Before arriving, I conducted an exhaustive survey, reading everything I could about Detroit, including and especially the journalistic labor of the diligent if shell-shocked scribes of the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. How bad is Detroit? Let’s review:
Its recently resigned mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, he of the Kangol hats and five-button suits, now wears jailhouse orange as he’s currently serving a four-month sentence as part of a plea agreement for perjuring himself regarding an extramarital affair with his chief of staff, which yielded soupy love-daddy text messages that would make Barry White yak in his grave. Those in Detroit who are neither recipients of sweetheart contracts nor Kilpatrick family members on the city payroll at inflated salaries think he got off easy. Because what led to the perjury was concealing an $8.4 million payout from city coffers to settle a whistleblower suit brought by cops who’d been fired for investigating, among other things, the murder of a stripper named Strawberry who, prior to her death, was allegedly beat up by Kilpatrick’s wife when she caught her entertaining her husband.
In a city often known as the nation’s murder capital, with over 10,000 unsolved murders dating back to 1960, the police are in shambles through cutbacks and corruption trials. (They have a profitable sideline, though, as one of the nation’s largest gun dealers, having sold 14 tons of used weapons out-of-state.) Their response times are legendarily slow. Their crime lab is so inept that it has been closed. One Detroit man found police so unresponsive when trying to turn himself in for murder that he hopped a bus to Toledo and confessed there instead.
Detroit schools haven’t ordered new textbooks in 19 years. Students have reported having to bring their own toilet paper. Teachers have reported bringing hammers to class for protection. Declining enrollment has forced 67 school closures since 2005 (more than a quarter of the city’s schools). The graduation rate is 24.9 percent, the lowest of any large school district in the country. Not for nothing did one frustrated activist start pelting school board members with grapes during a meeting. She probably should’ve reached for something heavier.
The city is so cash-strapped that firefighters have to purchase their own toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Their aging bunker gear is coated in carbon, “making them the equivalent of walking matchsticks.” The firehouses’ brass poles have been removed and sold off by the city.
The station fire bell is itself a Rube Goldberg absurdity. When the house gets a call, it comes by way of fax from the central office. The printer paper comes out and pushes a door hinge, which then falls onto a screw that’s wired to an alarm. They had to rig it themselves.
It also has one of the highest property tax rates in Michigan, yet has over 60,000 vacant dwellings (a guesstimate–nobody keeps official count), meaning real estate values are in the toilet. Over the summer, the Detroit News sent a headline around the world, about a Detroit house that was for sale for $1. But it’s not even that uncommon. As of this writing, there are at least five $1 homes for sale in Detroit.
The city council has been such a joke that one former member demanded 17 pounds of sausages as part of her $150,000 bribe. Its prognosis for respectability hasn’t grown stronger with Monica Conyers, wife of congressman John Conyers, taking the helm. She has managed to get in a barroom brawl, threatened to shoot a mayoral staffer as well as have him beaten up, and twice called a burly and bald fellow council member “Shrek” during a public hearing. But with all the problems facing the city, the council still found time to pass a nonbinding resolution supporting the impeachment of George W. Bush.
How bad is Detroit? It once gave the keys to the city to Saddam Hussein.
[…]more Detroiters get killed before Christmas so the murderers can avoid buying Christmas gifts, while puzzling how one murder victim had her feet removed (“Why did they take the feet? We can’t use the feet”).
We tear through the ravaged east side–not to be confused with the ravaged west side.