Let’s stop the murder, Detroit

The sprawling city of Detroit, for all of its charm, is a city in steep decline. Starting with the riots in 1967, people have been fleeing the city in quantities only rivaled by post-Katrina New Orleans. With a population of over 2 million at one time, the city now, by some estimates, has closer to 800,000. And, some are predicting that, in another decade, that number could be as low as 500,000. It’s been said, with a few notable exceptions, that those who could afford to leave have. And, it doesn’t help that those who are left, are killing one another in unprecedented numbers…. The following clip comes from an op-ed in today’s Detroit Free Press by Rochelle Riley.

Three weeks ago, a 12-year-old Detroit boy was charged with shooting a 24-year-old woman to death during a robbery.

Two weeks ago, a 19-year-old was charged with killing Clarence (Sonny) Jones, a beloved 86-year-old southwest Detroit man known for helping others.

Last week, two teens with shotguns held up a Hollywood film crew on Detroit’s west side in the middle of the afternoon. The film the crew was working on “Little Murder.”

There should be no little murders in Detroit. These crimes are part of a rising wave of armed violence this year: From January through Monday, Detroit police received reports of 1,166 shootings, 215 of them fatal. That compares with 1,037 for the same time period last year, 179 of them fatal…

The sad truth is, human life isn’t valued in the city of Detroit the same way it is elsewhere.

I don’t know what the solution is. How do you solve a problem that’s been nearly 50 years in the making? How do you turn things around when, for generations, people have been left to their own devices, unchecked by either parents or police? The only solution, and I’ve said this before, is to make Detroit the poster child of American reform, and really put aggressive incentives in place to reverse the affects of middle class flight, and put families on the ground in the inner city, with the tools they need to be successful. I proposed an Urban Homestead Act, under which families from elsewhere, meeting certain criteria, would be given land, with the understanding that they live there for a certain number of years… and, of course, promise not to murder anyone.

In all seriousness, how can we ever hope to turn the state of Michigan around without first addressing the problem of Detroit? With all due respect to the Governor of our state, if I were her, I’d be camping out on the sidewalk outside the White House, demanding that aggressive action be taken in the form of tax incentives, investments and the like, to attract manufacturers and families back to the Motor City. Our nation is only as strong as its weakest link, and right now that link is Detroit. And we desperately need to turn things around. We need to incentivize our best teachers to go into Detroil public schools. We need to compel our parents to do a better job of instilling values in their kids. We need to attract good employers. We need to prove to kids that they’re valuable to us, and have something significant to contribute. And, last but not least, we need to do a better job of teaching them abut birth control, and break the cycle of young, single parents. Detroit should be our national test-bed for aggressive, progressive initiatives. And we shouldn’t have to ever again see a newspaper editorial asking our kids not to kill one another.

note: As long as we’re on the subject of murder in Detroit, I thought that I should mention that the murder of our friend Jeremy Waggoner in Detroit has still yet to be solved.

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  1. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    You’re right on here Mark. We have turned into a suburban culture in Michigan. How many times have you heard “why would you want to go to Detroit?” From someone? I lived in Detroit a couple years ago and it was great. But my friends and family thought I was nuts. I would have stayed a lot longer if I could have replaced the job I lost. We seem to have given up. Like it or not, Detroit is the heart of Michigan, and our state will stay on life support as long as our heart is dying. Look around Michigan. We’re not real good at cities in general. Flint. Jackson. Benton Harbor. Kalamazoo. So many of our urban areas in decay, while our farm land and wilderness is covered by McMansions. I guess a halt in sprawl is the one bright spot caused by our failing economy. Maybe we can take this chance to turn our expansion into renewal.

    The last wave of urban renewal missed us. Toledo managed to rebuild it’s downtown. We got a refurbished hotel, a couple casino hotels, and a couple new or refurbished office/apartment towers in Detroit. Oh, and stadiums. I lived in DesMoines Iowa a few years ago, and they revamped their entire city! They now have several civic festivals (music and otherwise), and a bright, vibrant, and safe downtown. And people flock to the state fair there too (of course who doesn’t like life size statues made of butter and deep fried anything) Ohio and Iowa can fix their cities and we can’t?

    I’m not sure how quick I would be to take Federal help. I would hate to be beholden to the whim of Federal law in these matters. The money is nice sure, but the strings could be brutal. I bet medical marijuana would be right out the window, and that can be a source of state tax revenue. I’d be willing to let them build the rail system we desperately need, but let’s keep ’em out of real estate. Maybe a little tax break for businesses, especially manufacturing. If they wanted to help us get buses that work, that would be great.

    What we really need is to convince people with money to get back to The D. I think we need to just put a little more creative effort into how we sell it. I mean, you can pick up a house for $10,000,-$20,000 or less! And we have blocks and blocks of em! I say, buy yourself a block. Let’s turn Detroit into a giant, urban suburb. You can have your huge plot of land and giant ugly house. Hell, it would be cheaper to buy four houses and tear ’em down than to buy an empty lot in A2!

  2. Brackinald Achery
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    What we really need is to convince people with money to get back to The D.

    I agree, but here in S/E Michigan we’ve set up a culture where the rich folks who try to start up industry are considered the bad guys. If I were a rich successful entrepeneur, I wouldn’t set up shop here in a million years due to the obstinate (to the point of self-destruction) union mentality. There’s nothing wrong with labor unions per se, but there can come a point where they (and other things like minimum wage laws) can do a community more harm than good if employers and industry are driven away. Hate on, peoples, but someone had to say it.

  3. Idea Man
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    We should put cameras up in Detroit to document what goes on. Not for safety reasons. But to broadcast to the world what’s going on. It’s shameful what we’ve allowed to happen. And, to a great extent, the people themselves are responsible for electing terrible leaders. This should be a warning to the rest of the United States as to what’s possible when families dissolve, jobs disappear and education is undervalued.

  4. Burt Reynolds
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Andy Ypsilanti. Good post, but you missed the ball on Kalamazoo. The downtown is now completely revitalized (has been for 10 years) and the city is getting better and better. Also, it was never bad. Affluent college town. Its nothing like Jackson, Flint, etc.

  5. Idea Man
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, it won’t change until the violence leaves the city. And I’m not trying to be hyperbolic when I say this, but it will eventually. Sooner or later Al Qaeda, or some other group, will figure how to tap into this anger, despair and lack of hope, and channel it. When that happens, we’ll see the federal government get serious.

  6. Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this, Mark. You are spot on. I have long wondered how in the heck it got like this. I am a teacher in the city and I’ve talked to teachers who have been there since the 70s…it was not like this back then. Much of it comes from the disintegration of the family. This will be my 5th year teaching, and I can tell you that the difference between a student with a strong family unit and one without is glaringly obvious. Another teacher & I were discussing this at the union rally yesterday, in fact. The problem is…how do we make people stay a family? You can’t. We can’t pass a law that requires people give a shit about their family.

    And while I understand Brackinald Achery’s point, I have to disagree. Without a teachers’ union, I would be working for poverty level wages (they are desperately trying to break the union and do that to us anyway) with no retirement, no benefits. Until you work in a school, it’s hard to understand what they can do to you when you don’t have a union contract. I was totally against the union until I became a teacher and then I began to understand. Further, the UAW put a lot of kids my age through school and gave us a great life (I mean, b/c our parents worked for the UAW or Big Three). There are certainly some demands that are too much, but the basic fight is just to be paid decently & have decent working conditions. When I was a legal aid lawyer, I never had a union and the working conditions were awful. (This is not to say that our working conditions are heavenly, but the pay scale is decent although still much, much, MUCH less than the suburbs).

    Also, sadly, a lot of rich people ARE bad guys. There are good ones, of course, but I’m thinking of a lot of greedy rich people who did things like, oh I don’t know, screw the shit out the banking system while lapping up obscene profits. But certainly, some entrepreneurs in the D would be sweet.

    All of this is well and good though, but we need to get the public (and I don’t mean charter schools, who keep kids until the day after Count Day, take the money for them and them dump them off back to us) schools back on track and we need to somehow to get parents involved in their kids. I hate, with a fiery passion, the platitude about how children are our future–but in this case, it fits.

  7. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    And last night, a 19 year old college student was the victim of a drive by shooting as she walked in her neighborhood.


  8. Jon
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Notes from a Detroiter:

    We have long rolled our eyes at hand ringing from outside the city about how terrible life is in the city, the breakdown of the urban fabric, yada, yada, yada. Lots of people say this sort of thing, maybe even a few times, and then move on with their lives away from Detroit, and the whole cycle continues. A lot of the problems the city wrestles with are deep-seeded issues that have plagued urban America for decades. Many of these problems aren’t unique to Detroit, but they are intensely magnified here. Throwing more money at them, although somewhat needed, won’t solve these problems or even improve the situation with any significance. The federal or state governments are not going come riding in to save this city, nor should they be expected to. The city’s problems can only be solved with more leadership at an everyday, grassroots level from Detroiters, and by that term I mean people living in Southeast Michigan.

    In essence, I am saying the region needs to get a little skin in the game, and stake some sort of claim toward improving the city. Some posting here already have done that, which I respect. Unfortunately, the city and region need more than what it currently is receiving. It needs more people to serve as mentors for local teens (who commit most of these crimes, especially the property crimes that drag down the quality of life so much), more people to take care of their property, more people to support the institutions that make this region so special, more people to help create economic opportunity in a place that is starved of it, etc.

    Although the calls for reform, improvement, whatever in the city are needed and appreciated, they ring hollow if they come from people who only “hope the city will one day get its act together.”

  9. Mike
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I’m sympathetic, Jon. Being from Ypsi, I know what it feels like to have people from outside the community (in Ann Arbor, for instance), tell me what we “should” do to “turn our city around.” It’s condescending and infuriating. But Detroit’s a special case as it really does affect us all. It’s “our” urban center. Like it or not, we all revolve around it, like the planets around the sun. And, as such, I think we should have a say in how things play out. Regardless of that, though, I think outsiders need to be involved from a strictly economic perspective. Detroit is never going to turn around without attracting investment from elsewhere in the state. You, in other words, need us. And – no disrespect intended – but you’ve proven incapable of handling this on your own. (This isn’t to say that some haven’t contributed mightily over the past several decades.) Not only have people with money and resources fled the city, but people with sanity have as well. Who in their right mind would want to serve on City Council with the likes of Monica Conyers and Martha Reeves? So, in my opinion, it’s time for Detroiters to display a little humility and ask for help. You’d be surprised what other Michiganders would contribute to the cause if they felt as though people in the city really wanted change, and were willing to work for it.

  10. kjc
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Seems like the people of Detroit just voted Reeves out (and Conyers too if she weren’t already out of the picture).

    “So, in my opinion, it’s time for Detroiters to display a little humility and ask for help. You’d be surprised what other Michiganders would contribute to the cause if they felt as though people in the city really wanted change, and were willing to work for it.”

    This is another suburban refrain actually. Seems very Dr. Phil to me. Is there a program for this–where a city goes to a meeting and learns to admit helplessness? Is the mtg in Birmingham? Can we get a bus up there?

  11. Posted August 26, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    As long as people can move away from social problems, they will do it unless there is some other reason to stay. For instance, lets just say that I have kids and work in Southfield or Novi. I can live in Detroit and pay $8000/year in property taxes on my $100,000 house plus an income tax for hardly any services or I can live in Green Oak Twp and pay $1500/year in property taxes. Living in Detroit puts my family in close proximity to higher crime than one is likely to see out in the boonies. The S. Lyon schools are good especially when compared to Detroit Public Schools. The stores are nicer in the suburbs. The suburbs are cleaner. Richer. etc. It isnt exactly an irrational choice to live in the suburbs especially if one is the sort who doesnt feel any obligation to pay for social problems when one can just move away and isolate oneself from them.

    And trust me, every time my car gets broken into, there is a part of me that thinks that maybe I should move out to the sticks and it is only Ypsilanti charms and the hassle of moving that keep me from it.

    There is also a race issue but even if there werent, Detroit has systemic problems that arent especially easy to address. I mean, one solution would be to not increase infrastructure in the burbs. eg As people move out to the suburbs, it isnt a good idea to increase things like lanes on the freeway. Not spending money on that sort of infrastructure provides a disincentive to move away from the city center. But guess what, those people who move out to the burbs are voters and there is no way a state politician can get away with diverting infrastructure expansions away from the suburbs and into the city.

  12. Emma
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I looked at and considered buying a few houses in Detroit. Lynne has it right. The property taxes are keeping me out.

  13. Robert
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Looks to me like Mark is just trying to bait me.

  14. Posted August 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Lynne – you’re righter than you know on the infrastructure comment. See for example, Fighting for Balanced Transportation in the Motor City. It discusses the skew of decision-making power at SEMCOG against Detroit. SEMCOG is our region’s MPO (metropolitan planning authority), the agency that has final say in allocating Fed’l transportation dollars to projects within the region. You can really skip most of the reading and go to the graphic at the bottom – it’s a little grainy, but the left-hand bar is the “share of regional population”, and the right hand bar is “share of voting authority” within SEMCOG. Worst ratio: Detroit. Best ratio: St. Clair, Livingston, and Monroe Counties, followed by Washtenaw, with Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb in the middle. So, it’s even worse than State legislators afraid to upset their voters – State legislators are at least allocated by population.

  15. Posted August 26, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve said it before on here, but I think that charter townships play a major part in weakening our cities. Michigan is the only state in the nation where cities cannot annex property from the surrounding townships as they grow. The city of Detroit proper is tiny compared to similar metro areas. As Lynne and others have said it makes a lot of sense to move out to the suburbs, and basically we’re left with doughnut shaped economies where the cities are left empty and we all live in suburbs to nowhere. Stronger cities would make a stronger state. Kill charter townships ASAP

  16. Jon
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Coleman Young (say what you will about him) often said something to the effect of there isn’t a problem in Detroit that 100,000 new jobs wouldn’t solve. This rings as true today as it did then. The downfall of the central city pretty much coincided not with white flight in the 1960/70s but the flight of business and industry that began in the 1950s.

    The city hit its population peek in 1950 at just under 2 million. Shortly after this high the businesses started to leave. For instance, Packard left its main plant on the east side in the 1950s. The plant and neighborhood never recovered and today are arguably Detroit’s biggest and most famous blight. This sort of thing happened all over the city for the later half of the century, hallowing out the inner city. There is the chicken/egg discussion of which came first, business flight or white flight. But you could pretty much close the book on a section of the city when the businesses left, be it for crime, taxes, bureaucracy, racism or any combination of the aforementioned.

    It’s obvious that 21st Century Detroit will never be able to regain the 20th Century industry that once made it the Paris of the Midwest. The best hope for the city is creating a series of communities people want to live or work in. The type of places that allow young people or immigrants to stake their claim and create a life. It works best in an older place in need of new blood and fresh perspective. This is being done with great success in Ypsilanti today and even parts of Detroit, such as Midtown, Corktown and Mexicantown.

    One doesn’t have to move in to Detroit and sink their life savings into what most of the world considers a dead city to become part of the solution. Detroit isn’t going to “turn around” because people make the moral decision to live there. It will become a vibrant big city because people see opportunity in a place they want to live/do business. Sometimes that means low taxes or a dense city core or a low-cost of entry or proximity to a local institution or whatever. It means different things to different people, and different people can contribute to creating that environment in different ways.

    To non-residents that can mean supporting an important institution in something like the DIA by taking a membership or renting cheap studio space in the Russell Industrial Center. Maybe it means restoring a small building a family member once lived/did business in or mentoring a youth in need of positive influence through Big Brothers Big Sisters or adopting a rescue dog at the Humane Society. Some of the popular outlets are volunteering with a group like Blight Busters or attending Detroit Synergy meetings. Some of the big cop-outs are giving money to panhandlers at Tiger games or making the annual trip down to the Auto Show and that’s it or doing nothing but denouncing the likes of Kwame Kilpatrick and Monica Conyers after it has become obvious they are guilty as sin.

    The point is Detroit, and Southeast Michigan for that matter, needs a little less talk and a lot more walk in its central city.

  17. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    This was a great post, Mark… and very upsetting to read about the string of murders and robbery that seems to be becoming the norm there. I think it’s maybe a good idea for Erica and I to stop spending our weekends sneaking around empty buildings in Detroit :/

    And I think you’re dead on about having on one option at this point… Detroit needs to adopt some heavily progressive ideas as soon as possible. Otherwise, like you said, it’s our weakest link, and we won’t be able to move past that.

  18. Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Comparing this year’s number of murders in Detroit to last year’s and concluding a steady upward trend would appear to be somewhat disingenuous.

    Consider this DetNews article from Jan 1, 2009, stating that 2008 saw fewer murders in Detroit than any year since 1967. The 2008 number from that article was revised upwards during review, but was still down from 2007 – I don’t have a complete dataset to look at.)

    I’d ask that more complete data be used before making alarmist statements about, Detroiters “killing one another in unprecedented numbers”.

    I don’t mean to paint things rosily, and say there’s nothing to worry about – just that blowing the problems out of proportion is no more useful than ignoring them.

  19. Jon
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    The homicide numbers (or crime stats in general) are never what they seem. For instance, say a group of drug dealers confront a single drug dealer from another gang. Words are exchanged, tempers flare and then shots ring out. By some weird stroke of luck, the single drug dealer kills the six other drug dealers in the rival gang. First, the whole thing (all six murders) count as one homicide because its one incident. Second, all murders are classified as homicides until they can be proven otherwise. Turns out the surviving drug dealer was acting in self defense and his attorney is able to prove that down the line. Maybe the drug dealer gets hit with a gun charge, but doesn’t have to worry about the bodies coming back on him. That in turn switches the incident from the homicide column to the murder column. As far as the homicide stats show, all six of those bodies don’t count.

    These types of tricks are used everyday, especially in election years.

  20. Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Generally, I want to challenge the idea running through the original post, the column linked, and several of the comments, that this is at core a problem created and perpetuated by the residents and leadership of the city.

    Comments like Mike’s, that “no disrespect intended – but you’ve proven incapable of handling this on your own,” come so close to the truth without actually seeing the profound structural issues at the Federal and State levels that drove (ha) the problems of Detroit and that will continue holding it underwater regardless of what the City’s residents or leadership does. They’ve not created the problems on their own by any means, and we can’t seriously expect them to handle the problems on their own.

    A few of these issues have been mentioned – Michigan’s fractured municipal structure and infrastructure spending patterns.

    Some of these things are in the past, and can’t be undone, but we have to acknowledge them in order to have a clear picture – as Jon mentioned, the population decline began around 1950, not 1967. Largely, this was due to post-war Federal programs that effectively bribed business and individuals to leave the City: the War Production Board’s subsidizing of manufacturing’s exit from Detroit to Warren, Milford, and Rawsonville. The GI Bill’s mortgage access provisions, and income tax deductions for mortgage interest – paired with redlining that made mortgages only possible in the suburbs.

    I’d recommend Dreier, Mollenkopf, and Swanstrom’s Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century as good background reading. (Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis is also good, of course, and Detroit-specific, but very race-centric, and I think Place Matters more clearly addresses the policy issues at hand.)

    “Fixing” the problems facing Detroit will require Herculean efforts – when the problem is made up of things as fundamental as “Michigan’s municipal structure”, change doesn’t come easily. I’ve cited Minneapolis’ Fiscal Disparities Act of 1971 before, as essentially tearing apart the property tax structure of the 5-county Twin Cities region to address similar structural issues. That Act took years to pass, and more years of legal challenges after passage before it could go into effect – and, 30 or 40 years later, has proven to have made some headway.

    So, Mark, I’ll agree with the part of your post where you’re addressing the difficulty of the problem, and the need for aggressive action – but I stop agreeing where you start buying the conservative assumptions about the problem: that it’s a matter of individual choice, and that if we can just get people to have better family values, if we can just get people better education so they can get jobs, if we can just attract a few major employers, if we can just make a few tweaks around the edges of a fundamentally sound system, then things will work out.

  21. Jon
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Mark’s comments about life having less value in the inner city are completely off base. Suburban lives has always held more value than urban lives since white flight began in the mid 20th Century. White lives have always been more valuable than ones of color, or so society has traditionally maintained. The more money you have, the more your life is worth, so says society. This clip from “The Wire” pretty much sums up this dichotomy and the culture that creates “misdemeanor homicides.”


    So how do you change this? A big part of it is a cultural change that Mark alludes to. Finding a way to make life matter more than we currently do. Another large part is policy that Murph alludes to. The war on drugs played a huge part in accelerating the decline of urban areas. Freeways and new house building incentives also sped things along.

    The biggest thing that stands in the way, that we locals could actually change is thinking regionally. We are needlessly competing against our neighbors or neighboring community wasting precious time and resources on stupid provincial attitudes the way the system is set up now. We should be competing against other major metropolises as part of one large, regionally coordinated government. The fight shouldn’t be about trying to attract Quicken Loans to downtown Detroit or GM to Warren. It should be about building on what we have organically, not fighting over Cobo or chasing two sets of buses up Woodward. Figuring out a comprehensive regional plan for southeast Michigan under the Detroit banner (because that’s what we are all labeled under whether we like it or not) is the smartest and best thing we could do, and a major part of that is turning out inner cities (Ypsi and Detroit alike) into livable, attractive places people want to live in.

  22. Posted August 27, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    applejack is right. I’ve written the same thing here also, we have to do away with the Charter Township system.

  23. EOS
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Detroit’s problems are not unique, but comparable to most large cities across our nation. Many people prefer to move to Charter Townships as soon as it’s economically feasible for them to do so. High crime rates and urban decay are more the result of high density and prohibitive tax rates than the result of having an option of leaving for the greener pastures of Township living. When Detroit becomes insolvent, they should take advantage of the opportunity, renegotiate all their union contracts and become a Charter Township themselves. How progressive is it to eliminate others’ preferred choices?

  24. dragon
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article on the rush of journalists to write on the horrors of Detroit, at viceland written by Thomas Morton.


    Some highlights:

    For a while James was getting four to five calls a week from outside journalists looking for someone to sherpa them to the city’s best shitholes, but they’ve finally begun leaving him alone since he started telling them to fuck off. “At first, you’re really flattered by it, like, ‘Whoa, these professional guys are interested in what I have to say and show them.’ But you get worn down trying to show them all the different sides of the city, then watching them go back and write the same story as everyone else. The photographers are the worst. Basically the only thing they’re interested in shooting is ruin porn.”
    There are families of white folk who fled Detroit for the suburbs in the 60s who have now become so terrified of visiting the city that they’re willing to disinter their dead loved ones and rebury them in their current neighborhoods. And it’s not just one or two oddballs doing this—more than 1,000 bodies have been exhumed and moved since 2002. It’s a full-blown trend.
    This was discovered by Detroit News hotshot Charlie LeDuff, who you may remember from the story he wrote about the guy who was frozen in an abandoned elevator shaft and had kids playing hockey around him or, if you’re more media savvy, from his long stint at the New York Times. While the homeless-mansicle piece got picked up by the wire services and pretty much every major media outlet around the country, no one but a handful of blogs would touch the dead-flight story. This could have happened for any number of reasons, from the racial implications of the whole thing to run-of-the-mill shit luck. Still, it doesn’t say much for the outside media’s attention to detail when nobody’s managed to notice one of the city’s most heavy and emblematic news items staring its most clichéd icon in the face.
    I’d already felt like a pretty massive prick driving around devastated neighborhoods all day with an enormous camera hanging out the window, but I didn’t know from shitty until I pulled up at one of East Detroit’s community farms and tried to talk to a couple kids who were either loading or unloading some boxes of stuff. After staring at the mic clipped to my shirt like it was a severed baby’s clit, one of the main guys (I think) explained their position:
    “Look, we get like 30 emails a week from people. What happens is they go off and write their story and nothing ever happens here except we get more and more requests. Now, like, Delta’s inflight magazine is contacting us. I don’t know what to say to Delta’s inflight magazine.”
    Later I found out that right after I’d shuffled off with an awkward smile, the dude stormed into his house and fired off a furious email to the person I’d been driving with, accusing him of wanting a bunch of “Billyburg hipsters” to move onto their block. I can’t believe I got redlined in East Detroit.

  25. Dan
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Dear Mark,

    I love the discussions your posts generate, but I’m saddened to see your factually hazy and politically wishy-washy take on Detroit. Detroit’s population peaked in the years following WWII, not 1967. The population never reached 2 million. It began to drop precipitously around 1950. What really irks me is the notion that the riot was somehow a catalyst for depopulation and economic decline, instead of a result of it. Please read Thomas Sugrue’s “The Origins of the Urban Crisis” in which he traces the economic spiral to white flight and deindustrialization, both of which began well before 1967.

    As was pointed out in previous posts, the current murder rate is not unprecedented. And this notion you have that people need to be “taught” about things in Detroit makes me shudder. People “know” how not to have out-of-wedlock babies. When you live in a place without hope, however, you just don’t care.

  26. Posted August 28, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Yeah maybe I shouldn’t have said unprecedented. Maybe per capita the murder rate has been higher previously. This however was the first year in which someone I know was murdered in Detroit. We can quibble about the numbers, but I don’t see as how anyone can deny that there’s a massive problem. Are you really suggesting that things are going well in the city of Detroit?

    And I didn’t say that the young people needed to be taught ho not to have babies. I said we

  27. Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Mark –

    Dan’s post in no way said that there is no problem. In fact, I read it as saying the problem is much bigger than you indicate – big enough that the problems you’re looking at are really just symptoms of the greater problem.

    If we’re focusing on the murders as the problem, then, first, we’re not making any headway on the real problems at root of the murders and everything else. Second, focusing on the murders, and making falsely alarmist statements about Detroit being the most violent city anywhere, ever, is, well, every bit as useful as the Ann Arbor attitudes towards Ypsi that you frequently decry.

  28. Jon
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    One other thing I have a problem with is this title of this post, “Let’s stop the murder, Detroit.” It trivializes the problem and the people trying to tackle it. This title smacks of “Just Say No to Drugs,” making it sound as if lowering the murder (crime) rate is as easy as flipping a switch. I am sure Detroiters will skim this headline and say, ‘You know what, this guy has a point. This homicide thing really isn’t working out for us the way we thought it would. We should stop. I am going to give up murder, starting Monday. It’s just not worth it. Good thing that helpful suburbanite set us straight.’ I can’t wait to read the “Let’s stop the prostitution, Ypsilanti” post.

  29. Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    OK, I just got back from camping up North. I’m sorry that my response, typed into my phone’s keypad, didn’t convey what I wanted it to. I agree with much of the criticism. I just think we need to get beyond the quibbling over numbers, and start discussing big, ambitious responses to the problem, which is very real. And, yeah, I shouldn’t have rushed with the post as I was leaving town, and I should have thought of a better title, and I should have chosen a different word than “unprecedented,” but, with all that said, I think there’s still a huge issue that needs to be dealt with. And, for what it’s worth, I like my urban homestead act idea.

  30. Me
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    “If we’re focusing on the murders as the problem, then, first, we’re not making any headway on the real problems at root of the murders and everything else.”
    I don’t understand. So what is the answer? Move a bunch of rich, white people back into Detroit and displace everybody else.
    I like “Stop the Murder” more. All the dead people probably see the murder as the real problem.
    There are poor people all over. They don’t all kill each other. Or am I missing some fundamental understanding of human nature here? I am willing to try to understand, but so far I am lost.

  31. Robert
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of which, has anyone done shit about finding the person of interest in the Jeremy Waggoner murder case?

  32. Robert
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Ok, well, I guess not. Anyway, the Detroit News has an article this morning claiming that muderers in Detroit have a 70% chance of getting away with their crime.

  33. Elaine
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Just be sure not to say that’s “unprecedented” Robert.

  34. Robert
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand the meaning of your comment, Elaine. I’m wondering now if I came off as trying to suggest something in my last comment. I had just noticed the article and thought I might throw that statistic out there.

  35. Robert
    Posted September 26, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Let’s stop the murder, Detroit…or at least take it out to the suburbs.

    Detroit homicide investigator murders his wife in the parking lot of the Canton public library:


  36. Robert
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    The feds are coming in to investigate the Tamara Greene murder.


  37. Jon
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the city is spending too much time chasing the homicide numbers? If it spent more of its resources on quality of life/community policing (broken windows theory) and less doing more of the same status qou (get the murders down) then it could stand to reason that it might prevent more killings down the road.

  38. Robert
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    You are oh so very correct, Jon. However, it is extremely difficult to get government to be proactive. To the vast majority of the public proactive measures appear only as more government waste. When I worked for the Wayne County Commission I was stunned to find out that dangerous intersections had to have a certain number of fatalities before they would be anaylized and redesigned to prevent collisions. That’s the way things go on all issues, until some significant pressure is applied by the public or another outside force to address some usually very particular situation.

    On a seperate note, a new federal monitor for the Detroit Police Department has been hired to replace the last one which resigned due to having “inappropriate contact with ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick”



  39. Ernie Encumeden
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I came here today, in good faith, looking for an image of an automotive wiring harness engineer dressed as a robot Zulu warrior from the future. I will never forgive Google for sending me here.

    What up, Detroit?

  40. Stanford
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I stay in this city, and the problem is Mayor Bing doesn’t care about the city he wanted to get rid of some of people who been staying here to long, the young people are not the problem, they learning from the old heads that has in crime, and the parents whom be drinking smoking weed and on crack are learning violent tendency. There no jobs, and these people they have been disrepected. The women here runs the city really, and these people gets offended very fast. Most the people here have to sell drugs for a living, because lack of jobs, And if Gov. Snyder sign the of 4 year cap on welfare benefits, then crime really going to heighten. There more crackhouses than homes and apartments, you can get a gun faster here than you can find a job. You’re get beat up for wearing old clothes. And other criminals come here from other states and start commenting crimes, closing down public schools and lack of transportation. It just the Mayor and Governor don’t care. If Detroit had white people living here, crime in Detroit would have drop at a alarming rate. People are robbing and killing now,because there aren’t any money coming down to Detroit now.

  41. Johnny Kovac
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of murder in Detroit, you should really check out this little interview with a kid shot and left for dead in the city. It’s very well done, and extremely compelling.


  42. Mayor Bloomburg
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I thought that I’d leave this here.


  43. Tammy
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Could it be because Manhattan is 97% affluent?

  44. Tammy
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    And the affluent kill legally.

  45. Artie
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that number is just for Manhattan. I think it’s citywide.

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