, Isaiah was hungry to accomplish something big off the court in the summer of 1986. He was recovering from thumb surgery and he had a lot of time to think about what he’d witnessed as a child and what he was seeing on the news.

Speaker 8: Drugs being dumped into our communities as a community of folk. This was put here to destroy us and recognizing who I have become in Detroit and understanding the platform that I had, it was my responsibility and obligation to try to help uplift our community.

Speaker 1: Isaiah needed a big idea, a way to convert that obligation into action. That July, it came to end a few years earlier in his hometown of Chicago. A black haircare tycoon had launched what he called a black on Black Love campaign. Part of that was a plea to stop the violence for a 24 hour period, a no crime day. The concept has been really taken off in Chicago, but Isaiah thought there was something there worth salvaging, that if it was done right, a day without crime could become a reality.

Speaker 8: What I wanted to do in Detroit was a little different because I wanted to bring that political force to the table.


Speaker 1: In 1986, he was no longer a fearful rookie. Now, when he wanted an audience with Mayor Coleman Young, his mom didn’t make the call.

Speaker 8: And to his credit, he said, Let’s do it.

Speaker 3: I just spent a lot of time on this almost full time for six weeks. When you consider the salary that he makes, six weeks of Isaiah’s time is a chunk of change.

Speaker 1: On September 4th, 1986, Mayor Young called a news conference to share Isaiah’s plans with the world.

Speaker 3: So I’m going to let Isaiah talk to you about this whole no crime day development. Isaiah.

Speaker 4: Thank all of you for coming. You may ask, what is a no crime day? What do I hope to achieve? Basically, the goal is to have Detroit free of all crime and that day and every other day. This is a community problem and we all have to solve it.

Speaker 1: To pull it off. Isaiah was going to need a lot of help.

Speaker 5: And so my job was to do that, take their idea and come up with a plan that would that would work for the city of Detroit and would meet their objectives.

Speaker 1: As Detroit’s director of public information, Georgella Muirhead had managed a staff of 33. She became the city’s point person for no crime day. That meant working very closely with Isaiah Thomas.

Speaker 5: Actually, we became friends and it was his personality. He was just so easy to get along with. And that was one of the reasons the community felt that he had their back. They believed he was genuine.

Speaker 1: Isaiah’s big event was set for September 27th. No crime day would start with a march and culminate in a big rally downtown. He would also ask Detroiters to turn on their porch lights that night as a symbol of citywide solidarity. Now. They just needed to get the word out to drum up publicity. Isaiah called on the most beloved parents of 1986.


Speaker 5: Isaiah Thomas has established September 27th as no crime day. No. What does that mean?

Speaker 2: It means he cares enough about Detroit to ask for one day of peace. One day that the bad people don’t act bad and good people get involved in crime prevention.

Speaker 1: He didn’t just get Phylicia Rashad and Bill Cosby to record no crime day pieces. He also enlisted his good friend, Magic Johnson.

Speaker 4: As they told me he wanted to know. Crime day. I said, What? Then he looked at me. So I said, What do you want me to do? So here I am. September 27th is no crime day.

Speaker 6: So it was a big thing to to kind of instill in the kids. No shooting, no killing, no robbing. There was supposed to be a day of calm in the city.

Speaker 1: Nine year old Alto Edwards heard about no crime day at an elementary school assembly. A group of Detroit police officers came and brought along musical instruments.

Speaker 6: So they had all of us little guys in there sitting cross-legged, watching them perform. I remember them playing. You dropped the bomb on me.

Speaker 1: So did you know who Isaiah Thomas was? Yes.

Speaker 6: Everybody knew who Isaiah Thomas was. I remember knowing that he was short. And for me, anybody that was short was probably the best person in the world. So like I remember in gym class going, I’m just going to be Isaiah Thomas today. I’m going to make this work.

Speaker 1: A September 27th drew closer. Isaiah tried to reach as many young people as he could.

Speaker 5: So we would just be driving through a neighborhood. Isaiah might see some kids playing basketball. He would hop out the car and start this conversation.


Speaker 1: Isaiah told those kids that they needed to straighten up a no crime day. He said that important people would be paying attention, that if everyone behave themselves, corporate America might finally see the city’s potential.

Speaker 5: And that’s what he wanted to break through and use his celebrity to do. It’s an opportunity for everyone. You just don’t have to choose a life of crime.

Speaker 1: Isaiah didn’t just give that speech in friendly venues a couple of weeks before No Crime Day. A reporter followed him to the intersection of Mack and Gray. When he got out of his car, a drug dealer told him, This is a bad corner, man. You shouldn’t be here. But Isaiah said.

Speaker 8: There was no fear of interacting with any of these individuals because that’s where I come from. I felt that I was received by everyone as a family relative. I don’t remember any negativity from any individual.

Speaker 1: I think there were some kids who were just kind of cynical that I would work just feeling kind of beaten down, you know?

Speaker 8: Yeah. And I understand that it’s a harshness that sometimes comes with it, that no one or nobody cares about me, that I see you here today. But, you know, nobody can listen to you.

Speaker 1: Those doubts from kids around Detroit didn’t bother Isaiah, but the ones from the press did.

Speaker 3: Some of the critics of the idea suggest it’s an unrealistic response to the very real problems. In fact, some of its harshest critics have said it’s a rabbit hole.

Speaker 1: The Detroit News dismissed no crime day as nothing but glitz and hype with no realistic strategy for making the streets safer.


Speaker 4: Let me say this. I’m kind of disappointed before we’ve even started. You’re kind of shooting it down.

Speaker 1: Isaiah acknowledged that no crime day wouldn’t fix everything that ailed Detroit, that long term problems required long range solutions. But no crime day was not a ten year plan. It was a vision of a 24 hour utopia. And to some people, that vision felt extremely shallow.

Speaker 5: Oh, no. Crime day. How naive is that? But there were a lot of things that changed from somebody, starting with a naive idea you’ve lost already. If you simply give up hope and throw up your hands and say, until drugs are resolved, that we’re not going to do anything.

Speaker 1: By the last week of September, the debate and speculation were almost over. Isaiah and Magic were ready for no crime day. We’re the people of Detroit.

Speaker 4: And they have promised me Detroit will respond. Don’t let my friend down. I’m expecting a call the next day to say magic. It worked. September 27. It’s time for no crap.

Speaker 7: Do you know how many people? 50,000 people.

Speaker 1: At around 2 p.m. on September 27th, 1986, a huge mass of Detroiters took to the streets downtown.

Speaker 5: There was a lot of excitement because it was really the first time something like that had taken place.

Speaker 1: When Georgella Muirhead had looked out at the crowd, she saw black clubs and civic groups. Parents and grandparents shouted for more police protection. Kids held signs with the names of children who hadn’t lived to see no crime day. A high school marching band played Things Can Only Get Better.


Speaker 5: There were a lot of young people that were involved, a lot of students. It was an exciting day.

Speaker 1: When the marchers entered Hard Plaza by the riverfront. They heard Motown hits from the same Detroit Police Department band that had played at Alto Edwards as a symbol of. The emcee of the No Crime Day rally was Mr. Detroit Basketball, John Mason.

Speaker 7: Who? To Korea.

Speaker 3: 1986 people came because they cared. People came because they wanted to hear that they were going to be protected. And we were there to not only talk it, but walk it with them. We got a couple of rappers to bring to.

Speaker 7: If the limit is the limit. My. Oh, no. But musically.

Speaker 1: How did it feel that day?

Speaker 3: Whew. Magic, literally. I know we had Magic Johnson there, but that. That was magic. Well, keep.

Speaker 4: It real short.

Speaker 7: Young people remember that dream. Keep your goals high, set them high, and try to attain them. Because you.

Speaker 4: Could be the next.

Speaker 7: Mayor. You can be the next.

Speaker 1: It was exciting to see Magic Johnson back in his home state of Michigan, but the young people in Hart Plaza had come to hear a Detroit hero, the point guard for the Pistons, number 11, Isaiah Thomas, nine.

Speaker 3: We are, all of us. We will make it happen.

Speaker 4: We will look out for one another. We won’t let someone break you, Mrs. Jones, house or staff with an axe. They come to do a deal as this. If you want to be dirty.

Speaker 7: The beaters. But did it.

Speaker 4: Still make our kids dirty to.


Speaker 1: Near the end of his speech, Isaiah waved over Magic Johnson. Both men raised their arms above their hands.

Speaker 7: And on everybody. Next to you to grab the next person.

Speaker 4: Take.

Speaker 1: Everybody. When Magic and Isaiah held hands, all the people in Hart Plaza followed their lead.

Speaker 9: That was a moment in which Detroit had come together. It was a kind of a harmonious unity.

Speaker 1: Historian Herb Boyd says Isaiah speech was what the city needed to hear in 1986.

Speaker 9: Here is this athlete stepping in to infuse the city with this sense of optimism and hope that something can be done.

Speaker 4: Let’s take you to the neighborhood.

Speaker 7: And back to school. Let’s take it all over Detroit and let them know we’re here to.

Speaker 1: The 15,000 people who’d showed up at Har Plaza filed out in great spirits. The official no crime day events had gone as well as anyone could have hoped.

Speaker 5: Okay. Yeah, yeah. But that was great. Only for the honest people. That was just for the people that wasn’t out there committing crimes anyway.

Speaker 1: Fred Bell grew up in Detroit and he’d been a police officer for 11 years. He knew the real test would come far away from the march and the rally out of earshot of all those inspirational speeches.

Speaker 5: The people that lived by the street they didn’t care about, as had I mean, to be honest. They may have watched him play some basketball, but they were going to do what they had to do in order to get that fix.

Speaker 1: From his beat in Detroit’s 10th Precinct. Fred should have been well positioned to see if no crime day lived up to its name. But two months earlier, he and his partner, Everett Williams, had tried to run after a couple of drug dealers.


Speaker 5: I twisted my ankle. My ankle had swole up about the size of a football.

Speaker 1: Fred got put on sick leave. It was strange to be off the job and not spend all day with his partner, Everett.

Speaker 5: I mean, for 8 hours, you’re tied to each other. You watching his back and he’s watching your back. So it was. It was a partnership. It was a friendship.

Speaker 1: Although Fred was off duty, Everett checked in the morning of No Crime Day to see how his friend was doing.

Speaker 5: We had chit chat it and you know. Yeah, ha laughed. You know, he kind of. He wanted to be a comedian.

Speaker 1: Ever was patrolling their regular be on Detroit’s west side as Fred suspected police officers were still hearing reports about the usual stuff cocaine possession, car theft, breaking and entering. Then in the early afternoon, Fred’s phone rang. It was about Everett.

Speaker 5: Officer from the 10th Precinct, and called me and asked me if I knew how to get in touch with his girlfriend. And I say, What’s wrong? And she told me.

Speaker 4: That.

Speaker 5: Tell me that my partner had been killed. I told Ashley you lie in. No. She said, no, I wouldn’t go with you about nothing like that.

Speaker 1: Everett Williams had gone to check out a burglary scene in a second floor apartment when he headed back downstairs. The man who lived on the ground level fired his handgun. He claimed that Everett seemed like an intruder, even though he was in uniform. That single bullet struck Everett in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital.

Speaker 5: And so even though I wasn’t supposed to, I jumped in my car and I drove down there. By the time I got there, they had done whatever they could do. They took me in there.


Speaker 1: So you got the chance to see him one last time.

Speaker 5: Yeah, I did. It looked like he was just laying there asleep. Oh, man.

Speaker 1: Everett Williams died just after 1 p.m. on September 27th, about an hour before the No Crime Day March. There were still 11 hours to go.

Speaker 6: The day itself was just a regular day, but the night was different.

Speaker 1: Nine year old Alto Edwards felt relatively safe at home on the northwest side of Detroit. Alto was raised by her grandmother, but she saw her mother regularly. Her mom lived about 15 minutes away.

Speaker 6: Where my mother stayed, it was probably a little bit more sketchy than where we lived at. And it still is. Yeah. Well, I guess you have to pay attention to your surroundings.

Speaker 1: Alta’s older sister Cleo lived at their mom’s house with their other siblings.

Speaker 6: You could just be walking past the people and they just decide they want to pick on you. You know what I’m saying? So you have to choose your battle that day.

Speaker 1: Cleo was 13 in 1986. Her protector and best friend was her 15 year old brother, the oldest of the Edwards kids.

Speaker 6: His name was Jan and somebody shortened to Ruthie. He had a Jeri Curl, which is how my mother really was a real stylish guy, very likeable, charismatic, smart for no reason, like he just with this gourmet age effortlessly.

Speaker 1: In 1986, Cleo started to notice some changes in her older brother.

Speaker 6: He did some things he was skip school, had started smoking weed, things like that. But we had just had a conversation about him straightening things out because he had dropped out of school to the end of his 10th grade year.


Speaker 1: Were you worried about him?

Speaker 6: I was not worried about him. Like I said, we had a conversation. I knew things that my mother didn’t know. You know what I’m saying about some of the things that he was doing that was probably to the left.

Speaker 1: Based on what she was saying, Clio suspected that Ricci had gotten involved in selling drugs.

Speaker 6: Just certain things that came into the house. The gold necklace. Oh, my. What you doing? The conversation with our mother was that he worked at a corner store. And I’m looking. I’m looking at school like they’re going to pay you to. You know, this is how we talk.

Speaker 5: To each other.

Speaker 6: What did you do? You can’t do that. You got to go back to school. But in the being too late.

Speaker 1: On the night of September 27th, Clio was at home. Her brother Ricci had gone out.

Speaker 6: I heard his friends running to my house. I heard them probably a block away. And that they knocked on my door. To say that he was at a house laying facedown.

Speaker 1: Cleo’s sister Alto was asleep in her bed across town.

Speaker 6: And I remember my grandmother come in the wake me up and telling me that we had to go because Ricci had been shot.

Speaker 1: They drove frantically to be with Cleo and the rest of the family.

Speaker 6: There’s tears and they’re screaming and there’s just chaos and little me trying to just really figure out how to process it all.

Speaker 1: Their mother had rushed to the hospital to see Rishi.


Speaker 6: I don’t know what time she got back. She. She definitely. Came in and she just hugged us all at once and just started screaming.

Speaker 1: That’s how you found out that he was dead?

Speaker 6: Yes.

Speaker 1: Ricci. Edwards was shot in the head, neck and chest. It wasn’t clear who did it. He died around 11 p.m. an hour before the end of No Crime Day. Reshad words never. Williams were two of three people shot and killed on September 27th. Another was stabbed to death. Four killings in 24 hours wasn’t unprecedented for Detroit, but it was a brutal day, even by the standards of the so-called murder capital of the United States.

Speaker 6: It’s almost as if those people just said, the hell with this day. You know, we don’t care if it’s no crime. They won’t do it. We want you. Could it have one day, you know, one day of peace? You didn’t even want that. You wanted to raise hell on the one day that there shouldn’t have been any.

Speaker 1: Do you remember hearing about Officer Williams getting killed?

Speaker 8: Yes, I do. That was tragic all the way around.

Speaker 5: The city of Detroit lost a great officer, a great citizen, and I lost a great friend.

Speaker 1: The man who killed Fred Bell’s partner, Everett Williams, maintained the shooting was an accident. He was charged with manslaughter and acquitted by a jury. Fred is still angry about that verdict and he still misses the man he worked alongside for 8 hours a day.

Speaker 5: People don’t realize you don’t spend that much time with your wife, your kids, nobody. It gets. It gets deep down, man.


Speaker 1: The New York Times published a story about the march and rally and Isaiah Thomas visits to local schools. But that article focused on the death of Everett Williams. The headline was Detroit Killing Mars. No Crime Day.

Speaker 5: It was never our effort to try to gloss over what was happening in Detroit.

Speaker 1: Georgella Muirhead had had been hoping Detroit might get some good PR for a change. But she says Everett Williams’s story needed to be told.

Speaker 5: If it had not been no crime day, no one would have heard about his murder or anything else that happened in the city of Detroit that day, because it became so expected, so ordinary. This shouldn’t be ordinary in any city, any American city. And it certainly shouldn’t be ordinary in Detroit, where we live.

Speaker 1: Everard’s killing did get more coverage because it happened on no crime day. But police officers are never seen as typical victims. The three other people who got killed on September 27th, they were treated like they were ordinary, at least by everyone who didn’t know them.

Speaker 6: The police just wrote it off. As you know, another kid dead. Just a casualty of living in the city, I guess. An unsolved murder.

Speaker 1: Cleo Edwards doesn’t believe there was ever a real investigation into her brother Ricci’s killing. When I sent a records request to the city of Detroit, they said they’d get back to me by mid-April. But that’s now been pushed back until at least October. To the best of my knowledge, no one was ever arrested or charged in connection to Ricci’s death.

Speaker 6: This guy was everything to me. My best friend, my brother. But during that first year. I wasn’t able to grieve at all. 13. I didn’t turn 14 till November. The thing that I kept hearing was be strong for your mother.


Speaker 1: What was it like in your house after he died?

Speaker 6: Quiet.

Speaker 1: Cleo’s younger sister, Alto, lived in that quiet, too, and it’s never really gone away.

Speaker 6: To lose not just your older brother, but one of the only men in the family before he even became a man in such a tragic way. You carry it.

Speaker 1: Alto Edwards is 45 now. Her brother Ricci would have turned 52 this year.

Speaker 6: I think he would have figured it out. We were able to get that chance to make mistakes, to hang out with the wrong people. But we lived to tell the tale. And I really think that if he had been given that opportunity, I think I think he would have done something good.

Speaker 1: When I spoke with Isaiah Thomas, I told him Ricci’s story. He seems like the kind of person that you were trying to reach. SMART Everybody loved him. Had sort of started to go on the wrong path a little bit. And then in one instant, somebody makes a decision and he has no opportunity to live the rest of his life.

Speaker 8: That that is still a daily story in our community that we do have the power to stop. We as a community, we do have the collective power to come together. And stop killing each other. We can make that decision.

Speaker 1: One way to think about no crime day is that it failed. Isaiah Thomas had gone all over Detroit and asked everyone he met to lay off for one day as a show of good faith. That didn’t happen. And so no crime day felt like a broken promise.

Speaker 8: There’s always going to be critics. And by the way, the critics, they’re not always wrong. Now, when you say fail or failure to some people, they would laugh at that. Because I know from growing up in that environment, one night of sleep where you don’t have to worry about someone hurting you or taking something from you or killing you. If that only happened in one household. It was a huge success.


Speaker 1: Judging it on those terms. No crime day probably was a success. And that’s how Isaiah Thomas and Georgella Muirhead had say it should be judged that the name was aspirational, not a guarantee.

Speaker 8: That’s what we asked for. But at the end of the day, none of us thought that there would be, you know. No cry.

Speaker 5: To me. If some miracle happened and there was no crime, I would be both surprised and grateful. But the reality was that was not likely to happen.

Speaker 1: Calling it No Crime Day and having Isaiah fronted it got a huge amount of coverage. So it seems like as somebody who works on public information, it’s got like all of the kind of ingredients that you would want. On the other hand, just in the name, it’s Big Dan that people are going to think that it’s a failure if there’s crime. Right. And so you’re setting yourself up to fail. I feel like.

Speaker 5: So I understand what you’re saying. The whole idea is a set up almost, but sort of no crime day. We’d like to have less crime day, but statement has to be simple enough so people understand it. And so it was over the top. It really was. The thought was go for broke.

Speaker 1: There was another critique of No Crime Day. One less focused on the name than the approach. All the speeches and essays focused more on personal responsibility than social policy. They were putting the burden on individuals to shape up, not demanding solutions to structural problems.

Speaker 5: But in 1986, you know, the solutions were just so far removed. One man decided that he would try to make a difference, and he came up with a plan. And there were thousands of people that thought his idea was good enough to support. Is that worth not doing? Because we get a bad headline in The New York Times. I don’t think so. And I don’t think the people in Detroit felt that way either. So I’m glad that we had no crime day.


Speaker 1: From where Isaiah Thomas stood. No crime day wasn’t naive. It was realistic. He knew from experience how cruel the world could be. And he understood that the only people who cared enough to save Detroit were Detroiters themselves.

Speaker 8: I guess the naive part of me thinks that there will be a collective we that will come together and stop hurting each other.

Speaker 1: Even before the first no crime day. Isaiah was already dreaming about the next phase.

Speaker 4: Maybe the NBA can adopt a program and you can take a guy like Larry Bird in Boston and let him do it. You can take Magic Johnson in Los Angeles and let him do it. You can take Dominique Wilkins in Atlanta and let him do it.

Speaker 1: No crime day didn’t make its way to Boston or Los Angeles or Atlanta. And in Detroit, it barely survived into 1987. In its second year, there was no march or rally downtown, just a televised forum with Isaiah and four high school students. By 1988, the whole project was over.

Speaker 5: Nothing changed. Nothing changed. It was the same people still doing the same thing, you know?

Speaker 1: After 1986, it was hard to find the audacious optimism that had made a crime free days seem possible. Congress imposed mandatory minimum sentences for crack possession. Detroit instituted a curfew for teenagers and began jailing parents if their children broke the law. And in 1987, a sci fi thriller imagined a not too distant future in which the city devolved into a police state.

Speaker 3: Its security concepts were projecting the end of crime in all Detroit within 40 days. There’s a new guy in town. His name’s RoboCop.


Speaker 1: One bright spot for the city was the Detroit Pistons in 1989. Isaiah Thomas led the team to the first of two straight NBA titles.

Speaker 8: You know how.

Speaker 4: They always tell you strive to be the best you can be. That’s what it means. It means that I got the best out of myself as a small guy in this league, and that’s all I can ask for.

Speaker 1: A month before he won that second championship. Isaiah told a reporter that fame had made him a more private person. That story said he’d stop playing basketball with kids at playgrounds and that he’d been ridiculed for No Crime Day, which inspired parody T-shirts with guns and dead bodies. It also claimed that some critics believed he only did community work to boost his image. Isaiah is not a perfect person. In 2007, a jury ruled that he’d sexually harassed a colleague when he was coaching the New York Knicks. Though he’s always maintained he did nothing wrong. In the case of No Crime Day, I have no doubts about his sincerity that in 1986, when he could have just focused on playing basketball and selling products, he took it upon himself to try to help his community.

Speaker 8: Those are the things that I was taught in grade and still speak from today. The impact that you have on the individual’s life just by showing up is more important and powerful than any basket you can ever score.

Speaker 1: No crime day may not have lasted in Detroit, but it’s still an alluring fantasy. Just this year in August, a Baptist church in Isaiah’s hometown of Chicago staged its own version, complete with no crime day posters and T-shirts.


Speaker 4: We want to have a safe environment for our kids. And if we can start with one day that everybody just kind of calms down and just enjoy the day, then maybe we can build on that so that no.

Speaker 2: Crime day is a real important because our kids are important enough.

Speaker 8: I think a challenge to America is a no crime day. Let it be known less as America for one day of no crime.

Speaker 1: What would a day without crime actually look and feel like?

Speaker 8: I don’t know. But we in America should try it. We might like it.

Speaker 1: Next time on one year, 1986, a competition among the nation’s teachers to win the ultimate field trip, a seat aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

Speaker 5: Everything I had done in my life so far had prepared me for this. And I was ready.

Speaker 6: And it was a dream for all of us.

Speaker 5: Well, I think when you want something badly enough, you’re willing to take whatever risk there is.

Speaker 1: One year is written by me. Josh Levin. Our senior producer is Evan Chong. This episode was produced by Sam Kim, Sophie Summergrad, Madeline Ducharme, Evan Chang and Me. It was edited by Evan Chang and Derek John Slate, senior Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Our technical director is Mary Jacob. Holly Allen created the artwork for this season. Some of the audio you heard in this episode comes from the Detroit Historical Society.

Speaker 1: You can send us feedback and ideas and memories from 1986 at one year at And you can call us on the one year hotline at 2033430777. We’d love to hear from you. Special thanks to Beverly Jackson, Teresa Edwards. Brittney Carlson. Love Sean Townsend. Kelsey Hartman Williams. Perrier. Brendon Roney. Hilary Fry. Joel Anderson. Susan MATTHEWS. Soul Were Then Bill Carey. Katie Rayford. Ben Richmond. Caitlin Schneider, Cleo Levin, Seth Brown, Rachel Strom and Alicia montgomery, Slate’s VP of Audio. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with more from 1986.