Emily Doerr, Karen Dumas And Detroit's Dysfunctional 'Urban Environment'

February 20, 2013, 10:30 AM

I didn't think there was much more to say about Detroit Hostel founder Emily Doerr’s mugging. We in the local media had already flooded the zone with more than sufficient coverage. Then Dave Bing’s former press secretary/alleged Svengali Karen Dumas decided to wag her finger: “Being a victim does not qualify anyone to be a martyr, nor does it magically instill the secrets to crime reduction.”

She forgot to add: “Next time, don’t wear a skirt so short if you don’t want to get raped.” Maybe she’s saving that for her next Detroit News column.

Anyway, before I remove the stuffing from Regina George Dumas’ passive aggressive straw man, let’s consider the initial crime for a half-second longer.

Yes, the incident exposed the naiveté of local leaders and civic boosters who have for so long believed that, with the right marketing and positive energy, the downtown-midtown-Corktown axis could exist reasonably immune to the safety problems that afflict the rest of the city.

Downtown was safe in part, it’s been argued, because of efforts like Dan Gilbert's Quicken security guards patrolling around his buildings on bicycles. A neighborhood watch by any other name — while an obvious plus — can only do so much to make up for an under-manned, under-funded police department.

I can relate to anyone feeling like the coverage of Emily’s crime was overkill in a city filled with far too many anonymous victims. I’m also certain there could be value to this story as a kind of wake-up call. It should galvanize folks involved in the “greater downtown” revitalization to recognize they can’t build Delta City. The problems of Detroit affect all Detroiters, and some can’t be solved with façade grants funded by the foundation community.

This is what makes Dumas’ victim-blaming so odious. Yes, it’s fair to ask why so much attention (from media and the public) is paid when a photogenic redhead gets mugged when so many other crimes barely merit a shrug. But it’s also fair to say that when a particular crime manages to capture the imagination, we should use that moment to shine a light on the larger problem.

What no one should ever do is denigrate a crime victim because “in any urban environment, there are things you just don't do. Walking alone at night is one of them.”

In an urban environment, one does need to keep ones wits. However, wandering up one’s block at 8 p.m. is hardly the same thing as stumbling out of a blind pig rave at 3 a.m. Can we maybe agree there is a distinction there?

Can we also maybe say that so long as a person can’t feel reasonably secure on her own street in Woodbridge — a stone’s throw from Wayne State — it’s hard to see any sustainable signs of rebirth in this town?

Because the larger issue isn’t so much that someone was mugged once. It’s that you can totally get away with mugging people in Detroit. Had someone witnessed Emily Doerr’s mugging and called the cops, it’s not like a patrol car could’ve responded in time to do anything about it. Nor is it likely the crime will ever get solved. Probably this same mugger could strike Woodbridge several more times without being caught.

Urban environment or no, that’s unacceptable.

And you know who is to blame?

Karen Dumas.

Dumas has been a Detroit power broker for a long, long time. Yet, like so much of what passes for civic leadership in this town, she used her influence not to affect positive change for Detroit but to feather her own comfortable nest.

It’s galling to continually watch those with the access and influence to sway policy choose instead to defend a broken status quo and publicly lecture a Detroit resident — any Detroit resident — about the realities of an “urban environment.”

That “urban environment” was created by Dumas and her ilk, be they black or white, Detroiters or suburbanites. They've  had their chance to build a better city and region. They have failed spectacularly. As things have continued to get worse and worse and worse, one wonders if any of these Important People ever really gave a damn in the first place. 

Here’s another reality of Detroit’s urban environment: Fewer Detroiters will be crime victims (whether they’re Emily Doerr or a 14-year-old at a gas station) when fewer people like Karen Dumas occupy the corridors of power.

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