The History Behind “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”

Here is what Trump tweeted this morning:

This phrase comes from former Miami police chief Walter Headley:

Looting shooting

Here is a taste of front-page article from the Miami Herald on December 27, 1967:

Miami Police Chief Walter Headley announced Tuesday that his men will use shot-guns, dogs, and a “get tough policy” instead of community relations programs to cut crime in the city’s slums.

Headley said he is “declaring war” on criminals responsible for a sharp increase in armed robberies and shootings in Miami’s Negro areas.

“Felons will learn that they can’t be bonded out from the morgue,” he said.

He said his men have been told that any force, up to and including death, is proper when apprehending a felon.

“Community relations and all that sort of thins has failed,” Chief Headley said. “We have done everything we could, sending speakers out and meeting with Negro leaders. But it has amounted to nothing,” he said.

“We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprisings and looting because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Chief Headley said. 

His statement was in a sharp contrast to recent comments of Dade Sheriff E. Wilson Purdy who credited community relations and special personnel training for successfully preventing civil disorders.

“My men are getting tired of felons being bailed out of jail so quickly that they beat the arresting officer back to his zone,” Headley said.

He said the major group his “get tough” policy is aimed at is young Negro males, from 15 to 21.

“Ninety per cent of our Negro population is law abiding and wants to eliminate our crime problems,” he said. “But 10 per cent are young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.”

Headley said special cars will be organized with sufficient police manpower to enforce the city’s “stop and frisk law” on gangs loitering on city streets.”

He said he is transferring about half of the 16 men in the vice squad to patrols to bolster his force on the streets.

More police dogs are being sought to add to the 16 dogs now serving in the department’s canine corps.

Heavily equipped police without dogs have been unable to apprehend fleet-footed young hoodlums, Headley said. “We’re going to use shotguns and dogs to stop them from now on,” he said. 

He said the shotguns will be equipped with shells “so thopse on the receving end won’t get up very quickly.”

“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet,” Chief Headley said.

I’m taking complete responsibility for this and I just hope we get support from the people we’re trying to help.”

He said he decided on the new policy after three Miamians were killed by armed bandits over the Christmas weekend.

Asked about possible reaction from civil rights groups and other opponents of the get tough policy, Headley said, “I guess I’ll have to start carrying my pistol and not answering my phone for a few days….”

For some context, I encourage you to check out Chanelle Nyree Rose‘s book The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami: Civil Rights and America’s Tourist Paradise, 1896-1968. Rose writes:

Racial tensions between Miami’s black community and the police department escalated after Police Chief Walter Headley instituted what became the notorious “get tough” policy in the fall of 1967. As longtime civil rights advocate and law professor Michelle Alexander has pointed out in her scathing indictment of the criminal justice, the “get tough on crime movement” emerged as a conservative response to liberals who placed more emphasis on police brutality than structural inequalities that helped to explain high crime rates in black communities. In Miami, Headley routinely criticized Robert High’s mayoral leadership and held strong reservations about various public officials’ non-confrontational approach toward addressing racial unrest through organizations like the metropolitan Community Relations Board.  He adopted a more sophisticated racism that embraced paternalism, and his approach appeared  more akin to Albany’s Laurie Pritchett than Birmingham’s “Bull” Conner. In effect, he had tactfully avoided the kind of negative publicity that traditionally followed his notorious predecessor Leslie Quigg. But this would change. In December 1967, Headley announced that the police department planned “to use shotguns and dogs” to curb the escalating crime rate in Liberty City. The police chief deemed such drastic measures as necessary and heavily criticized the ineffectiveness of community relations programs in regard to criminal activity. His infamous statement, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” evoked national criticism and fueled black discontent on a local and national level.