DENVER. — Denver -- I lived in Detroit for nine years between 1967 and 1976. In that time, a strong disagreement existed between ghetto blacks and the police department. It revolved around a special unit in the Detroit Police Department called ''The Big Three.''
The crooks, pimps, petty thieves and prostitutes who were battling for control of the streets called it that because the unmarked police cruisers often were occupied by three plain-clothes officers, and they were usually white. The idea behind ''The Big Three'' unit was a simple one -- to deploy a fast-moving squad of tough city cops to respond to murder and Saturday night mayhem.
''The Big Three'' was an effective strike force successful in reducing crime in Detroit, but it came under heavy ''community'' attack from an array of black politicians who fought to restrain them even though the crime in black Detroit was customarily black-on-black villainy. The mood of mistrust toward the police -- which exists even today with a black mayor, police chief and patrol officers -- eventually resulted in the disbanding of ''The Big Three'' police unit.
When I read about crime in Detroit today, I wonder how many of its black citizens relish the days gone by when ''The Big Three'' was on the prowl? I wonder if they think about the mistrust deliberately fostered toward the police and the general disregard for law and order that was explained away. And whether they believe the anarchy they have condoned is answerable for the rash of ''carjackings'' that plague the Motor City today?
As in frontier towns in the Old West, residents and visitors to Detroit are being assailed at gunpoint and their motor cars are being taken at traffic lights, drive-through windows and in gas stations. Approximately 300 cars were ''carjacked'' in August and some of the victims who resisted highwaymen have been shot to death.
''Carjackings'' are most numerous in Detroit, but similar crimes are being reported in Los Angeles, Dallas, New York and St. Louis.
Instead of speaking to this newest outrage, sociologists are hinting that the victim who risks his life to safeguard his car may be foolish. That simplistic message sends the wrong signal to the urban wolfpacks who prey on innocent people.
While it is foolish for anyone to question the macho of a young thug with a gun who is clearly intent on taking your vehicle, still, the act of having your car taken away from you while you are in it ranks along with surrendering your bicycle to a schoolyard bully.
Maybe people resist because we like to believe we can defend our families, our possessions and ourselves whenever the need arises. Even the insurance industry understands that and agrees that it is natural for drivers to resist giving up their cars in a ''carjacking.''
In the West, we use to hang horse thieves. The law was harsh, because the land was hard and stealing a man's horse could mean the difference between life and death. The problem of ''carjacking'' is just as urgent, except the stakes are higher than the loss of one thief's life.
The collapse of Detroit before an onslaught of sociopathic thugs would be the equivalent of the barbarian hordes hurling themselves against the values of civilization and making it across the moat. I believe we are reaping the legacy of liberal opposition to punishing criminals in sympathy with the pathology of the lawbreaker. These liberals may not be capable of understanding the outrage of the victim.
While we are being befuddled by permissive rhetoric over the merits of crime and punishment, the thugs have upped the ante and escalated the war.
Ken Hamblin is a Denver columnist and radio personality.