Teen violence in Ypsilanti brings “savage inequality” into focus

It must be because I’ve been out of town for the past few weeks, but it didn’t even occur to me, when I posted last night about this new epidemic of youth violence we’re experiencing in Ypsilanti, to look at it through the lens of our relationship with Ann Arbor. While I noted in my post that maybe now, with young people dying in the streets of Ypsilanti, we might be more inclined to fight for increased school funding, an economy that holds more promise for our younger citizens, and a more robust safety net for our at-risk teens, it didn’t even cross my mind to mention that all of this could be achieved if only our wealthy neighbors to the west would recognize that they share some responsibility for what is happening here, and make a greater effort to rectify the inequalities that have arisen in part as a result of their policies. It was their policies that made ours the eighth most economically segregated region in the United States. By systematically reducing affordable housing, pushing their most needy citizens to Ypsilanti, and, at the same time, opening their doors to Ypsilanti students, thereby defunding our schools, they have made it incredibly difficult for us get on the kind of firm financial footing that would allow us to invest in our next generation in a significant way… Thankfully, I was reminded of this by someone calling himself Steve P, who left the following comment in response to yesterday’s post.

Seems like yet another stark illustration of the disparity of our regional supports and resources for our area youth looking like an uneven see saw: with all the weight on the westside of the village (Neutral Zone, Ozone House, A2 Parks and Rec and Ed…) with virtually nothing on the eastside of the village (W. Willow, Southside, Macarthur Blvd, Parkridge etc. etc.). Does Ypsi even have a viable Boys and Girls Club anymore? (I know the old site is up for auction and has been closed for many years…). It seems like well-placed community activists like the excellent Derrick Jackson at WCSO and the folks at Corner Health are working double triple time in Ypsi… and fighting a lonely fight, while the progressives in Ann Arbor flitter around afternoons on bankers hours with drum sequencers, theremins and fine art graffiti classes at Neutral Zone and the AADL. If there’s ever an example of economic disparity in our region, these issues with youth bring them to fore with, to quote the old Kozol line, “savage inequality”.

Now is the time. As Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, told us here not too long ago, “We must take collective action. Now..” It’s time to address these issues regionally, across our various jurisdictions. We’re all connected, and we need to finally acknowledge that fact and act accordingly.


[above: The site of Ypsilanti’s shuttered Boys and Girls Club at 220 North Park Street.]

This entry was posted in Ann Arbor, Economics, Education, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. dennis
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Any chance you can have Rakk Life and BOH on your radio show? A rap battle would be totally dope.



  2. Posted July 21, 2015 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Wow! Great piece. I hadn’t even thought of the reasons you brought up. Thanks so much for putting the spotlight on this problem. It’s hard to feel safe walking around this town with all of the violence/theft/muggings, etc going on. Many that I hear about DAILY that are not on MLive.com. We need to help the people who are committing the crimes. Let’s choose compassion in all we do….

  3. Demetrius
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I enthusiastically agree with you about the role that a lack of educational and job opportunities plays. I also think there’s no question that economic inequality in the greater Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti area (as well as in the U.S. as a whole) needs to be addressed.

    That being said, I think personal actions and personal responsibility also enter into this. Cultural poverty is not the same as economic poverty … and people (and groups) must be held accountable for this “eye for an eye” behavior.

  4. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    When there is a call for solutions we are reminded that Ypsi is a short car ride away and that Ypsi’s problems are Ann Arbor’s problems. When we speak of causes Ypsi is described as being world’s apart from Ann Arbor…As Demetrious suggests personal responsibility needs to be part of the conversation. I would argue personal responsibility needs to be the centerpiece…

  5. Steve P.
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks for quote, Mark! It’s been bothering me for a long time how topheavy the teen/youth supports are in A2 and how scanty they are in Ypsi, where they are much more sorely needed. A youth basketball league or Boys and Girls club can’t even stay afloat, meanwhile, A2 is closing down streets for dj and band concerts put on by the Nuetral Zone, the YMCA is virtually an all day teen club hang out location duirng school breaks….and oh yeah, the skate park. Some of this is accessible, somewhat, by the busline to non-A2 youth, but they are limited by the bus lines, and in the case of AADL’s many many many services, one must prove residency because of the linkage with the funding at the schools. It’s a sad state of affairs for our county’s poorest and most in need youth to have that glittery Emerald City just out of reach….

  6. Posted July 21, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    ” at the same time, opening their doors to Ypsilanti students, thereby defunding our schools, they have made it incredibly difficult for us get on the kind of firm financial footing that would allow us to invest in our next generation in a significant way”

    You don’t consider what the students who went to Ann Arbor schools think about the situation.

    Ypsilanti’s problems are its own.

  7. kjc
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    “Cultural poverty is not the same as economic poverty … ”

    what does this mean? this is the conservative talking points thread I see.

  8. Linh
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I’m a Board Member for the Neutral Zone and would like to point out that the organization serves Washtenaw County, and not just children in Ann Arbor. It’s an organization that is led by a Board comprised of teens and local leaders, so the programs that you see are the programs that the teen themselves come up with, organize, and are accountable for. I invite Steve P. to come by, meet the incredible Executive Director, Lori Roddy, the staff, and explore the breadth of Neutral Zone’s work beyond the arts. There’s a mentoring and tutoring program, LGBTQ support and leadership group, and work where teens are influencing policies beyond Ann Arbor’s borders (check Riot Youth’s LGBTQ climate surveys in Detroit, Dexter, Saline, and Ann Arbor). Forty-five percent of Neutral Zone teens are at-risk. The organization serves very real needs and its work impacts much, much more than what is referenced here. Ypsilanti-based community organizer and former Executive Director, John Weiss, can also speak to how youth-based work can not and has not been for just Ann Arbor teens.

  9. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    What is cultural poverty? Exhibit A: Rakk Life video.

    I like rap but I think they spent too much money on the video.

  10. Demetrius
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Lots of (most) poor people do not act out inappropriately toward other members of their own community.

    “Cultural poverty is not the same as economic poverty … ” is not a conservative talking point. Nor is it an excuse.

    I’m not trying to negate all of the cultural factors that need to be overcome – poverty, joblessness, structural economic inequality, hundreds of years of racism, inadequate role models, etc. – What I AM trying to say is that individual choices and decisions need to be considered here, too.

  11. Linh
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Also, Ann Arbor’s Schools of Choice was not launched to defund Ypsilanti schools. You know this. It was one of many efforts to bring financial stability to our schools IN LIGHT OF STATE FUNDING POLICIES. The man behind the curtain is not Ann Arbor school leaders but the folks in Lansing. There are many districts with similar situations, where there are extremes bordering one another.

    It’s awful. As a former WIC child and beneficiary of ESL classes, I can attest to the need for strong public schools. But until school funding changes from being based on commercial and residential property taxes, or until you decide to run for politics, we’ll have to recognize the idea that the educational gaps that plague our children are not exclusive to any one city or that one preys upon another. Ann Arbor is not the Emerald City. We have 25-30% of kids on free and reduced lunches, neighborhoods with kids where 30% cannot get online. It’s a city with a school district similar in size, racial makeup, poverty rates, and funding as Arlington, Bellevue, and more: http://nces.ed.gov/edfin/search/results.asp?ds=ann%20arbor&did=&ss=&zs=&zd=1&mt=0&pr=10&dlids=

    It’s terrible to know that young people are dying, minutes from where we live. It’s annoying to read how Ann Arbor schools are somehow to blame. I would rather see you use this incredible platform and your empathy for community members towards guiding us lesser Ann Arborites to more constructive solutions. Thanks.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Linh, Mark didn’t say that Ann Arbor schools opened their doors to Ypsilanti students in order to defund Ypsi schools. Nor did he say that they purposefully stopped building affordable housing with the intent of hurting people to their east. What he said was that actions taken in Ann Arbor reverberate through the surrounding community. You live in the 8th most economically segregated region in the entire nation. I’m happy for you that you have wonderful things. You have to acknowledge, however, that your decisions and policies have consequences.

  13. mariah
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I know it’s not a regional solution, and I do think that all-in-all folks need to be thinking more regionally, overall, but I’d just like to point out that ANY child going to a school that’s in Ann Arbor (and that includes kids living in Ypsi schools who go to an A2 school through schools-of-choice) can apply for and get an AADL library card now. This was a policy change within the last year and a half, and though it is a small step, it’s a good one.

    Kids, adults and ALL folks are always welcome at all AADL events (there have been many where you can use the music, science and other tools on-site or take a workshop, even if you can’t check things out). There is never any pre-registration of proof of district residency required to attend programs. I realize, however, there are still time and transportation barriers.

    Another quick factual thing to make sure is clear — library funding is not, in fact, tied to the school district. Long ago it was, but when the library became a separate entity as a District library, its tax-base is now tied to its specific district. That does overlap mostly with what once was AAPS lines (most folks in those areas voted that yes, they wanted to be included in the service district), but it also does *not* include areas of Northfield Twp. that voted not to be part of the district.

    With all of that in mind, though — I do hope for more regional thinking as it makes sense and is possible. Last I had heard, the YMCA was going to be constructing a facility in Ypsi as a part of the same A2/Ypsi system – is that totally off the table now? That was one of the reasons I had kept my membership with them instead of switching to a super-cheap option – I felt they were more invested in looking at A2 & Ypsi together, and I thought that was a positive step.

  14. mariah
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Ah — I see that an Ypsi *office* for the Y is now open (though I wish they had slightly longer hours) to streamline registration and program stuff. I was hoping for more than just an office — I’ll have to ask around to see if there are any plans for that or if it’s just going to be the one office.

  15. mariah
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    …for more details on AADL funding, this breaks things down more clearly than I ever could: http://www.aadl.org/aadl_newsletter_20140900

  16. kjc
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    “What I AM trying to say is that individual choices and decisions need to be considered here, too.”

    you’re describing the point of view that holds sway in most mainstream policymaking, including insidious suggestions of “cultural poverty”. i don’t see where this mentality is underrepresented. and who are you counterbalancing that thinks individual choices/decisions don’t matter? that’s a conservative straw man in itself. blech.

  17. worried
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Another factor in the situation is that Ypsi and Willow Run had a rivalry – as is not uncommon with neighbor high schools. Back in the day my high school had a rivalry with the high school of the town across the river, for example. When the districts merged, these two rival groups (gangs, cliques) were both in the same school. Their paths cross daily and there has been friction from the beginning. I am concerned about how things will be when school starts, after this difficult summer.

  18. Demetrius
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    @ kjc

    Everyday, every man and woman has to make hundreds of choices, and some of those choices (like engaging in gang violence) haven extremely negative consequences, for individuals, and for society as a whole. To try to deny this – for certain people, or certain groups of people – is itself short-sighted, and paternalistic.

    Nobody is trying to deny that racism, economic inequality, etc. are very real factors that need to be addressed. But excusing, negating, or downplaying negative personal (re) actions based on these factors is only leading to more young people ending up dead or wounded.

  19. Posted July 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Linh, I value your contributions and consider you a friend. And, for what it’s worth, I know that a vast majority Ann Arborites are not soulless monsters, in spite of how this post may have come across. Furthermore, I know that Ann Arbor schools did not open their doors to Ypsi students in order to weaken our schools. And I also know that Ann Arbor did not consciously stop building low income housing in order to shift the economic burden to Ypsilanti. Regardless of intention, though, we are, as Steve noted, on something of a see-saw, with virtually all of the resources on Ann Arbor’s side. The bottom line is that something needs to be done. It’s untenable. And eventually it will impact Ann Arbor as well.

  20. mariah
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Is there any information to help us figure out what factors (generation, SES, campus vs. non-campus introduction, etc.) might shape the perception that A2 and Ypsi are or aren’t inter-related? And/or the inter-relation of the whole county, for that matter?

    I moved to A2 in 1997 from rural Washtenaw Co. Even though I was a student at UM, I already saw both A2 and Ypsi as very intertwined (my dad had been working at EMU previously so I knew a little about the lay of the land in Ypsi). From the mid 90s on, I had friends and collaborators from the West-side outskirts of A2 to Depot Town (I really didn’t know much about Ypsi closer to Ford Lake, but my mom used to live over that way).

    The more “local” people I dated and hung out with had grown up in both A2 and Ypsi. I never thought of the two as NOT really inter-related, but it’s obvious that a lot of people do think of them as separate. And although there are municipal boundaries and different pots of funding, can that alone really explain how people perceive them as *not* linked? I don’t think it can…

    So other than the overly simplistic “people don’t want to take responsibility,” what are the real, practical factors that shape perception of inter-relation (or not)?

  21. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Demetrius. Well said.

  22. Jcp2
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    As a person also not originally from Ann Arbor, I think the divide is partially because the brand of Ann Arbor, which is a very strong one, has not included Ypsilanti. This becomes a real disadvantage for organizations that rely heavily on donations. It’s a lot easier to solicit funds when they are going to an entity based in Ann Arbor as opposed to Ypsilanti. Even St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, with a Ypsilanti street address in Superior Township is branded as St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.

  23. Kjc
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    “But excusing, negating, or downplaying negative personal (re) actions based on these factors is only leading to more young people ending up dead or wounded.”

    Who is doing this? You want me to believe in this binary (which I don’t) but at least be clear about your opposition. Who are you accusing?

  24. Posted July 21, 2015 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    The post appears to imply that Ypsi’s social and fiscal situation was rosy before approximately a decade ago.

    Ypsi has always been troubled at least as long as I’ve been around the area.

  25. James Williams
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    Science! and personal memory combine to lead me to believe that men aged approximately 15-25 tend not to make the best choices.

    I was lucky to grow up in an environment that had enough wealth/resources so as to put a floor on how bad those choices could be. Growing up, I had constant reinforcement that my future was important, and constant examples that it was possible to be a ‘success’ as an adult. I realize a lot of people put this down to ‘culture’, but most of the ‘culture’ I remember is all the adults wanting to keep their jobs in order to maintain their middle/upper-middle-class lifestyle, and most teens realizing that they had to moderate their behavior enough to eventually enjoy the same benefits.

    Now, I contrast this with what we have in Ypsi: urban poverty. I don’t think the people here are “culturally” poor- they are just poor. The reward for good behavior is uncertain and- given how we as a county like to jail black men- the downside is much less threatening.

    I don’t mean to downplay personal choice and responsibility. All I am saying is that rich communities have plenty of young sociopaths and shitheels- we just have the means to keep them in check or avoid the consequences until they grow out of it.

  26. Maria Huffman
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    To Linh, I dislike the Neutral Zone, in concept and in execution. I think it is denigrating in its approach..and your very post speaks to its hubris.

  27. Maria Huffman
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    And the idea that NZ will solve what is going on in Ypsi is misplaced, to,say the least, or NZ would be placed, physically in Ypsi, andd solicitations to help pay for NZ a would be occurring to the parents kids who attend of NZ, instead of placed in downtown AnnArbor, very inaccessible for kids other than those of Community High School.

  28. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    If the mm.com community thought personal choice and the influence of culture was an important factor they would have identified it as an important part of the conversation, at some point over the last few days. On the other hand, it could be that we are just not comfortable to talk about such things because kjc will wrongly accuse us of racism, classism, or having a right wing agenda. Toward what end kjc? Seriously, at some point you will need to realize that you are part of the problem, kjc.

  29. Posted July 22, 2015 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Personal responsibility is definitely a factor, as is what you’re referring to broadly as “culture.” It’s difficult to watch these Youtube videos of Ypsi kids rapping about their lives on the street while pointing imaginary guns at you, and not think, “What the hell kind of planet are we living on.” I don’t see, however, how it helps to just say, “These kids are garbage and deserve to be thrown away.” And just demanding that they begin acting more like the rest of us in polite society isn’t going to solve anything. The truth is, these kids have few prospects. They have nothing to live for. And their gangs, or “cliques,” offer them a better life in the here-and-now than society at large does. Would it solve everything to invest heavily in our schools, implement mentorship programs, and create more out-of-school opportunities? Probably not. Would I rather invest there than in foreign wars, though? Hell yes. I get that people are scared of terrorists, but the real threat is closer to home. It’s the cancer of poverty and despair. Young men make bad choices even in the best of circumstances. This problem becomes exponentially worse in an environment devoid of hope. And that’s what we’re seeing play out around us.

  30. Maria Huffman
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    No offense, but just saying they are devoid of hope, is a problem, in and of itself. They are people who have a distrust of the system of justice…and so they take care of things themselves.

  31. Posted July 22, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Mark’s most recent comment is right on. In my work life, I have found myself telling kids to study hard, go to college, etc. But that’s really ridiculous, sometimes. I’ve had students who have families who reject these ideas, telling the kids they think they’re too good for the family. Then the kids who had supportive families (or families who just didn’t care enough to comment), those kids would still have to get a decent paying job after school. If they were stuck in Detroit (where I worked at the time), they would need a car to get to the job. And there’s a decent chance that the job might not pay enough to afford everything they need.

    Looking at it objectively, why would you put yourself through all of that? If you see friends and relatives in jail or dead by their early 20s, why work your ass off for maybe a job that will maybe pay enough? Hell, I wouldn’t. If you don’t think you are going to have much of a future, all that matters is now.

  32. Maria Huffman
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Well, to both Teacher Patti and to Mark…you do not actually know why these particular people are shooting at each other…

  33. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I appreciate Mark’s last comment too and I mostly agree with him too. I don’t dismiss the struggles of built into poverty. I do however think it is important to remember that we are not talking about Detroit or Flint. We are talking about a *relatively* economically successful little city that is positioned a 20 minute bus ride away from one of the most economically successful mid size cities in the country. Unemployed people in Flint and parts of Detroit would love to have that kind of advantage….

  34. Posted July 22, 2015 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Frosted Flakes, this is a good point. Ypsilanti does have the advantage of public transportation which Detroit most definitely does not!

  35. Maria Huffman
    Posted July 22, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    As down as I am on Neutral Zone, and yes, I am implying I think it exists to service Community High’s kids…I have always like The Rec and Ed programs that Ann Arbor offered. They were often really quite good. I do not know if Ypsi has comparable programs..

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