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.

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

Posted in Ann Arbor, Economics, Education, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Is this a gang war? And, if so, what are we going to do about it, Ypsilanti?

Last night, on my radio show, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Benjamin Edmondson, Ypsilanti’s new superintendent of schools. Before getting into the specifics of his plan to reinvent the district, we discussed how his day had begun. Prior to joining me, Edmonson had attended a “Stop the Violence” march. And, just before that, he’d attended the funeral of Keandre Duff, who was shot in the head and killed just after midnight on the morning of July 12 at a block party on Brooks Street, between Watling and Jefferson. What I didn’t know, as I was sitting down with Edmondson, was that, only a few hours earlier, five shots had been fired from a vehicle on Cross Street, just a short walk from where we were discussing his vision for the future of public education in Ypsilanti.

Hopefully, in a few days, when the podcast of the show is available, you’ll listen to our conversation, in which Edmondson talks at some length about his intention to launch a district-wide mentorship initiative meant primarily to put positive, stable role models in front of Ypsilanti’s male students. In the meantime, though, here’s a message Edmondson sent out through the Ypsi Community Schools Facebook page yesterday announcing a major component of that initiative called Man Up or Kid Down. It begins with the names of the last two young men murdered in Ypsilanti.

MAN UP OR KID DOWN

Keon Washington. June 27, 2014.

Keandre Duff. July 12, 2015.

Lives lost. Either by death or by prison, lives cut tragically short by senseless violence are a failure of our society.

The statistics can continue to be ignored. Our community can passively await another tragedy. Another life lost. Another lost contribution to the future of our society. Another opportunity ignored.

Man Up or Kid Down.

We invite you to step forward, let your presence be known, and grow this community initiative created by the partnership of Ypsilanti Community Schools and Gold Standard Advocates, LLC.

Man Up or Kid Down strives to engage, incite and provoke men in the community to take action to mentor and lead our youth.

The alternative to “man up” is “kid down” – young men following a path of criminal behavior committing suicide to homicide, while leaving trails of victims behind. These senseless tragedies shape the lives of our youth, our community, and the future of our society. Left without action, the shape of our future society is bleak.

Men, our families and communities vividly reflect each and every day the evidence of non-action. We have the power to re-shape these reflections through action. We have seen the positive impact when we engage ourselves in the lives of our youth. We must build on this momentum by enlisting more in our community to serve as the strong role models our young men need to survive. We must ACT NOW!

All men regardless of age, education, employment, or race can make a difference. The ONLY requirement is that you are committed to serving youth, families and our community.

Step forward and make your presence known. Join us today reshaping our community, one life at a time. Contact us at: manup@ycschools.us.

Dr. Benjamin P. Edmondson
Superintendent, Ypsilanti Community Schools

Mr. Jason Gold
President, Gold Standard Advocates, LLC

While I didn’t use the phrase “gang war” with Edmondson, it’s difficult, I think, to look objectively at the facts and see how it could be anything else than a war between rival cliques, or gangs. Keandre Duff, the young many who was shot and killed last week, was a suspect in the murder last summer of 17-year-old Keon Washington, who was shot and killed at a house party on Madison Street. While charges were eventually dropped against Duff, I don’t suspect it was a coincidence that he was murdered shortly after his release from jail, where he’d served 297 days for drug charges unrelated to the murder. Furthermore, it’s been mentioned in the press that Duff had an affiliation with a group called Rakk Life, while Washington was associated with a rival group known as BOH. Given this, it would seem likely, at least to me, that Duff was murdered in retaliation for the killing of Washington, and that yesterday’s attempted murder of another young man on Cross Street was in retaliation for the murder of Duff. While I suppose we should be happy that a 17-year-old is presently in custody for yesterday’s shooting, one suspects this may not be the end of it.

I wish I had more to report, but, as of right now, that’s all I know. I have emails in to both Mayor Edmonds and Police Chief DeGiusti, asking what’s being done to change the trajectory that we’re on. Hopefully, I’ll hear from both of them soon. And, when I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s hoping that we all stay safe.

One last thing… I wanted to share the following clip from Kyle Feldscher’s MLive article last year about the death of Keon Washington.

Jamaica Washington lived in fear of this moment for the last three years, only to see it become a reality: Keon Washington, her son, dead before he could graduate high school.

Jamaica Washington, of Ypsilanti Township, described 17-year-old Keon as a colorful, athletic boy with a free spirit but not without troubles. From the time he entered school as a kindergartener until the eighth grade, he was a straight A student, she said.

But, Keon started disobeying her when he got to high school. She tried to stem the tide, she said, reaching out to the community and local police to see if anyone could help her — a single mom with two other children — get her son on the right track. She even sent him to Detroit to live with his grandmother.

But, she couldn’t keep him out of Ypsilanti where his troubles started. And, on Saturday, she had to go identify Keon’s body after he was fatally shot following an argument outside a house party in the 500 block of Madison Street…

I agree with Superintendent Edmonson when he said yesterday, “We have failed our young people.” The question is, what are we, as a community going to do about it? Will people step up to participate in Man Up or Kid Down? Will someone in the community attempt to broker a peace agreement between these factions of young men? Will we finally realize as a state that now is the time to invest more in our schools, and not less? Will we put programs in place so that mothers like Jamaica Washington aren’t left on their own when they seek out help? And, perhaps most importantly, will we give our young people reason to be optimistic about their prospects for the future? I know other communities have dealt with things like this in the past, but this is new for me. If you have knowledge of things that have worked elsewhere, please leave a comment. I think I speak for everyone here in Ypsi when I say that we’d appreciate it.

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[The above image, taken at yesterday’s Stop the Violence march, comes courtesy of the Ypsilanti Progress Administration.]

Posted in Education, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments

Donald Trump, who unquestionably would have been a war hero if a bone spur in his foot hadn’t kept him from serving in Vietnam, questions the heroism of former prisoner-of-war John McCain

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Appearing on stage in Ames, Iowa today at something called the Family Leadership Summit, presidential candidate Donald Trump had the above to say about Republican Senator John McCain, with whom he’s recently been at war on the subject of immigration. [Trump, it would seem, has an issue with McCain for not believing, as he does, that immigrants, by and large, are rapists and drug dealers.]

McCain, for those of you who might not be aware, was held and reportedly tortured by the North Vietnamese for five-and-half years after his plane was shot down over Vietnam. [McCain was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War.]

Trump, sadly, never had an opportunity to distinguish himself in battle, as a painful bone spur in his foot kept him from serving in Vietnam. [When asked by reporters in Iowa today what foot it was that kept him from serving his country, Trump refused to relive the painful episode in his life, instead telling people that they should just look it up.]

I’d feel sorry for McCain if not for the fact that he helped lay the groundwork for the present Trump campaign by plucking Sarah Palin from relative obscurity and making her his running mate in 2008, essentially legitimizing the insanity of the so-called Tea Party, and opening the door to candidates like Trump.

I’d love to just laugh Trump off, but he continues to surge in the polls. A poll that came out yesterday, in fact, shows him leading the Republican field with 18% of likely Republican primary voters across the nation saying that they’d vote for him.

Personally, I don’t think Trump wants to win. I don’t think he wants the responsibility of the Oval Office any more than he wanted to serve his country in Vietnam. Given that, I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s comment about McCain wasn’t calculated to piss people off and push him out of the frontrunner position. I think the responsibility of the presidency would scare him shitless, and that all he really cares about is raising his profile high enough to earn him a few more ratings points on his television show, and get him some better paying speaking gigs once all of this is over. But, who knows. Maybe he really does want to be President. I guess we’ll have to wait and see… In the meantime, here’s my attempt at a new meme. I call it Unimpressed Trump.

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Posted in Observations, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A simple question about the proposed closing of the Ypsi Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

I’ve got a question for this Saturday morning… If the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (YACVB) were to be shut down, and all of their funds were to be handed over to the folks at the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (AAACVB), like many in Ann Arbor are conspiring to make happen, do you think the AAACVB would hire local Ypsi artists to create things like this?

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[The above billboard was commissioned by the YACVB and created by Ypsilanti’s very talented Caleb Elijah-Molejo Zweifler… perhaps better known to some of you as Nightman.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Ypsi School Superintendent Benjamin Edmondson, vacation memories and complaints with my daughter Clementine, and all kinds of other awesome stuff …on tomorrow’s Saturday Six Pack

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After a few weeks off the air, The Saturday Six Pack will return tomorrow evening with an all new episode. Our first guest will be the new Superintendent of Ypsilanti Public Schools, Dr. Benjamin Edmondson, with whom we’ll be discussing the current state of K-12 education in Ypsilanti, the initiatives he’s already set in motion, and the path that brought him here, among other things… In addition to Dr. Edmonson, I’ll also be interviewing my 11 year old daughter Clementine. She and I will be talking about our recent road trip down south, and asking folks to call in with their own vacation stories, as well as questions. [We just returned a few hours ago from a trip to Savannah, Georgia that included stops at the “lost colony” of Roanoke, the Andy Warhol Museum, the archeological dig at Jamestown, an awesome taco shop in Asheville, and the shark-infested waters off Cape Hatteras.] This segment, I should add, will be preceded by a live cover of the Go-Go’s hit “Vacation” by Saturday Six Pack band leader Jim Cherewick… I’m also told that we’ll be joined at some point in the evening by a young producer of WICKidz Radio, which, like this show of mine, is broadcast from the studios of AM 1700 in Ypsilanti. Assuming this comes to pass, we’ll likely be discussing their next episode, which I’m told will feature an interview with immigrant transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez, who recently made headlines for disrupting a speech by President Obama at the White House, calling attention to the detention and deportation of gay, lesbian and transgender immigrants… And, as if that weren’t enough, we’ll also be talking with our friend Bee Roll about work being done to organize locally for Bernie Sanders, and local historian Matt Siegfried about what was going on in Ypsilanti in the 1860s… And it’s all fucking free. All you have to do is tune in this Saturday evening from the comfort of your own home. You don’t even have to put on any clothes.

If you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing. Or, better yet, print out a few copies of the poster above, and head out tonight, nailing them to people’s front doors.

AND, HERE, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:

Unless you live really close by, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.

One last thing. We love phone calls. So please scratch this number into the cinder block wall of the recreation room of whichever facility you’re doing time in… 734.217.8624… and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. If we don’t get at least one call per show, we feel really bad about ourselves. [Personally, I can deal with it. I’m not so sure about Clementine and Jim, though. I think they might be devastated if no one calls.]

Posted in Education, History, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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