Twenty-three miles east of us, by the corner of Dexter and West Chicago, in Detroit’s near north side, several black Wayne County sheriff deputies were facing something much more ominous than freezing weather. They were experiencing a cop’s worst nightmare.
When I was a kid, I spent endless fascinating hours with my dad in the garage of our southwest Detroit home. The floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed with boxes of spare parts and electric motors. On the floor and the workbench were large and small tools, acetylene tanks, a grinder, a drill press, and a lathe. My dad was a heating and air-conditioning serviceman, and he loved explaining and showing me how things work: things like his Triplett electrical tester. This black box, with dials, gauges, wires, and switches, looked to my 9-year-old eyes like some exotic scientific instrument from the future
“Bobby, I’ll live through your eyes,” my mother said, holding my hand shortly before she had a stroke in the spring of 1989. She passed away that November, but those words haunted me long afterward. I was always drawn to the edgy side of life, and through it all, my mother struggled to surround me with love and safety. I lived life as a juvenile delinquent, then as a soldier, then as a cop. I raised my family and then, in 1997, completed a PhD in criminology.
It was 12:05 a.m., and I was lying alone in bed, heartbroken after a recent divorce. She and I were both cops, she with Detroit Police and I with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. I had worked the scout car all day and then gone out on a date that evening, but I knew she wasn’t the one for me. I had finally dropped off to sleep when the telephone by my bed jangled me awake.
“Hello?” I said, grabbing the phone.
“Bobby! Please help!” It was my mother’s frantic voice.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“There’s people breaking in our house!”
My two-years-older brother was an inspiration to me—a giant. As a teenager, he was fascinated with military airplanes. Hanging on strings from our basement bedroom ceiling and covering every shelf were more than a hundred plastic model planes he had meticulously assembled and painted, making sure every color and decal matched the real thing. His airplane collection ran from the de Havilland biplanes and Fokker triplanes of the First World War to the Vietnam-era F-111 “fast movers” and B-52 bombers. He even had Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft models.
I was born in Detroit’s Providence Hospital in 1948 and raised in an upstairs flat on Sixth Street, near Michigan Avenue and Tiger Stadium. My mother would later tell me how I loved watching the cars drive by our house and hearing the roar of the fans at the stadium each time a Tiger made a home run. But those were my mother’s memories, not mine. I was just 3 years old when we moved from the flat to our home in southwest Detroit. My mom picked the house because she felt her kids could safely walk down the alley to Patton Park and play without crossing any streets. And my dad was happy because he would finally have his own garage to tinker in, and because we were near the south end of Dearborn, where he was raised—the largest Arabic area in the United States.