Security guard Melvin Dismukes tried to play peacemaker as police and National Guardsmen stormed the Algiers Motel on July 25, 1967, searching for a sniper. The Detroit riots were raging as officers rounded up a handful of guests, most of them black, subjecting them to hours of interrogation and threatening them with death if they didn’t reveal the location of a sniper rifle.
Dismukes coaxed the guests to cooperate but was unable to stop the officers from beating the suspects. When the night was over three men had been killed. Dismukes ultimately found himself on trial with the same police officers he struggled to control.
The incident at the Algiers is the subject of “Detroit,” a new film by Kathryn Bigelow. In an interview with Variety, Dismukes talked about what he thinks Bigelow got right about that fateful night.
What did you think of the film?
It is 99.5% accurate as to what went down at the Algiers and in the city at the time. I had never felt open to telling my side of the story until I met Kathryn, but she really listened to me and promised to get the truth out, and I think she did an amazing job.
What were you trying to do that night?
I just hoped to calm the situation down that was going on in the lobby. I wanted to help people stay alive, so I did my best to do what I thought would protect them.
How did that night impact your life?
It has stayed with me greatly. There is no way to forget what happened or have it not affect my life.
I find that I am more timid of meeting people on the street — people still ask me if I was the guy from the Algiers, and it can be frightening because a lot of people turned on me after what happened, and I never know what to expect.
How did you react to the interrogation?
I knew something was immediately wrong and not normal. The bodies and the abuse going on in the lobby — I just wanted to do what I could to try and cut down on some of the violence. I had seen the police act out of line before, but nothing like this.
What lessons do you hope people will take away from the film?
I hope people see the truth as to what really happened and think about it and try to learn from it together. I think Kathryn did a beautiful job with
this film, and I hope everyone goes to see it.