Tags Posts tagged with "detroit"


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Michiganders will go to the polls this year to elect a governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Unfortunately, the state’s largest city will only play a cameo role in the outcome. If recent voter participation is a future indicator, the majority of Detroiters will exercise their right to watch the results from the sidelines.

At no time in modern political history has the city been more irrelevant in determining the outcome of this important statewide exercise. Consider, for example this historical perspective:

The 1st and 13th Congressional Districts were once the largest voting districts in the state. Both emerged from reapportionment after the 1960 census and were powerfully situated within the borders of the city.  This realignment made Michigan the first state since Reconstruction with two black congressmen – John Conyers and Charles C. Diggs.

At the time, it was generally accepted that no statewide candidate could win election without courting city voters and amassing significant votes in Detroit. In the late 1970s and 1980s, former Republican Gov. Bill Milliken recognized he could survive politically by establishing a Detroit/Lansing connection with former Democrat Mayor Coleman Young. Detroit, in turn, benefitted from the relationship, which no longer has an upside for either political party.

Today, only a portion of the 13th Congressional District remains in Detroit. The 13th stretches well beyond the city’s borders, dramatically dispersing what was once Detroit’s political muscle and influence. Detroit is neither the first or last stop on the candidate campaign trail.

Detroiters also lost their will to vote. In last year’s citywide election, for example, voter turnout in the August primary and November general elections last year were 13.9 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively. These elections provide evidence that the electorate did not turn out against first-term Mayor Mike Duggan, but did not turn out in large numbers for him either.

Detroiters, though, continue to vote with their feet. Middle-class blacks closely followed the out-migration of the white middle class to the suburbs. It is a revolt against the inability of previous administrations to fight back the wave of failed education, high taxes, depleted services and gratuitous crime and violence.

Although the stampede from the city has slowed, it still outpaces the rate of those willing to move into Detroit. This does not bode well for a quick fix or long-term recovery.

An overwhelming dissatisfaction with the candidates is one reason most discouraged voters or nonvoters give for their disinterest. Studies also show the lower down the class structure one goes, the lower the participation rate becomes. Almost three quarters of city residents are elderly, low-income, uneducated or under-educated and unemployed or underemployed. Most don’t see politicians – black or white – as essential to improving their condition. But does the voting trend transcend apathy or poverty?

Whatever the reasons, Democrat and Republican contenders can be expected to spend the bulk of their time and resources stumping where people are motivated more by improving their access to the economic mainstream than propping up the failed status quo. No one should be deceived into thinking that the 2018 election turns on Detroit’s turnout. Upwardly mobile voters, who make up the new breed of urban voters, have established roots in Oakland, Macomb and out-county Wayne.

None of this is welcome news to Mayor Duggan or for passage of his broad legislative and regional cooperation agenda. One thing for sure – Detroit no longer has the clout to dictate the terms of engagement. So going forward, Lansing may be even less inclined to work a deal on insurance reform, or throw more government largesse Detroit’s way, when the odds that the mayor can influence elections are slim to none.

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In 2016, Detroit regained the title as the most violent big city in America, seizing the distinction from St. Louis which displaced Detroit the previous year. The revelation helped to establish violence as a continuing and disturbing fact of Detroit life. Residents are justified in asking whether they – or the absence of bold, aggressive policing policies are part of the problem.

According to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime report, 13,705 violent crimes were reported in Detroit last year.  That’s a more than a 15-percent increase from the year before among cities with populations over 100,000.  Detroit has few peers when it comes to residents being assaulted, raped, robbed, burglarized or caught in the cross-fire of gangs and the drug trade.

Since the 1970s, Detroit has worn the title of “murder capital” on more than one occasion. Detroit’s 303 murders last year came close, but did not lead the nation. However, bustling traffic around hospital emergency rooms and funeral homes provide another appalling indicator of the fatal fire and its heavy casualties.

Police Chief James Craig took issue with the FBI’s numbers. His downplaying of the stats was tantamount to giving Detroiters a physiological placebo. It was also a weak attempt to mask the fact that he hasn’t been able to deploy a comprehensive anti-crime strategy. Even substituting his numbers for the FBI’s, Detroit is still an extremely dangerous place.

The problem boils down to this: not enough criminals are placed in jeopardy and too few are exposed to the full force of the law. Thus, by neglect, the city tolerates lawlessness and pays a cost in the uninterrupted suffering of victims who struggle against the odds to survive.

The devastating human impact notwithstanding, Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council have yet to show much foresight or resolve on how to weather the carnage looming on the horizon. Both have the responsibility to assess the police department’s crime fighting apparatus, management and deployment of its forces. Supposedly, they budget funds to match the crisis. There is no higher government priority. Yet in this city, it is as though elected officials are insulated, if not indifferent to the need to be accountable.

It helps to have political leadership with perception, imagination, discipline, and a coherent vision of what can and should be done. But the resolve of Detroiter’s to compel the mayor, council and the police chief to control crime, also leaves much to be desired.

Detroiters want their children to grow up safe and secure. They want government to create the environment in which people are willing to live and businesses willing to locate. Curtailing the population hemorrhage requires a significant improvement in their life prospects. Upwardly mobile families, after all, tend to locate where safety is the rule, not the exception.

Nothing stops the heartbeat of a city vying to be relevant more than the unabated crime trend. And if we start from the premise that any city that can’t perform this basic function probably can’t do anything else well, a real Detroit comeback is not in sight – it is in jeopardy.

When officials fail in their obligation to protect its residents, they forfeit any legitimate claim to the allegiance of the people. Mayor Duggan and the City Council will put together a real response to the violence when vigilant voters begin to oust those who fail to perform. Otherwise, Detroiters get no more and no less than they deserve.

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Decriminalization: The Cure for Urban Violence

Detroiters are daily witnesses to the worst results from drugs and violence — and not just because — as the Detroit News recently reported – police ranks have shrunk and the narcotics unit disbanded.

images-1I can’t get inside the head of Detroit Police Chief James Craig. I’m not qualified to flyspeck his crime-fighting strategy. But I’m certain that he sees all the social ills that accompany drug use. And if the chief has determined that too many resources were directed to a drug war that can’t be won by conventional means, it makes sense to stop chasing street dealers, cut back on drug house raids and deploy resources to combat more manageable crime.

More importantly, the failure of the “war on drugs” should cause all Detroiters to give serious thought to removing criminal penalties from those that tear at the core of the city.

Drugs began a death march, killing and destroying family relationships and neighborhoods decades ago.

Thirty years ago, for example, there was a consensus that comprehensive, community-based and collaborative prevention measures held the most promise for forestalling a child’s early initiation into drug usage. The thinking then was that the tug-o-war with children’s minds needed to start early if the ghetto’s gluttonous appetite for getting high was to be checked. But hitting kids hard and often with anti-drug messages failed to turn them against drugs before they were exposed to the pusher.

That’s because the lessons taught on street corners are compelling and seductive. Drug dealers are often the heroes, role models and symbols of success to children who see few other options.

There too was a recognition that the first responsibility for controlling this problem belonged to parents. Schools also needed to reinforce principles of personal responsibility. Today, a combination of drugs and parental apathy now weakens the vitality and mission of schools. Cohesive families are vanishing and drug-free children and academic excellence are a rare combination.

Crime prevention historically meant getting a handle on drug trafficking through interdiction and massive crackdowns. We bought into that too. The less-than-encouraging war on drugs is evidence that cops chasing down dealers isn’t a cure-all for drug-infested communities.

Neighborhoods are more violent; crime more ruthless. Drug dealing, drug abusing and drug-oriented gangs have laid siege upon a defenseless people. The best efforts to sweep the city’s streets of drug dealers are laughable. Even when police rack-up record numbers of drug arrests, offenders quickly make their way back to the street due to a lack of jail space.

Our dissent to this lamentable state was not achieved by setting program objectives too high or too low, or through cutting the police budget, bad administration or lack of compassion. It is the result of trying to deal with the consequences instead of trying to get to the root of the problem. It’s clear by now that the roots are entrenched in the supply and demand side of the equation.

Thousands of Detroiters, recreational and hardcore users, have a voracious appetite for, or addiction to drugs. Suburbanites are willing to risk their lives by venturing into the bowels of the city to purchase contraband.

High demand means there are mega-profits in the “game.” Mega-profits means there is no shortage of people  willing to meet the demand and give customers what they want, even at the risk of prison or death.

Addicts will cross any boundary to obtain the next fix. Pushers have a low tolerance for those who invade their turf. Drug deals often go bad, ending in death for buyers, sellers and innocent bystanders.

A powerful argument can be now be made in favor of decriminalizing the hard drugs that spawn most of the violence. Legalizing them would take the profits out of the trade. No profits lead to less violence.

We now have a pretty good idea of what does not work. It’s time for the next step.

Better to address addictive behavior through education and treatment than continue to roll the dice on not becoming a victim of our intransigence.