Police Oppression Leads to Hijacking


Perps captured in Cuba

In the 1970’s, the Detroit Police Department had a reputation for being heavy handed.  I don’t think there is any police supporter that would deny this accusation.  Unfortunately, like many departments back then, courtesy, professionalism, and respect were not in the vocabulary. 

But was that enough to justify the hijacking of a plane?  That was the justification offered by Louis Moore, one of three men who hijacked Southern Airlines Flight 49 on November 10, 1972.  Moore, along with Melvin Cale and Henry Jackson brandished firearms and grenades as they took over the plane as it departed Birmingham Alabama. 

All three men were facing unrelated criminal charges in Detroit at the time of the hijacking.  They ordered their pilots to take the plane to Detroit where they contacted city officials, demanding $10 million.  Detroit, cash strapped even back then could only promise $500,000.  Apparently, that type of money is no compensation for the pain and suffering of brutal police oppression.  And so, the three hijackers moved on. 

Their next call was to the deep pockets of the federal government.  They were put in touch with the White House and the FBI, where they renewed their demands.  While negotiations were ongoing, they ordered the pilots to the vicinity of the military nuclear complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  There they threatened to fly the plane into the facility in the hopes of causing a nuclear catastrophe.  Still the feds could only produce $2.5 million.

While not $10 million, the hijackers decided that $2.5 million would go a long way to righting a wrong and accepted the offer.  After landing in Chattanooga and picking up the money, the hijackers realized that they had not finished making their righteous plan.  They didn’t know where to go next.  They had assumed that Cuba would accept them with open arms, but Cuban flight controllers had denied the request. 

They landed in Orlando to refuel.  While in Orlando the FBI tried the old shoot out the tires trick.  This time-honored tradition failed and merely caused the hijackers to shoot one of the pilots in the arm.  As they took off again, they demanded that the uninjured pilot take them to Algeria.  Pulling out a map of the world the pilot politely explained that Algeria was very, very far away and required them to cross the ocean.  The 90-passenger plane wouldn’t make it. 

So, they flew to Cuba anyway.  Big mistake.  Fidel and company took their money, returned it to the United States (the most shocking part of this story) and imprisoned all three hijackers.  In Cuban labor prison, the men suffered the glories of the communist regime by having their teeth pulled out with pliers and being locked in solitary confinement when they weren’t being worked to death at gunpoint.  After 8 years in Cuba, they were returned to the US where they suffered for another 5-10 years in the brutal repressive conditions of federal prison, where the coffee was served cold.

Their mission to shine a light on the oppression of the Detroit Police Department worked.  The story got national headlines and New York Times readers around the country mobilized to end the brutality in Detroit.  Today the Detroit Police Department is no longer brutal.  They have completely given up and can’t muster the energy to beat anyone. Detroit cops are just trying to get though the day without the radio going into backlog so they can get home to the suburbs.   

Thanks for reading The Ops Desk!


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