25 years since the Mack Avenue Fire Inquiry
22 June 2018
This week marks 25 years since the Citizens Inquiry into the Mack Avenue Fire conducted by the Workers League, forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party (US). The inquiry took place in the aftermath of a tragic fire on February 17, 1993, that destroyed the home of Shereese Williams and Leroy Lyons, an unemployed couple living on Mack Avenue in the impoverished east side of Detroit. The couple’s seven children perished in the blaze, one of the deadliest in the history of Detroit. They included LaWanda Williams, 9; Nikia Williams, 7; Dakwan Williams, 6; LaQuinten Lyons, 4; Venus Lyons, 2; Anthony Lyons, 7 months; and Mark Brayboy, 2.
Like the deaths of those trapped in the Grenfell Towers in London last year, the Mack Avenue fire was a crime of capitalism, a product of the terrible conditions under which the couple, like countless others in the economically devastated city, were forced to endure. The day of the fire, the couple’s water had been shut off by the city of Detroit without notice for a past-due bill of $225. Thinking the pipes were frozen, Leroy Williams tried to thaw them with an improvised torch. Embers left behind apparently ignited the wood of the 130-year-old house, built during the time of the US Civil War.
In the wake of the tragedy the major news media in the city launched a witch-hunt against the grief-stricken couple, dubbing it the “Home Alone” fire, a disparaging reference to a popular film by that name. The police arrested Lyons and Williams and charged them with manslaughter, claiming negligence since the children were alone at the time the fire erupted.
The Workers League and its newspaper the International Workers Bulletin provided detailed coverage of the tragedy. We…