Detroit's Quivering Lip: What I Learned After a Car Was Stolen

File photo of broken car window.


Every time one of our big four sports teams compete for a championship, (or in the Lions’ case, when they play a meaningful game in the winter), I hear the same trite refrains.

“This squad really represents the people of the city of Detroit.”

“This town has been knocked down, but it gets back up, and so do the {Lions, Tigers, Pistons, Red Wings}.”

“This is a blue collar city, with blue collar fans, supporting their blue collar {football, baseball, basketball, hockey} team.”

Yeah yeah yeah. We’re tougher than the next guy, more resilient than the next city, and we’ve got a little chip on our shoulder that we’re not ashamed of.

You know what I think? I think we’re a bunch of sensitive high-schoolers, wearing swimming trunks in the locker room so no one has the opportunity to make fun of us. The only thing we’re more afraid of than seeing the ugly truth, is that other people {the suburbs, the state, the country, the martians} might see the ugly truth as well.

One Car, Hundreds of Opinions



As many of you are aware, Allan Lengel, the man steering the bus that is Deadline Detroit, wrote a little piece that got some attention on Saturday night. If you’d like to catch up, here is the initial story, and here is the follow up . But this column isn’t about Allan, and it isn’t about a car. It isn’t about Corktown, and it’s not even about the lack of police ability or willingness to assist the victims of a crime.

It’s about the response to the article, and our puddle-deep expectations for ourselves and our community.

Blame the Victim



From being called naive, to suburban, to entitled, to white, the ad hominems rolled in. Perhaps it’s counterintuitive to some, but much of the sharpest vitriol was from other white people, and from former residents of the suburbs.

I think I get it. You talked about moving to Detroit, your friends and family called you crazy, and every Christmas you get to hear the same racist jokes, and answer the same questions as if you’re Jane fucking Goodall. But not every person from the suburbs who has a critique of Detroit is your racist uncle. People don’t give up their right to an opinion or their right to feel hurt the moment they drive into the city limits.

Dozens of people felt that driving a new SUV was just asking to get your ride stolen. Sometimes, victims can share part of the blame for a situation. If you leave your new MacBook and Nikon in plain view in your car, I’m mad at you for indirectly supporting the criminal economy in the city. Like Reverend Sheffield said after Pastor Marvin Winans was beaten, robbed of his Rolex and cash, and carjacked at a Citgo in 2012, “You wouldn’t be a brick of cheese and walk into a room of rats!”.

But surely just parking a late model SUV shouldn’t be enough to garner yourself a starring role in an M.O.P. music video. If you flash your wealth in the face of those who have less than you, shame on you and your values. Parking a car doesn’t reach the bar of boastful conspicuous consumption.

Multiple people even suggested that visitors should have a hooptie as a second vehicle, specifically for riding around in our town. If that’s the level we’re at, pack it in: FEMA should evac us all to the suburbs.

Blame the Writer



Some of the first responses to come through were that Allan should have waited a little longer after the incident to post his column. Apparently, writing in the heat of the moment is bad practice. I dunno: I went to business school. But in my view, a journalist’s job is to tell the truth, inform the public, keep those in power on their toes, and occasionally to ask us all to question our assumptions. The degree of accuracy, not the degree of emotion, is what we should judge the writer on. Besides, what amount of time must pass before a writer can press the “publish” button? A day? A week?

But the article did have one gaping hole in it that would have been addressed better the next day. The article mentions that there is some secure parking for bars and restaurants and there are signs in the area that say “WARNING: CAR BREAK-IN AREA”, giving the impression that businesses in Corktown haven't done much beyond that to protect their patrons. A quick talk with the owners reveals the truth of the matter: Corktown has been fighting the good fight for years.

Could their efforts be better coordinated? Perhaps. On “event nights”, when the demand for parking spills beyond the capacity of the secure lots, should extra measures be taken? Maybe. But they aren’t just leaving residents and visitors out to dry.

Also, as it turns out, Corktown just isn’t the car theft hotspot that that I’ve been led to believe it was for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, even though car theft is dropping in the city, Detroit is still a car theft hot spot, with a glowing red spot over downtown.

Blame Humanity



Inevitably, whenever and wherever Detroit is critiqued for its crime or corruption, someone pops their head out to yell “But that happens everywhere!” or “Welcome to the real world. Every major city has crime!”. Well, there’s a difference between a light drizzle and a monsoon, so telling me that rain exists while the water is rising just doesn’t console me.

Why do we accept the defeatist position that “crime happens everywhere”, but don’t accept  other anti-social behaviors and attitudes? You know what else happens everywhere? Sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. Imagine this...

Susan: “My boss fired me for not giving him a back rub…”
Mark: “Well in Saudi Arabia, women aren’t even allowed to work…”

Fred: “While one host was telling me that all the tables were reserved, a white family came in without a reservation and was seated…”
Jim: “Well in South Africa, blacks weren’t allowed to…”

Ralph: “I got beat up, and they wrote “faggot” on my face in sharpie…”
Wendy: “Well in Iran, they still hang homosexuals…”

You know what Mark, Jim, and Wendy all have in common? They’re all assholes, and they’re not making Susan, Fred or Ralph feel any better about their situations.

I’ve lived in Detroit for most of my life. I don’t want Detroit to bask in some “equality of crime” with other cities. I want Detroit to be a good place to live and die for the next thousand years.

The Existential Threat of Complacency



There are several threats to the city’s ability to provide a standard of living  that is “adequate” and keep it there.

If the black population continues to leave the city, we are screwed.
If the tax foreclosure crisis is allowed to continue to run amok, we are screwed.
If we have a major non-sports related riot, we are screwed.
If we can’t offer a decent education to our youth, we are screwed.
If the areas that are making the most pronounced comeback are allowed to revert to empty storefronts and blight, we are screwed.

We need to make sure black residents know that Detroit is still a place to call home. We need to keep people in houses, and we need property taxes to be paid. We need to not let tensions boil over into the dissatisfaction and violence and we saw in 1967 and 1943. We need residents to stay in Detroit, even after they have a kid or two.

And yes, we need to reclaim our status as the hub of South-East Michigan’s economy. We have less revenue than we used to have, and we need more revenue than we used to need. White suburban visitors and their expendable incomes are a piece of that puzzle.

And no, white suburbanites shouldn’t get special privileges or live under a separate justice system. That’s called apartheid. But if they can come here, demand better, and raise expectations, I’m not going to be the one to tell them to shut up.

We aren’t going to solve Detroit’s problems without talking about them, and like so many other problems, this is a problem worth solving.

Though he has only himself to blame, Ben Duell Fraser is bloody sick of this topic. If you'd like to talk to him about anything else at all, he is @BDCanuck on twitter or in the comment section.

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