It is no secret that the city of Detroit is in rough shape. Once a booming cornerstone of the auto industry, this Michigan city has deteriorated amongst economic decline, mismanagement, corruption and scandal. It is easy to get caught up in the drama of it all, or to mock the city for its failures or to even turn a blind eye, dismissing the city as a lost cause. However, living amidst the abandoned homes and darkened streets are the residents of Detroit who are still trying to survive despite their post apocalyptic surroundings.
This year Detroit filed for bankruptcy. In fact, the trial just ended this week after nine days of evidence and testimony that demonstrated how in debt the city was, as well as how questionably the city was being managed.
2013 also saw the conviction of Detroit’s former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. His reign as mayor from 2001 to 2008 was so thick with corruption, extortion, bribery and greed that he has been sentenced to 28 years in prison. He is one of 18 people convicted of these types of crimes while he held the position of mayor. It is also his third conviction resulting from his position, the first being a four month sentence after perjuring himself and orchestrating a cover up. He was returned to jail a second time after lying about his assets in order to pay his $1 million fine $6 at a time. To be fair, Kilpatrick is not the only person to contribute to the financial ruin of the city, but he is considered the final straw in the city’s decline into bankruptcy.
While Kilpatrick spends his time in prison, the residents he let down are also stuck with the consequences of a city with no money and no resources. Desperately in debt, the city has shut off street lights in many areas, making it more dangerous for residents to travel the streets at night.
So many homes have been lost to foreclosure that there are an estimated 78,000 homes abandoned and decaying. The empty buildings pose their own threats as residents rob them of all valuables and the homes deteriorate unchecked, posing fire risks and health hazards from collapse. The looting has even spread into homes that are still occupied. Some have begun to utilize the vacant structures for nefarious means, and there have been reports of women who have been accosted on the street and dragged into nearby buildings to be sexually assaulted.
The prospect of being attacked in the dark and drug into an abandoned home may seem dangerous enough but perhaps the most dangerous aspect of daily life that Detroit residents face as a result of the financial devastation of their city is the accelerated crime rate and the horribly underfunded police force that is overtaxed and unable to help many of its citizens. The result is many calls for help going unanswered for long periods of time, allowing most crime to go on unhindered, and resulting in at least one death.
A reporter from Detroit did a satirical report meant to demonstrate and criticize the lengthy response time police consistently have for emergency calls. The segment is funny, but informs on a very important point, that the citizens of Detroit are basically on their own. The reporter’s colleague rightly defends the police for the terrible situation they are forced to contend with but the reporter’s frustration at a woman being left alone to face the dangers of the crime committed in her home are a poignant reminder of how desperate the situation for many residents have become.
Many have been left to fend for themselves, either from slow response times from police or from inefficient dispatching practices. One woman watched a crime being committed right outside her house and even had a gun pulled on her while she waited for an hour for police to respond to her 911 call. By the time they got there, the perpetrators were long gone and the woman was all alone. She was told that the slow response time was the result of roll call at the station and that no cars were sent out during that process. A spokesperson for the station later denied the claim, instead insisting that the police were sent out based upon their availability.
Other delayed responses have had much more devastating consequences. In one instance a woman placed six calls to 911, fearing for her life as a domestic dispute escalated. It is reported that the dispatcher did not send help to her for over an hour, resulting her being shot by the man with whom she had been fighting. This time it was reported that there were available units to help her, but that the dispatcher neglected to inform the police of the incident. The person in question has been removed from their position and may be charged with a crime.
Another incident similar to this occurred when a woman was stabbed to death after police did not respond to her call for an hour and a half. Again, the delay was blamed on the dispatcher, who was brought up on charges of misconduct of office.
With so many of the cities affairs being so completely mishandled, unemployment at nearly 19 percent and crime rates and the number of abandoned homes soaring, the residents of Detroit are stuck to face some pretty grueling conditions essentially on their own. The bankruptcy proceedings will affect pensions for up to 23,500 people who have lived and worked in Detroit as much of this expense has been included in unsecured debt for the bankruptcy proceedings. It is difficult to know what comes next for this troubled city or its overlooked and struggling citizens.
By: Vanessa Blanchard
My Fox Detroit