Why Should it Take the Robbery of a Celebrity to Highlight the Problem?
In the wake of the hubbub over the strong-arm robbery of Detroit preacher and gospel-music superstar Marvin Winans, Detroit officials are insisting that they are as concerned about the city's common folk as they are about its celebrities.
But some residents worried the attention stemmed from the stature of the latest carjacking victim, a Grammy Award-winning gospel artist who earlier this year gave the eulogy at singer Whitney Houston's funeral.
Ordinary victims of crime should get the same swift attention, (community activist Bernice) Smith said. "It's not just famous people who are victims, but ordinary people don't seem to get the same attention from the police," Smith said.
(Ralph) Godbee insisted he cares about every crime victim. "Whether it's Mr. Winans or Mrs. Jones on the southwest side who nobody has heard of, we take these crimes seriously," he said.
Oh really? Well, why was the gas station where Winans was attacked swarming with more cops than many Detroiters see at the scenes of actual shootings? Of the 25 other crimes reported in a one-week period in the same area where Winans was attacked, how many of those merited platoons of detectives, uniformed officers and fingerprint specialists? (In the same vein, why were there as many as 12 officers at the scene of where former Detroit Police Chief Stanley Knox was robbed a few days before the attack on Winans?)
And why wasn't it until Winans was robbed that the media and other leaders finally seemed to get behind the ongoing—but often ignored—call for heightened security at many of the city's gas stations and party stores?
To his credit, Councilman Kwame Kenyatta, who issued the call, has spent the past several months urging many of the city's gas stations to upgrade their security, especially at night. But it wasn't until the Winans attack—which happened in broad daylight—that many others actually paid attention to Kenyatta's suggestions and wanted them somehow codified in city law.
Meanwhile, although a clerk at the Citgo station where Winans was robbed admits that the business draws drug dealers and would-be robbers, some local business leaders act as if increased security at their establishments is just a waste of time and money they don't really have.
But Auday Arabo, the president and CEO of the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers, which represents store owners in the city, disagrees. "Hiring security guards — and some have them — haven't solved the problem of rampant crime," he said.
So what then? Are we supposed to accept dead, shot and beaten Detroiters as the cost of doing business?
In the wake of the horrific death of beloved store owner Fred Dally, I recall hearing business leaders all across the city urge Detroit to "do something" to deter "senseless acts of violence." Well, the ball is as much in their court as it is other leaders: What, really, are these businesses willing to do, sincerely and seriously, to ensure that the most at-risk Detroiters are safe when they enter and exit a party store or gas station?
No one's pretending a camera or two at the local Shell or bonded security inside the BP would eliminate all crime in this city. That's not even close to being the point. But surely, a few more attacks can be deterred—or at the very least solved—with a more proactive approach by these businesses. Somewhere, someone's life can be spared.
Even before Winans, there was Brian Stuckey and Jamal Williams and 86-year-old Aaron Brantley. In some instances, the shelf life of the story didn't even last long enough for us to learn the victims' names.
And these are only a few of the many people who've been beaten and gunned down at local gas stations in Detroit. Add in the convenience stores are the numbers rise even higher.
Ordinary citizens have been shouting about the violence at Detroit gas stations for years, of course. But instead of $50,000 rewards and armies of auto-theft cops and fingerprint experts, all they get is lip service and impotent public displays of "outrage."
Now, the attack on a well-known gospel singer has turned up the spotlight, and city leaders are scrambling around ferociously to show they're ready for their closeup. Winans attackers already have been arrested and his car recovered.
The politicians, appointees and businessmen who run this town are quick to say that they care about "regular folks," the ordinary people who don't make the Billboard charts or run big-pimp churches or aren't ex-police honchos.
But the truth is told on those cold, dark nights when ordinary people have to venture into poorly lit stores and gas stations to cop formula for their babies and to put down $20 on pump 3. That's when Detroiters can look around and see for themselves who cares enough to keep them safe.
And too often, they find that they are all alone.