Detroit: No Overnight Solution, Not An Overnight Problem

Charles Hurt’s review of Detroit: An American Autopsy strikes a chord with me; and not because I have a connection to Detroit, but because I’m marrying into a Detroit family. Here is my fiancee’s take on the ailing city.

I can only speak for the Black neighborhoods, because hey, I’m Black and that’s where my family is from. 

Most of the buildings–commercial and residential–around my family’s area are abandoned. Some are on the verge of collapse. I don’t know what was there before (except for the occasional old signs giving it away) and my assortment of aunts, uncles and cousins go to the same three or four places everyday. Why? “Because,” my cousin told me once, “You don’t get jumped if you stay where you know everyone.” This same cousin was beaten bloody by a gang a few months after he told me this. He was 17 at the time.

What my mother would tell me in describing her Detroit upbringing sounded like something from the Wild Wild West. The drugs, the violence, the crumbling of community. Seeing classmates sitting in front of crackhouses. Saying goodbye to loved ones in a closed coffin. Then another closed coffin. And another. 

This is the place my father gave up on, selling his store after the fifth time his business was robbed at gunpoint. Daddy was a veteran, a sniper who fought the Japanese. He stayed in for the Korean War. There was no one more fearless than him–but even he was not up for raising a family in a killing field. I don’t blame him. I’m thankful for his decision every time I hear about the goings-on around 9 Mile Road.

Many of these articles and books about Detroit and its “fall from grace” are mystifying to me. And that’s the root of the problem. I’m a millennial, an 80s baby. In my mind, Detroit has always been a dilapidated, ruined cityscape. You now have an entire generation of people who have never seen a prosperous Detroit. Even my mother, a woman well into her 60s, is hard-pressed to recall a time without crime and poverty in the city she called home for so long.

This is the price we pay for willful ignorance. Detroit didn’t get like this overnight. We can’t expect an overnight solution.