Mug Shot, Surveillance And a Warning

Mug shot James Williams 1972

IN 1972 James Edward Williams was arrested for driving without a license in Detroit, in March of 1972.  This mugshot was included in his ‘red file’ which included local police files and FBI information from the 1970s.  He was regularly arrested for driving without a license or minor traffic infractions in those days.  Although he didn’t spend time in jail, there would be bail and fines to pay.  Don’t ask why he didn’t keep up with his license considering he kept getting stopped. Some 50 years later, he just shakes his head when asked.

Below is a record of the police surveillance of James Williams on October 29, 1971. It happened about a year before the mugshot above was taken.

N?M = Negro Male. Most names are blacked out.

At 10:33, J. Williams and that could be my name blocked out as we went to my apartment in Brewster Projects and didn’t exit. I didn’t know they were following us, sitting down there in the parking lot in the fog, watching and waiting.

Why would they go to all this trouble. Because he was a black activist. Here is a letter sent to the Atlanta police department in 1972 as we were relocating from Detroit to Atlanta.

We got this information by sending for my husband’s Red Squad File. You can find more information at the link below.

Red Squad File Reveals Rabid Radical?

“Editor’s Note: For more than 30 years (1944-1974), the Detroit Police Red Squad, a secret arm of the Detroit Police Department, was tracking citizens to “root out” and “expose” subversives. Their targets were political activists, Vietnam War opponents, Black nationalists, labor unionists, civil liberties advocates and many others engaged in social, cultural and other dissent activities.

Names of approximately 1.5 million people and organizations who either lived in or visited Detroit appear in secret files kept by the Detroit Police Department’s Red Squad. The Detroit files were also made available to the Michigan State Police and much of the Red Squad’s surveillance was coordinated with federal agencies, other state and local agencies and private organizations.

The Red Squad files are now being released to the public as a result of court orders issued in a lawsuit begun in 1974 by plaintiffs who argued that they were subjects of illegal political surveillance.

The case was finally resolved on April 23, 1990, when the Detroit City Council agreed to a $750,000 settlement which would cover costs to notify and deliver copies of retrievable information to those individuals and organizations who were under surveillance.”

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Related Posts

Red Squad: Political Surveillance

Mugshots 3-17-72 A former post using the mug shot for a Sepia Saturday prompt.

W is for Wilkins Street About living in Brewster Projects

“G” is for Grand River Avenue About the Black Conscience Library

10 thoughts on “Mug Shot, Surveillance And a Warning

  1. Oh my goodness! And somehow you’ve obtained those reccords. Of course activists were being watched, black and white. I know I was associating with some drug dealers at one time in FL, and just missed getting arrested by the FBI at breakfast because I had to go to a dental appointment in another town. Those were the most wild days in my life I think. But I sure was out there supporting the activists virtually even when staying home with my kids.

    1. We ordered his red file. I should put that up there.
      Those coincidences like your dental appointment saved many of us from arrest, jail or worse.

  2. Wow, that photo is a Sepia Saturday winner for sure! It’s distressing that police surveillance, persecution, and arrest of people protesting injustice marks every decade of American history. The abuse of civil rights never seems to go away. It forces each new generation to continue the struggle and fight a system designed to repress activism.

  3. Police persecution and harassment of dissenters/protesters/activists is getting worse round the world I think. It certainly is in my country. Infuriating and heartbreaking at the same time.

  4. Certainly an illegal invasion of a person’s right to privacy, but are we really that surprised?

  5. oh my goodness! This is disturbing that they followed people in this manner. It probably went on here in Alabama, too, but I didn’t know about it.

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