Stokely Carmichael

National Guard patrols Washington, D.C. in the aftermath of the 1968 riots. (Source: Library of Congress)

John Layton, the M.P.D., and the 1968 Washington Riots

By the time John Layton was named Metropolitan Police Chief in 1964, there was a well-established undercurrent of hostility between the Police Department and Washington's inner city African American community. Layton added resources to the Community Relations Unit and promoted the first African American to the rank of Captain. He created a Public Information Division to better coordinate communications with the public and the media. And, in an effort to recognize the African American community’s complaints about police brutality and harassment, the chief went on record that the Metropolitan police department would not rely on lethal force should they need to put down a riot.

Layton’s actions were put to the test on April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN that day, and when word reached Washington, D.C., angry crowds began gathering in the streets.

Petey Greene (Source: Wikipedia)

Petey Greene Talks Down the Riots, 1968

“God gave me a talent, and that talent was verbal skills”. Critically acclaimed as America’s first “shock jock,” Petey Greene had the mouth and charisma to roar in the ears of people in the streets of Washington, D.C. His impact was no more apparent than in April of 1968 during the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Running down the streets outraged, a group of about thirty young people burst into a drug store. “Martin Luther King is dead,” they shouted. “Close the store down!”. 26-year old Stokely Carmichael, former chairman of the SNNC and the initiator of the what became the “Black Power Movement” in 1967, led Washington, D.C. civilians down the streets demanding that all businesses close out of respect of the death of King.

Although the initial goal was to maintain peace, things quickly went out of Carmichael’s hands. Emotions boiled and violence broke out.