Rollin: The Rise of the Drug Economy in Detroit

Rollin: The Rise of the Drug Economy in Detroit

2010, Drugs  -   24 Comments
Ratings: 7.78/10 from 96 users.

Detroit was once the seed of the world's greatest economic empire - the auto-industry. Whether you came from Southern Europe, the Middle East or the American South the factories were always hiring and the pay was good. But as this empire of cars weakened and crumbled the city's economy began to revolve around a new business - illegal drug distribution.

Between 1965 and 1970 violent crime more than doubled in the United States. Why this happened has never been fully explained but the drugs, the breakdown of social control associated with the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam were certainly key factors.

Nowhere was more out of control than Detroit, Michigan, which had suffered the deadliest riot of the 60's and had become the murder capital of the country by 1971. In the spring of 1972 the bureau of narcotics sent John Sutton to Detroit on a special assignment to infiltrate and bring down the city's largest black heroin dealers.

Agent Sutton arrived in Detroit to find the city divided. On the one hand Detroit had the most thriving black middle class in the country, mostly thanks to the auto-industry, and many people were living a good life. On the other hand it was a city were the entire police force was overrun by heroin dealers and stickup men.

Detroit had few black police officers in the 1950's so the department had a hard time infiltrating the city's burgeoning drug infrastructure. Henry Marzette was a hometown boy and Korean war veteran when he entered the Police Academy. Starting off as an undercover narcotics cop in the 1950's Marzette set arrest records. But soon started playing both sides of the fence and he was convicted of corruption in the late 50's.

After a short prison time Marzette came home determined to take over the streets. In 1970 he calls a meeting of top heroin dealers, known as the "West Side Seven", he proposes that they work together to purchase and distribute heroin without the Italian mafia who controlled a group known as the "East Side Twelve" made up of mostly white high-level dealers. The alliance falls apart when certain dealers won't bow down to Marzette kicking off the deadliest drug war in Detroit's history.

More great documentaries

Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 days ago

The overt discrimination, redlining all the other forms of historical white oppression and white flight allowed the suburbs to be parasitic and empty Detroit’s tax revenues into the largely white suburbs from the 70s on. They then blamed Detroit’s economic plight on black Detroit especially after blacks began a robust middle class. Now suburbs are full of blacks because they need that black disposable income. Amazing how that works. Reagan and religious right shipped manufacturing jobs overseas in the 80s to hurt poor U.S. citizens and it ended up crippling the US for years. Crack resulted in hundreds of thousands of arrests but opioid crisis ( 26 years and counting) is a tragic episode in need of care and rehabilitation, funny, law and order sentiment is missing. Is it because of the demographic impacted? That commenters is corrupt the Purple Gang (Jews) and Italian crime families peddled drugs gambled and ran prostitution but until blacks started to enrich themselves it was a well kept secret. See Pingree Massacre it became a problem in 1970s when whites were being forced out of the game and ran to the suburbs.

2 years ago

I remember being in school and this wannabe drug dealer named Kyle Young use to talk about how he was rollin and how an older guy he knew named Timmy was rollin. Detroit was crazy back in the 80's. Crack was king. I bet Kyle is either dead or in jail now.

3 years ago

They did start the illegal activities in the city Purple Gang was white...yet we get blame for everything. They start corruption as always j blame other

Nanyang bizness
4 years ago

Read the comments. Really read them all. When you’re done, tell me the racist group in this area!!!!! Woe is me, can’t help that ya’ll shoot each other on the daily for standing on the wrong corner. It surely ain’t no hood boy fault, it’s gotta be the slavery 100 years ago. Get a job, use that amazing mind.....quit blaming everyone but yourself, help yourself and we can all get past this stupid color sh*t. It’s old, it’s tired, you’re killing a whole generation - hope you’re proud

Bye Bye
4 years ago

So glad I got the F@$k out of S.E. Mich. in my early 20's. It's the toilet of America and the people here are mostly negative Nancy's. It's no wonder the place never succeeds with sooo much negativity. I would have never been happy or successful if I stayed working / living in Detroit.
There is nothing cool about this place aside from Motown.

5 years ago

LOL at the white people not understanding and white boys trying to act cool because they're "from" the area.

Suburban White Boy
5 years ago

Hey I watched Eminem's 8-Mile movie so I'm representin' tha "D!" Peace - Love - Out~

Carell Houston
6 years ago

Funny. I did not find it hard to follow. But I am a sista that understands "our" dialect. Which was not meant for outsiders to use or understand.

7 years ago

Kevin, Metro Airport is in Romulus, no were near Detroit! How could you have "lived through this" when you were 20 plus miles away! That is like saying I lived through this when I was living in Dearborn! Not even close!

7 years ago

Lived through this. Lived near Metro Airport and when the guy says they found bodies in trunks "at" the airport they mean Wick Road and Henry Ruff Road just off I-94 near the airport. Both were dirt roads with nothing but fields and woods and made the perfect location for body dumps. Most of these were less than a quarter mile from my house.

7 years ago

all these white folks cant decipher the cypher. if you wonder bread turkeys wanna jive, take it to the starbuccs.

7 years ago

cornball lived through it

7 years ago

Racist take that doesnt factor in the hundreds of years of oppression that blacks had to endure. Gee, I wonder why people might riot after a while...

7 years ago

im about to watch this. lets see how good this is! This is where I live!

8 years ago

Great documentary, only corn-ball white people don't understand it.

8 years ago

I thought it was interesting that part of the reason the auto industry died was because of drug usage on the factory floor. This is where the defective cars originated and was the beginning of Detroit's manufacturing slide. I know personally, I refused to buy American once the reputation dropped. I started buying Japanese cars and have never gone back.

8 years ago

The narrator sounds like George Bush Jr.

Eric Lawson
9 years ago

This Doc was full of great song clips .It really took all of my focus to follow this film. Alot of back and forth up and down . Basically it goes all over the place .Not a lot of intellectual. Conversations ! Peace !!

9 years ago

I watched this because for my whole life I've been fascinated by Detroit.
This doc is unfortunately put together in a willy-nilly fashion, jumping from one era to another, back and forth and person to person Got especially confusing when I couldn't understand the lingo and read all at the same time!
So, after the first 30 minutes, I was very naughty and skipped ahead to the last half hour.
Here's what the doc is about (I think):
Black Detroit youths from inner city neighborhoods saw their middle class parents lose hope and succumb to poverty after the auto manufacturing jobs went away.
The schools were underfunded and totally inadequate. Disaffected students chose to drop out and earn a lucrative living rather than graduate, then slave their lives away at minimum wage jobs.
Getting into the drug trade and forming gangs gave these kids substantial monetary rewards and a sense of power.
Corrupt cops benefited from this windfall of cash.
There is nothing left of the gangs from the heydays of the 70's.
It's now the end of the dream.

9 years ago

Ok I understand it's very tuff to sell drugs in the hood... whatever. What I wanted addressed was the effect Unions had on the police and politics. Who was getting the pay offs while the jungle took over?

9 years ago

after this i need a 'shot' me-self (esp. with that picture on the right under 'recommendations'!)!

9 years ago

didn't understand half of what they were saying...