LeDuff: Welcome to 'Hel'

March 21, 2019, 9:54 PM by  Charlie LeDuff


A faded sign tacked to an electric pole says it all -- "Hel Wanted."

And Hel hath cometh.

Popular press reports and city boosters say the downtown/Midtown silk-stocking district has turned the corner with its streetcars and restaurants and ballparks.

A while that may be so, neighborhoods like this one on the east side of the city just north of Hamtramck, bound by I-75 and Mound Road, are devolving into Hel on Earth -- damned by poverty, the arsonist's match and municipal disregard.

Data shows the city's neighborhoods like Hel are going retrograde in terms of poverty, income and population, making them worse off than even in 2010 – at the height of the Great Recession.

What you will see here in Hel is the perpetual line of hungry humanity at the local mission, its broken window stuffed with bags of donated clothes. You will see the skulking round-back hound searching for scraps.

You will also see that the city is doing a mass demolition project here in Hel. That damned demolition program, mired in a three-year federal corruption probe over collusion and big-rigging and now, whether or not contractors used poisoned dirt to stuff the holes where houses once stood.

Hel is a dirty place

Take a look at the dirt they're using here in Hel: clay mixed with garbage. Brick and board, rusty paint pails, soiled diapers, ground shingles, old work pants, sewer piping, garden hose, glass and rock, underpants and logs.

“It ain't heaven around here bro,” says Rico, a local mechanic. “But I'm mean like, damn, they don't got to do us like that.”

There is a certain senselessness to it all here in Hel. Keystone Street is a dead end road with not a soul left living there. Some houses on Keystone got torn down. Others are left boarded up, but falling in. And for some reason, the sidewalks are new.

Most municipalities have vermin control procedures when they knock down buildings. Catch the rats when they run. Not Detroit.

“When they tore down those houses, it drove all the rats into my building,” said a foreman named Mike. “My question is, who's going to drive all the rats out of city hall?”

Suffice it to say, City Hall is not popular out here in Hel.

There's always room in Hel

Down the road from Keystone Street is a continuation of Hel -- the Detroit Detention Center, soon to be the biggest employer in the area once the GM plant closes in nearby Hamtramck.

Detroit Detention Center

No guard is in the guard shack at the facility and there is no need for one. The cops are seven scout cars deep in the parking lot waiting to process their prisoners. Waiting. Waiting. Laughing among themselves. Waiting some more.

The process to book an arrestee can be a long one. Detroit cops say the facility is so poorly thought out, that it can take as much as two or three, sometimes even four hours. There they sit with their prisoners cuffed in the back seat...waiting their turn to be radioed in.

The detention facility, a former state prison wrapped in hurricane fencing and concertina wire, is a joint venture between the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit. All people arrested in the city go here to be processed before they get their day in court. The arrangement was supposed to fix things.

Remember: the beleaguered Detroit Police Department had been hamstrung for more than a decade in a federal consent agreement – for among other things – inhumane holding conditions at the precinct houses.

The facility and the deal with the state did get the police out of the jailing business, and got them out of the consent agreement. And it was also supposed to free up police officers and dollars that could be funneled back into public safety.

But today, there were enough scout cars growing stale in the parking lot to staff two precincts, taking much-needed cops off the streets of Hel, in a city with too few of them. A task force is studying the situation, I'm told.

Remember, department brass says crime and police response times are down across the city, but the cops say that's not true. An independent analysis of the department's own data shows that's not true.

What is true is that there are fewer police officers patrolling the streets of the city than before bankruptcy.

Department officials, as has become their custom, did not return calls seeking comment.

“If you got yourself a doughnut truck, you make a killing around here,” one cop told me with a laugh. “The dirty little secret is that some guys won't make an arrest after twelve (o'clock noon) because they want to get home in time. Who suffers? The citizens.”

Welcome to Hel.

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