Monday, March 31, 2008

A Detroit Sucks Thing

Some of you may have heard of the recent troubles the City of Detroit is facing with the Mayor having been indicted.  I grew up in Detroit and I lived there for almost 30 years.  I now own the home that I grew up in and I've been on a long quest to fix and sell the house.  If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll know that I've written about the house having been broken into on numerous occasions.  Well today was no exception.  What was the last straw for me was at the police station when I tried to report the break-in.  Here's the letter that I've drafted to the Chief of Police and will be sending out soon.  It breaks my heart that this is what it's come to.  I've wanted to deny it and I guess I have been by trying to stay away but this, I think, is just beyond the pale.  Please read if you care to.

Ms Cummings,
I am thoroughly saddened and dismayed by my most recent encounter with the Detroit Police Department. Today I went to check on my late parents home in Detroit on the northeast side, to take the trash out and continue packing up our belongings left from our lives growing up in that house. I discovered once inside that the house had been yet again broken into. It wasn’t the fact that the house had been broken into eight times previously, nor the fact that the eleventh precinct is within walking distance of the house. It wasn’t even the fact that the door that had been previously nailed shut because of other break-ins had been kicked in. No my shock and dismay came from the way I was treated when I went to file a police report at the eleventh precinct. I arrived at 1:25pm in tears because, after just having paid $1500 in taxes and having paid numerous times to board up other windows, I couldn’t see how I was going to continue dealing with this situation. As you well know, this area is in an economic downturn and money is scarce. When I arrived at the police station front desk as I have on numerous other occasions, no one said anything to me. I gathered that I was to fill out a sign in sheet and have a seat but of course, I wasn’t certain as I wasn’t told anything (much less asked why I was standing at the front desk sobbing). I saw numerous officers walking around talking to each other, taking phone calls. There was one other person in the lobby so I sat and waited. After approximately 20 minutes, I got up to ask what was going on. One officer walked over to check to see how much longer I had to wait while three other officers seated basically told me to shut up, sit down and wait my turn. I told them that the other officer was talking to me and I wanted to see what he had to say, they again told me to just go sit down and wait my turn. After being treated with such disregard, and after having suffered such a debilitating setback in attempting to responsibly deal with this home that I’ve inherited, I asked why I was being treated as if I had done something. They just told me to sit down and wait my turn. The helpful officer told me that in fact I was next but as I sobbed and sat and waited I thought about the previous times I’d been there to report exactly the same crime and what ultimately was going to happen. Essentially, I would get no help whatsoever, while just giving my name and the address of the house. I reasoned that since the house was left open as I couldn’t secure it, my time would be better spent dealing with the actual house. I left without filing a report.

I am a responsible citizen. I could have walked away from the house and let it fall into disrepair as so many others have done. I could have just let it sit there until drug users and drug dealers set up shop but I didn’t. I paid the taxes, I secure the house. I remove all trash in and around the property and for what. To be treated as if I’m a criminal or a fool for having the misfortune to have a house in Detroit. I grew up in that house and I still know the neighbors who are there from that time, they are wonderful people. They are all elderly and fearful as they rightly should be. They may or may not have heard the numerous break-ins but they’ve learned not to call, not to notice, not to say anything because it may be to their detriment. They know the police won't come and so do the criminals. I hope you realize that the system that is in place is, at this point, hopelessly broken. I don’t understand how that kind of behavior by the police who are sworn to protect and serve is acceptable. I don’t understand why after having paid all that money in taxes, that I have to pay a company another $200 to board up a door on a home that is literally 4 blocks away from the nearest police station. I don’t understand why, when I do go to the police station to report a crime against me, I’m treated as if I’m the offender and I don’t understand why this had to happen in the first place. At a certain point everyone who is responsible and a good, law abiding property owner will have had enough and the city will only be populated by criminals who are allowed to function with impunity. It’s shameful and sad. I tried so hard not to give up, not to be beaten by the system but this is just too much. If I could walk away at this point I would. If I can sell the house to the first bidder, I will. This does a serious disservice to the previous generation of proud black people who worked hard to buy and maintain they’re homes, and raise they’re families. They are left with a city that doesn’t care and won’t help.
I know of another person in the neighborhood who is mentally ill and an alcoholic. He was suffering from numerous assaults by the same person. He was beaten and threatened with a gun. When he went to the police he was told “do what you have to do and make it look like self-defense”. I know that those officers were trying to do was get rid of him and the offender. I explained to this person that if he did do something drastic, not only would he be unable to live with ihs guilt but he would be swiftly imprisoned. Is that what it’s come to in Detroit? I can’t help but feel that this all has to do with race, and while everyone involved is black, I doubt very seriously that kind of willful dereliction of duty would be allowed to occur in any other community. This is the kind of racism that's easy to get away with and hard to prove but is so dangerous because at it's core it's all about self loathing.  This kind of racism, black on black racism is particularly disgusting as we are being instructed by our own people to kill our own people. I could see it if this were Mississippi in the 1930's or 40’s and the police officers were white in a black community. It’s as if the Detroit Police officers have been instructed to treat the citizenry as if they are caged animals who should simply fight to the death, while they just cart the bodies out and blame it on someone else.

I live in Redford now, essentially across the street from Detroit (in a multi-ethnic neighborhood). I used to think everywhere was like Detroit but it isn’t. If I accidentally leave my door unlocked my things will still be there.  If there is an incident and I need the police, they will come.  I can walk my dog down the street without fear of her or I being attacked by roaming packs of “street” dogs. I can go for a walk at night. When I arrive home after dark, I don’t have to make a dash for the door and try to open up, get in and lock back up in record time. These are serious quality of life issues and you as Chief of Police, should understand this and these situations should be your priority. I’m ashamed to even be from Detroit at this point and I don’t know how you can, knowing that this is how your department operates, not be ashamed as well.
Sincerely yours,


Kat said...

Wow! A very good, well-written letter IMO.

I will also add that my grandmother and grandfather had to deal with incidents like this on the West side of Cleveland in the late '70's. Back then the neighborhood was really turning bad but the police just really didn't care. Didn't matter how well she took care of the house, who she reported it to, the report was filed and that was it. The only thing they told her was to change their schedule to make their outings to where ever more random, instead of a set schedule. Last couple of visits there we had to watch our backs on the street and park our cars within sight distance, that's when I was about 10 or 11.

I think things got to the point that is was such a regular occurence that the police didn't care. And back then I think it was pretty more of a white police force with a white complaint. People stopped caring. In 1980, she shocked us all and finally decided to move. That had to be a big decision for her, but she said it was the best thing she ever did. Her entire life was tied to that house, and I'm sure it was hard to leave behind.

alethia said...

Well written letter. This is very sad and my heart goes out to you and those people whom live in fear. The worst kind of racism is the one inflicted by your own race. I hope your letter get you a positive responds.

Shannon said...

Oh Melody, I'm so sorry that this has happened to you. Living just across the river from you, I always thought that the stories about Detroit were blown out of proportion - it saddens me to realize now that it may be worse than I thought. How awful that wonderful people like you have to deal with that kind of fear, frustration and disrespect. You're always welcome to come move into my neighbourhood - it's clean, friendly and best of all it's only about 20 minutes from where you live now. Hey yeah, that's a great idea - we could be sewing buddies!! Just beware that if you did move here I might show up on your doorstep each day asking if Melody can come out to play!

Nancy (nanflan) said...

This is so sad, and I don't know what to say.

Sharon said...

The situation you describe is horrific and unacceptable and no doubt true. I absolutely understand how deeply hurt and angry you are. Rightfully so. And while I believe you should send a letter and express how you feel I also believe that the letter needs a rewrite. Your letter should be more than just venting. There are still people in that neighborhood that you know and care about. However slim the chances are you want to submit a letter that has the potential to actually effect positive change. As it is, your letter is overly emotional and too long. It's likely not to be read at all. Think about the help people receive and how they are treated when, for example, they walk into a car dealership or any business ranting about an injustice. That's not to say that the letter should be stripped of the essence of your anger, certainly not, but you need to think about all those people who remain without an option of leaving. You need to write a letter that will actually serve them well.

Melody said...

Sharon, I think you may be right. I'll take it down a notch, but only a notch. I wrote that right after it happened and I think I can edit to be more concise.

Shannon, Jeez, I wish I could move, if I didn't need a passport I'd hop over anyway.

Kat, I've heard stories about Cleveland as well. At the crux of all these urban horror stories is a corrupt government. It's sad.

Cathy said...

Melody, I'm so sorry to hear of these sad injustices. My dad-in-law lives in Chicago, for 20 years in a neighborhood falling apart and succumbing to gangs. He finally moved when the next door neighbor's garage was burned down. I love visiting these big cities, but this girl is going to keep home a little town in the country. Just follow Sharon's advice--edit & post that letter. You can still have a postive impact on this community.

Mary Beth said...

My heart is breaking for you, your family's memory and your neighborhood. Speak out! And hey, no edit much required.

My DH had to abandon a house he owned and couldn't sell in Detroit's inner city 30 years ago when the city dropped all services to the area, devastating whole city blocks to ruin...a nightmare come true, no less.

cidell said...

holy crap. great letter. I hope it gets you somewhere. I hope you cc: the police reporter and the city hall reporter. Is there a legal paper in your city? Maybe the Det. Legal News in addition to the Free Press. I might actually send it to your free weekly too (sorry. former reporter and PR hack here).

Sharon said...

The neighborhood that Melody speaks about is in ill-repair. REALLY! REALLY! bad shape. And I know without having been present that they were rude to her. They thought she was from the neighborhood and people don't respect people who are stuck in poverty. We can pretend that isn't but it is. It's unfortunate. And it is also true that Detroit is in an economic downturn. Detroit, like Indiana, is in a depression NOT a recession like the rest of the country and that's due more to a lack of industry than the Mayor (believe it or not). Still there are neighborhoods that are very unlike the one Melody describes. My mother's neighborhood is not that bad despite having changed quite a bit over the last few years. There is a house across the street from her and during my last visit it looked as though it had been broken into. I called the police and they were there in less than 5 minutes. Same with the EMS. When I collapsed in my mother's house she hung up on 911 without giving the address yet they were there in what seemed to be an instant. We were both amazed. In her neighborhood you never hear gunfire (except for new year's eve), you CAN take a walk in the late evening, in the dark, without fear of criminals or "packs of street dogs". I still walk to visit my friend Kathy and Lil that live around the block from my mother well after midnight. In fact I never felt like I had to rush to open my front door and lock back up in any of the 4 neighborhoods I've lived in in Detroit. And I've never seen packs of street dogs, not even in the neighborhood Melody speaks about but to be fair I rarely visit that area. The entire city is not a run down ghetto. Screw the Administration, who cares about them, but it does the PEOPLE of the city a disservice to use such a broard paint brush. The city is in the shape that it is because all the VIABLE people, all the HONEST people, all the CAPABLE people left. They didn't run for city council or the school board or for the mayor. Instead they took their ways and means and left. My friend Janet has a triving bookstore in Detroit. The women of Avalon Bakery are doing quite well. There are great people in Detroit and God forbid if they all leave like I did.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who had never been to Detroit before(who would even wanna visit Detroit or let alone even vacation there.)
He tells me how he would just love to go there for his next vacation again.
I had to go to see my Great Aunt for her 99th (she passed at 102) and I made the mistake of bringing him along for the ride.

He's a "Big" city boy and had the nerve to tell me that Seattle where he was born was a better city (yayayaa)and that the music was way better etc. I gave him plenty of argument on the differance between music and crap.

He saw most of what I grew up with, I took him all around to all of the old haunts and even to the east side (I was a Westsider) and Belle Is. He said that he thought all of what folks said was just blown way out of porption. But he said he likes it there and even suggested that he and I move back there......All he gets from me is a dead stare.
When I retired and my Mom gone I had no reason to stay, I saw the writing on the walls a long time ago but I couldn't just leave not w/a job I was going to retire in a couple of years.
I put my house up on the block back in "02" and moved out west in the woods w/5 acres and a trailer and up till 18 months ago I had no close neighbors.

My only worries out here are the "Cranksters" that are just as bad as the crack heads were back in the Big "D". They'll do whatever it takes to get their fix..So far (knock on wood) so good.

Sorry bout your parents house. When my Mom died my sibs wanted the house so I walked away from it (the house was in my name) and I told them I wasn't going to pay for it and left it up to them to pay (yeah I know that was stupit)for it well they stopped and I just told the bank to forclose it took them 3 years to take the house back.

Marji said...

Melody, I hope you sent your letter, and quite frankly, I hope you also sent it to the Detroit News and the FreeP.
I lived on the edge of Detroit for years, I live within the city limits for 2 years, and I grew up in Suburbia there. I worked downtown near Wayne State. (And then I left and moved to Traverse City.) You're right, what's happening is Deplorable.
And I agree with the previous commenter that although the city administration should be strung up, Detroit's problems don't stem from them, but rather from the economic situation created by 3 Big Behemoth companies who all thought they were immune to competition from overseas, and have been too slow to change.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

I too hope you send your letter. It might have a better response than you think. I would also take Cidell and Marji's ideas and send it to the newspapers with a few pics. Words do change things...we just need to keep uttering them!

Jeff Pruitt said...

Just wanted to share a link to another blogger that I know personally who is going through the same type of situation but it's here in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

His name is Phil Marx and for the last 12+ years he has watched his neighborhood continue to fall into the abyss with very little being done by the police. In some instances Phil seems to imply that certain officers are actually complicit in the illegal activity.

Anyway, if you're interested you can read his story here

Kristina said...

Hi Melody (Crazy Lady - Love it!),

Girlfriend - many of us are over here from another blog which gets a ton of traffic (Fort Wayne Observed).

You and your family absolutely do not deserve this treatment. As I read your letter, I wanted to jump through my monitor and slap somebody in that police department :).

Please do follow up with a letter to any media outlet in your area. Also, the power of the blogosphere is HUGE.

Heck - invite Obama and Hilary to your parents house - see if they'll take you up on the offer :). I know that they're in the neighborhood (i.e. Indiana) or are scheduled to be.


Bobby G. said...

Seems we're in the same boat...just at DIFFERENT OARS (or is that CITIES?).

I've been trying to work with the FWPD (Ft. Wayne), and have gotten very mixed resutls over the past 5-7 years.

I also have to add that just becasue we (people such as ourselves) are the "good guys" and do the right thing...why should WE be the ones forced from our homes by this form of domestic terrorism?

A very moving letter in many ways. I will be following this to see how it works out for you.

I'm on your side (over the miles).

Keep the Faith.


Anonymous said...

You are 100% correct Detroit Police suck they are lazy,incompetent and don't respond in time oh yea maybe after 3 hours. I will be leaving this place they call Detroit as soon as I get myself situated because Detroit is a joke no police no services. My neighbors house got broken into and it took the police 3 hours to respond after the criminals left, what joke they are. I called the police station to report criminal activities and they hung up on me. We have dogs roaming the streets and the Animal control don't even answer the phones.