Detroit: A Case Study of Oligarchs and Vigilantes Taking Over Public Safety in a Big City

Yves here. Detroit is a preview of what happens in cities when government services, by design, are stripped to the bone so that the poor are basically left to their own devices. The results are not getting the coverage that is warranted. This post helps fill the reporting gap.

By Patrick Sheehan, a teacher, writer, and activist living in Detroit. His work has been published in Jacobin,, and Truth Out. Follow him @PSrealtweets. Originally published at Alternet Highland Park is a tiny 3-square-mile municipality located within Detroit. Extremely dangerous, blighted, and 94% black, Highland Park is a concentrated example of the conditions in Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods—what some call the “Detroit of Detroit.”

In late 2011, the impoverished little municipality was so deep in debt to its public electric company, DTE Energy, that the local government was forced to decommission all streetlights on its residential streets. Not only did DTE cut the power to street lights in Highland Park, it sent out workers to physically dig up and remove nearly 1,000 light-poles from the neighborhood. Highland Parkers now live in permanent, debt-induced darkness.

Six miles away, in Detroit’s rapidly gentrifying downtown area, DTE Energy runs a very different public policy. The same company that repossessed 1,000 streetlights from Highland Park, condemning its residents to permanent darkness, has recently launched a pro-bono security program in the increasingly white area.

On its own dime, DTE operates a public “bait car” program. It buys and sets booby-trap cars out on the downtown streets, outfitted with up to 18 hidden cameras, to lure and ultimately deter potential car theft. A partnership with downtown police assures that cops will be on the scene within 90 seconds of when the bait car is entered.

“We want to be part of something good about changing perceptions of the city of Detroit,” DTE’s chief security officer boasts of the bait-car program, “We want to be part of the revitalization of the city.”

Safety is a privilege in Detroit. Like all privileges, it gravitates toward the white and wealthy. Decades of budget cuts to public safety services alongside concentrated investment downtown has created two Detroits: downtown, white and professional, bathed in state-of-the-art private security; and the “neighborhoods,” poor and black, where public safety has become a do-it-yourself endeavor.

Turning out the Lights

In Detroit’s black neighborhoods, public safety has been sacrificed to the gods of austerity. With the city government too poor provide basic security, safety has become a private commodity, accessible to the wealthy, but far out of reach for the majority of Detroiters.

The slow but massive exodus of capital and residents over the last half-century has left the Motor City broken down and overgrown in municipal debt. By the time Detroit faced its financial day of reckoning in bankruptcy court, years of budget cuts had already dismantled its most basic public services—police, fire, even streetlights—to barely functional levels.

The steady, long-term disinvestment in public safety shows through in crime rates.

In a given week, Detroit averages seven murders, 226 burglaries, 92 robberies, 169 aggravated assaults, 228 cars stolen, 331 larceny thefts, 12 rapes, and 279 violent crimes — the vast majority occurring in the neighborhoods and leading to no arrests. These dark accolades have earned Detroit the most dangerous city in America honor five out of the last seven years.

Absurdly underfunded emergency services are unable to keep up with the city’s record crime. In 2013, the same year Detroit led the country with 333 homicides, its police department took a $75 million— or 18% — overall haircut. Emergency Medical Services has taken similar hits. In 2005, Detroit had 303 paramedics working the streets. By 2010, the working paramedic count was cut to 188 to match a shrinking budget. The result: laughably bad 911 response times.

In a city that is perpetually on fire, the poverty of the Detroit Fire Department is the stuff that writes books. Two years ago, Detroit journalist Charlie LeDuff shadowed a fire company and found pathetic underfunding. Even the fire alarm in the firehouse was broken. Since no one had come to fix it, the men had to jerry-rig a contraption where the paper pushed out of a fax machine set off a Rube Goldberg series involving a door-hinge, a screw, and an electric pad to finally ring the alarm bell.

So exists the department facing the highest arson rate in the country. A 2012 budget cut closed one-fifth of firehouses and reduced fire investigation staff by half. Now one third of the 3,000 intentionally set structure fires each year in Detroit go entirely uninvestigated. Some crumbling buildings on fire on nearly abandoned blocks are not even put out.

In the poorest neighborhoods, the disinvestment piles up. When Highland Park was slapped with its first appointed emergency manager in 2001, he fired its entire municipal police force, outsourcing patrols to county officers. In 2007, the little city managed to muster up the funds to revive its police department— well, sort of. In 2012, author Mark Binelli found that the Highland Park Police Department was “headquartered in a mini-station at a strip mall, where the jail is a makeshift chain-link cage.”

Now Highland Park mixes extreme poverty, improvised policing and an imposed blackout into a dangerous cocktail: some of the highest crime- and lowest arrest-rates in the country.

Private Protection for the Privileged

While budgetary neglect has produced “wild west” conditions in Detroit’s black neighborhoods, downtown Detroit, with its influx of corporate cash and young white people, is doubling-down on public safety.

When DTE Energy launched its bait car program in 2014, it joined a corporate movement in Detroit to secure and patrol the small, but rapidly gentrifying downtown area, the star of Detroit’s “comeback” story.

Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans/Rock Ventures and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is the architect of downtown’s revitalization. He has single-handedly purchased 75 downtown properties and poured $1.6 billion into the revival of a single square mile of Detroit’s downtown. Along with his business ventures, he has launched housing subsidy programs to get mostly young, white professionals to move into the area and has also been a primary player in developing a new rail system linking downtown to the moneyed suburbs.

While huge swaths of black neighborhoods are left to anarchy, corporate Detroiters like Dan Gilbert are throwing money at protecting the whitest square mile around.

Gilbert’s Rock Ventures has installed more than 500 surveillance cameras in and on its buildings over the last five years. Some are fixed. Others are movable, “pan, tilt, zoom” cameras. All video feed runs directly to the Quicken Loans/Rock Ventures security command center in downtown Detroit’s Chase Tower.

Rock Ventures also contracts a fleet of nearly 200 private security guards who patrol both public and private spaces. As private security, they are not permitted to take crime fighting into their own hands, but they do systematically report criminal behavior to the Detroit Police Department.

It is not unusual for corporations to patrol their own property. What is unique is that private corporations like Rock and DTE are taking the liberty to expand their security programs beyond their own corporate campuses. Sometimes corporate security gets overambitious. Rock Ventures has recently been accused of installing video cameras on buildings it does not own and the ACLU filed a suit earlier this year claiming that different private security guards illegally shut down a protest rally in a public park.

Still, not too many complain about the extra protection. Downtown is certainly a safer place than it was a decade ago, in large part to the heightened surveillance. Given the Detroit Police Department’s chronic poverty, some consider it the best kind of corporate responsibility.

But the security that private companies like Rock Ventures and DTE provide is limited to the few square miles it is concerned with. As you drive outward from downtown, you see how quickly the corporate investment in peace and security disappears. Detroit’s heartland is left to fend for itself.

DIY Security for the Underclass

Where official policing is MIA and corporate Detroit couldn’t be bothered, there are residents like James “Jack Rabbit” Jackson. Jackson, an ex-cop, heads up an unofficial vigilante justice system in his south-east neighborhood, complete with home-camera video taping and public beat-downs. Other neighborhoods run their own systems, some organizing citizen patrols that cruise the block with baseball bats to deter crime. Even the city’s police chief, acknowledging the limits of his under-funded department, recommended Detroit residents carry concealed weapons for protection.

But lasting, reliable public safety systems require investment. Poor communities that cannot raise funds themselves are left with few options but charity to fulfill once-guaranteed services.

When the fire department’s Ladder 22 was robbed last year of two crucial chainsaws, it had to sell T-shirts to raise the funds to purchase new ones. The fundraised saws were soon stolen again, this time off the truck while the firefighters were busy putting out flames in an abandoned home.

After their debt-induced blackout, a Highland Park community group called Soulidarity began work to bring light back to their streets. The plan is to purchase and install solar-powered streetlights throughout Highland Park that would not depend on the neighborhood’s financial status to illuminate the neighborhood. But absent of any public funding, the group has to depend on donations — an IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign and an “Adopt-a-Streetlight” program.

So far, the project has managed to replace exactly one streetlight in Highland Park out of the 1,000 DTE Energy removed four years ago.

Last week, Christopher Reed took his two young sons to a Wendy’s on Detroit’s West side for milkshakes. With most of the streetlights on the route broken, the drive was mostly through darkness. At the Wendy’s drive-thru, Reed was robbed and then shot for no apparent reason. His older son called his mother after the shooting. She arrived at the scene before any emergency responders and drove her bloodied family to the hospital, where Christopher Reed died.

There were no functioning security cameras in or around the Wendy’s to capture or deter the crime. By the time the understaffed Detroit police made it to the scene, the murderers had long since disappeared into the local blackout.

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  1. JanTra

    Und so kommt zum guten Ende
    Alles unter einen Hut
    Ist das nötige Geld vorhanden
    Ist das Ende meistens gut.

    Dass er nur um trüben fische
    Hat der Hinz den Kunz bedroht.
    Doch zum Schluss vereint am Tische
    Essen sie des Armen Brot.

    Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln
    Und die andern sind im Licht.
    Und man sieht nur die im Lichte
    Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht.

    Bertolt Brecht

  2. digi_owl

    Layout may need a second pass, as it seems the paragraphs have been collapsed into a single big block of text.

    1. scott

      That’s the new writing style! In a tablet-based world, all indentations and carriage returns are removed.

  3. jgordon

    That is an interested post regarding elites impoverishing the poor. But though it is an impoverishment, it’s only an early impoverishment. The elites have managed to stave off a collapse in their living standards only by looting everything they can get their hands on. Absent such looting, living standards would more or less decline across the board due to resource depletion and ecological collapse anyway.

    It’s a bit annoying not seeing at least a nod towards that fact in posts like this. Or perhaps it’s just that the author and readers are ignorant of that larger reality. Though that would be unfortunate, because if that’s the case then the real problem is simply not being understood here and consequently any solutions offered are not likely to have much of an impact.

    1. HotFlash

      Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans/Rock Ventures and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is the architect of downtown’s revitalization.

      But doesn’t that say it all? All these enterprises are inter-class wealth transfer agencies. Another Michigan jillionaire who made his bucks off poor people, his customers and staff, is Tom Monaghan the Domino’s Pizza magnate.

    2. Phil Snead, Charleston SC

      You have to wonder whether we’re not really talking about an inevitable evolutionary erosion of what the 20th century called “growth,” the 19th called “empire,” and the 21st or this portion of it likes to describe as “free trade.”

      1. jgordon

        If by erosion you mean that we live on a finite planet with limited resources while our ideological, political, and monetary systems are not set up to deal with that fundamental reality–then I think you’re right on.

    1. Gio Bruno

      Well, if you consider safety to be related to your “life”, then it’s Constitutionally protected. (For whatever that’s worth.)

      1. Kunst

        If you’re thinking of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, that’s in the Declaration of Independence.

    2. Synoia

      The Kings peace, including rule of law, is the benefit obtained from having the King.

      That seem to have been forgotten.

      The consequence is warlords.

      Ask China. They know this.

  4. Ruben

    What kind of system will replace the liberal (1) State once it collapses, as other State systems have collapsed in the past few thousand years? The main purpose of the liberal State is to nurture and protect private property. Therefore it is not very much relevant to the poor. The poor may live peacefully (2) in Anarkia as long as they do not attack the propertied classes that flourish under the liberal State. Thus I see the Detroit case as natural development of the liberal State. This will also cause major changes in the liberal State, transforming itself into the brand new Libertarian State, which is what we are seeing in downtown Detroit. The retreat of the State from the poor areas will unleash the power of the anarchist cooperative economy. Fruitful economical interaction will ensue between Anarkia and Libertaria. A long period of peace and prosperity will shine upon humankind.
    (1) Liberal as in liberalism the political doctrine, not the political inclination of a particular group inside one exceptional Nation.
    (2) Of course the poor need to deal with the un-cooperative individuals that engage in crime amongst them by leading the un-cooperative traits to extinction or to fringe spatial ghettos.

    1. Pepsi

      Repopulation of rural areas by former working class who were driven into slums and then out of cities? The new feudalism needs its peasants.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Yah, Ruben, that’s how it always happens, right? In the libertarian wonderland? One could wish, of course…

  5. Steve H.

    The disinvestment in huge swathes of standing properties is still perplexing to me. When Jay Forrester and John F. Collins wrote Urban Dynamics, their solution was the opposite of this, and while that solution may have evolved into gentrification, it was meant to encompass the whole city. This is not the dystopian nightmare I’d been looking for.

    I wonder how the properties are being handled in terms of any derivatives built up on them. Is there any way to actually know? I’m guessin’ that Larry Summers would suggest that no matter how enormous, a bubble is so light is does not bend the blade of grass it rests on.

    1. Dave

      These notes are likely held in a SIV registered in Ireland and held by the Fed off balance sheet where they will stay for the next 100 years.

    2. NoFreeWill

      Urban Dynamics solution to city “decay” was bulldozing slums and building condos, so it’s not surprising their solution evolved into gentrification, which is simply a softer and more market-based version of the same old story. The classist and racist values present in Urban Dynamics were then encoded (literally) into the simulation underlying the famous Sim City, which has influenced a whole generation of peoples views on the city, including urban planners (like my sister, though she doesn’t buy into neoliberalism as much) .

    3. cnchal

      The disinvestment in huge swathes of standing properties is still perplexing to me.

      There are not nearly enough people to occupy the huge swathes of standing properties.

    1. Local to Oakland

      I wish I believed that. A society with opportunity for most is happier, healthier and more pleasant to live in, but unequal societies can have tremendous staying power historically. I think the folks running Detroit are entirely ok with a model that resembles Dickensian London or present day Calcutta.

  6. ep3

    Bravo Yves,
    I would add that this has been a war on blue collar and minorities. Detroit was growing tremendously in the 1960s. It was growth in blue collar and minority peoples. It wasn’t the growth the wealthy elite want. So they set about destroying the city. And now anarchy reigns. And the wealthy are picking the bones of the dead or dying.
    And obama doesn’t blink an eye.

    1. Code Name D

      Let’s not get carried away here. DNE turned off the street lights because the city hadn’t paid them for the power. DNE had to “reposes” the lights likely because that’s the only way to turn them off. Power requires resources and resources require money. The fault here is not DNE for turning off the lights, but in the cities austerity programs which starved of its resources.

      The state of Kansas is heading in the same direction. Brownback’s tax cuts have blown a huge hole in the budget and not only failed to grow the economy as he predicted, but lags the state behind the growth of its neighboring states. The solution? Raise taxes on the poor, cut the services they depend on. They are already talking about even larger cuts to the wealthy in order to stabilize the situation.

      And the Democrats can only nod. Yep yep yep yep

      1. tegnost

        Curious how DNE acquires the electricity that it sells…Coal, hydro ? At any rate it seems a ruse to claim that a municipal utility has to pull street lights because the bills aren’t being paid but i’m sure there are others here who could explain that better than I…isn’t the reason power is a utility is because it’s necessary to a functioning city?

        1. Gio Bruno

          …ahh!, you are very inquisitive, grasshoppa’.

          The article gives the impression that DTE is a public (municipally owned) electrical company. It is NOT. It is a privately run, publicly traded (NYSE) utility company, that must work within some (few) state mandated constraints. (Unfortunately, maintaining street lights (and consequently safety issues) was not one of them.)

          DTE is likely driven by “shareholder value”, not societal best interests. Although, DTE did benefit from government (societal) subsidy to the tune of 12-14 million $.

          The LATimes investigated the monthly cost of electricity from municipal (community owned) electrical power suppliers and private utility providers (Edison) in California. Municipal power rates were 1/2 of those of Edison. The Times analysis traced the difference to executive pay (for the most part).

          1. Ishmael

            1. LADWP owned by the city delivers some of the most expensive electricity in the US. I believe it is double or something of else where. The LA Times has documented several stores of how corrupt the LADWP is.

            2. Why are the street lights taken down. So they will not be torn down by looters at night and sold for salvage. This has been documented else where in the country.

            1. Code Name D

              Well, my understanding is that street lights are directly connected to the grid. The only “switch” is a photo sensor that turns several halogen lights that are powered directly from 1 KV volts, meaning that these lights do not need a step down transformer to power. And they tend not to be metered, so the power they consume is calculated through an estimate system.

              So the only way to take them off the grid is to physically remove the whole thing. Otherwise you have life ends of the wire that can only serve to place the public at risk.

              There is also a question of weather the street lights originally belonged to the power company or to the city. Every municipality seems to have there own spin. It’s not unknown for the city to even “rent” the lights from the utility, in addition to “buying” the power, usually by contract which assumes a set rate.

              True municipal power grids are rare. The only one I know of is found in the municipality of LA California, which was the only power company that did not suddenly have rolling brown-outs during the California electric crises. (Which is how I come to know of it. No promise that it’s still that way however.)

              1. heresy101

                Actually, 1/4 of power in California is provided by public power agencies. All are municipalities except for the irrigation districts and the Sacramento Utility District (SMUD).

                LADWP’s electric rates are higher (about $0.15/kWh), but much greener, than other parts of the country that us coal, but are in the middle of electric rates and about 15-20% below PG&E and SCE. As far as the blackouts not occurring in LA, they are their own electric balancing area (like SMUD) and not part of CAISO, if my memory serves correctly.

                It is common for streetlights to be hooked up without a meter and the usage estimated and the results being very accurate. One streetlight is on a meter and its usage is used for all other similar lights.

                In the investor own utility areas (like PG&E and DTE), the utility usually owns the streetlights and charges for electricity and maintenance as well as rate basing the lights. Twenty years ago Alameda County got fed up paying outrageous maintenance fees to PG&E and bought the street lights and took over maintenance. The are probably paid for now and the maintenance is probably still done by one or two people.

                If the black areas of Detroit were to secede from the 1% controlled area, it would be a little like Greece will be after they get rid of the Euro – horrible in the short run but like Iceland in the long run. The lack of street lights could be resolved with the following solution. The capital cost for Solar street lights probably could be afforded by all the remaining residents if funding for the purchase could be secured. The advantage is no electricity costs, no wires to dig up for scrap, a 20+ year life with small maintenance and no DTE. A example of several for solar street lights:

                1. Ishmael

                  Blackouts did not occur in LA. Ahhh, wrong. I live (and was living) in LA when there were power problems. Numerous rolling blackouts. One time some vagrants caught trees on fire on the side of my house in the middle of one of the blackouts and burned off the top story. It took a long time for the fire department to respond because they were attending to problems caused by the blackouts like elevators not operating.

          2. Danny

            If memory serves me correctly, the City owed millions to DTE. It couldn’t pay the bill and made a deal with DTE that staved of bankruptcy. In return for DTE waiving a large chunk of the bill DTE received permission to yank out a significant portion of the city’s streetlights because that was the largest power use by the city. There were stories in several national outlets at the time (around 2008/9).

  7. timbers

    What an eye opener. It’s like the original RoboCop or the original Mad Max.

    I’m going to send this article to my Republican dad in Minneapolis. Michigan was in our “universe” as kids. He recently sent me an old pick of wives in our home town of Faribault Minnesota (pop 18,000) which included a neighbor Mary Jo who recently learned her husband’s body was found in Laos but “she never gave up hope” he would be found alive. He was an air pilot for the U.S. military and had 5 children. After commenting on the nice pic our (deceased) mom and other good pics of neighbors like Mrs Healy (who was black but that was never an issue and as a kid it never entered my mind she was different or mentioned in any was I can remember as a child, I was friends and classmates with her children), I did note that up to 3.5 million people were killed in Vietnam many by U.S. air pilots and that I hoped Mary Jo was concerned about these deaths, too, and this fact too must be part of our legacy.

    1. ambrit

      Think efficiency.
      Dad once decided to replace the main fuse panel in our house on the Beach. Not wanting to pay the power company the fee for removing and then replacing the meter, with the attendant day or so time gap between the two events, Dads friend, the Electrical Inspector, a former working electrician, came over very early one Saturday morning and climbed the power pole in front of the house and disconnected the leads from the house transformer. He wore big rubber gloves and checked first to see if he was touching any grounded metal. It went off perfectly. Almost no electrical meter boxes that I’ve ever seen had a main shut off installed. Cost is the driving force here, both in the public and private spheres.

  8. Sarah from TX

    “Comeback” my ass. When this many people are left behind in sub-third world living conditions, the arrogance of calling what’s going on in downtown Detroit a “comeback” is disingenuous and disgusting.

    1. Detroit Dan

      I beg to differ. It’s not only downtown, but also midtown that is thriving. It’s true that some neighborhoods are like bombed out zones, but that’s always been the case. Don’t you have some third world neighborhoods in Texas?

      1. Beans

        Don’t we have bombed out third world neighborhoods in Texas? The economics in Texas have been quite different than those in Michigan for a number of years, so while there are without a doubt areas of deep poverty, I don’t think you’d find anything along the lines of Highland Park, MI in Texas, now – but if/when the economic conditions change – the same outcome would be likely since outsourcing government services to private companies is seen as virtuous in these parts.

  9. Mbuna

    Yes, downtown Detroit’s ongoing corporate “success story” is one that will likely be duplicated, ad nauseum, to countless cities over the next few decades. This will happen because the velocity of money going to the richest is still increasing which will set up even more public infrastructure looting to corporate interests of various kinds.

  10. Vatch

    Coincidentally (or maybe not), the dystopian RoboCop movies take place in Detroit, where the police have been outsourced to the private Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation.

    1. vlade

      You’ve beaten me to it..
      Although I have to say the present looks more and more like The Space Merchants’s universe..

  11. AltoBerto

    I believe this story gave Professor Hoppe along with Rothbardians everywhere a raging boner.

  12. Ignim Brites

    Detroit is toast. The Feds should step in with relocation assistance and a public works projext to re-wildernize the area surrounding the central city which apparently will be around for a little while longer. Wolves and mountain lion just outside town. Gotta love the pimitivism of that image.

    1. cnchal

      Detroit is toast

      I don’t think so. The point of catastrophic failure is in the past.

  13. Lambert Strether

    An interesting, er, intersection of capita allocation, privatization, gentrification, surveillance, police state tactics, and racism. And the 1% driving it all. If Detroit “pans out” for them, this will go into the playbook as a model.

    Detroit IIRC had a thriving urban garden scene because that was a good use for the vacant lots, but the story doesn’t mention that. I can only imagine the 1% sought to destroy it, or at best co-opt it; I mean, the last thing these guys want is a food-sovereign Detroit. Or am I being too cynical? Any Detroit-area readers know?

    Adding, I cleaned up the paragraphing; it should be easier to read now.

    1. cnchal

      . . . And the 1% driving it all.

      If they don’t do it, who will? Detroit’s story is really quite wild. Once an industrial giant with lots of beautiful neighborhoods that are now rubble, and one third the population of it’s peak.

      Their current mayor, Mr Duggan seems, if I dare think it, an “honest” politician, and I would trust him as far as I could throw him, which might be a few feet. He is dealing with a nightmare I have a hard time even imagining.

      The areas just outside of Detroit are busy, and then there is this geographical semi circular ring of destitution surrounding the downtown area, which is busy.

  14. Local to Oakland

    Detroit as a city has a ton of infrastructure and is in a very good location re transportation. It should be an industrial hub and a city that creates wealth. I suspect the people who are now running it see it as a long term investment and intend to own it and run it for their own profit for a very long time. Those assets can’t be left in the hands of poor black people.

    1. different clue

      I have idly wondered how much “investable money” the upper class reaches of Black America have in-total. The Black successful of Greater Atlanta, the Black Entertainers of the Hip Hop Industrial Complex, the Rhythm and Blues Industrial Complex, etc. How much money could all those people have raised in order to focus it on Greater Detroit? On paying off the taxes of all the black homeowners who are scheduled for mass-foreclosing because of back property taxes, etc.? So as to subsidise those non-rich black homeowners in their thousands to keep standing tough on the land?

      I wonder why it is left up to a non-black blog commenter to think about such things?

  15. Local to Oakland

    Detroit as a city has a ton of infrastructure and is in a very good location re transportation. It should be an industrial hub and a city that creates wealth. I suspect the people who are now running it see it as a long term investment and intend to own it and run it for their own profit for a very long time. Those assets can’t be left in the hands of poor black people.

  16. BobW

    I born in Detroit in the 50s and and grew up there, lived within the city limits ’til I was 21. The difference between then and now is astonishing. And none of it had to happen.

  17. Paul Tioxon

    The abandonment of Detroit by civilization produces all of the chaos that mandated humanity to acquiesce to the confinement to civilization, enforced by the monopoly on violence by civilization that allows any regularity, continuity and the implied standards of a peaceful civil society. How peaceful is civil society under the aegis of civilization? Peaceful enough to go out and buy a hamburger and milk shake at any time of the day and night and not get shot dead by highway bandits. At the same time the police are accused of being militarized, an occupying force of racial oppression and tax farming in the form of various moving violations with high dollar fine payment, in Detroit, the problem isn’t police serving any function other than to serve and protect but being AWOL!

    Now, this is not the you can’t have it both ways argument. Actually, the point I’m trying to make is that civilization mandates cooperation, which most citizens seem to be able to abide by. In Detroit and on any given night, watching the local evening news, you would think an army of criminals has risen from the power vacuum in some neighborhoods, or in Detroit’s case, over 90% of what remains of a city still in population decline. Right now, Detroit has less than half the population of Philadelphia. Both cities at their peak had 2Mil people. Detroit with 330 murders compares to a city twice its size that has had 248 murders in 2014, 249 in 2013 and 332 in 2012. And the death toll is still unexplainable compared to other wealthy nations around the world no matter what sociological data you present, with the notorious exception of an ocean of handguns in all of the USA.

    Just as the US military leaving Iraq or Afghanistan after smashing the formal institutions of the state to pieces, then reconstituting them without success leads to all hell breaking loose, the withdrawal of civilization’s most notable pillar, the institutionalized violence in the form of police powers, leads to all hell breaking loose. But this is to be expected. After much smaller breakdowns in the social order after a victorious sporting event, especially some coveted world championship, soccer rioting, Super Bowl rioting, etc etc result in property damage, rapes, and various violent assaults resulting in death. Detroit is being reconstituted with primarily private capital from a very small base in terms of square miles of planned urban re-development. It seems to be too little too late and betting on some sort of new knowledge based economy which after the success of Silicon Valley, everyone other region lusts after. The population will continue to shrink because all of the conditions that have brought the city to this point have NOT changed and countervailing planning and $10s of $billion$ of investment are not forthcoming on the horizon. And the hopium in the form of linkages to the Global Capitalist system based on IT and other service industries may not be of critical mass to include the vast majority of the citizenry at the same scale of mass manufacturing and mass consumption that has passed into history.

    Civilization has abandoned almost the entire city of Detroit, with barely over 700,000 left and 82% African-American and civilization right now is Global Capitalism, a transnational social order. It does not help at all that so far North, the cost to heat, much less light the city and protect, will go so far beyond the wages of the people who remain, that they too will abandon homes to expensive to operate, not to mention public schools and libraries. But, what Detroit may accomplish in the power vacuum of abandonment is find ways to provide for its own with NO Fortune 500 help. Are there any national super market chains in Detroit? No. But, the local businesses and the people of Detroit have provided for themselves. The city may be abandoned by the larger system that runs so much else here and around the world, but this is still the USA and there are still a lot of educated, healthy and smart people who will not give up on themselves as a matter of principle or as a simple matter of survival. Here is a healthy dose of reality about countering a well publicized story as being a city without supermarkets and an urban food desert. It has plenty of food stores. Big ones, well stocked and clean. They just aren’t operated by the Behemoth’s of Capitalism. They even produce a lot of food on the vacant lots and sell it at a huge public market. All the better for Detroit and what it may grow into without interference from corporate America. Instead of all hell breaking loose, all humanity is breaking loose from the choke hold of corporate America, in Detroit all community is breaking loose.

    1. Jim

      Murder rates for Americans of European descent are little different from those in Western Europe. Countries like Switzerland have a very large number of guns per person and low levels of crime. The higher aggregate crime rate of the US compared to European countries is due to the Hispanic and particularly black populations. Incidentally Americans of East Asian descent have a very low crime rate similar to the low crime rates in East Asia.

      Demographics is the overwhelming variable in crime rates across the world. The levels of crime in different areas of the US is highly correlated with population racial composition. Other factors are minor in comparison.

      1. Michael

        Obvious correlation/causation fallacy is obvious, the racism is very thinly veiled.

        What’s odd is that you actually used the term correlation correctly, which is unusual for people who make this error.

      2. John Smith

        There is such a thing as legalized theft, such as the banks and the so-called creditworthy stealing the purchasing power of the poor, especially from minorities – Google “redlining.”

        Let’s not pretend that whites steal less – they just do it more subtly. Nor do they murder less when it is acknowledged, for example, that World War II was caused by the Great Depression which in turn was caused by the Federal Reserve.

  18. Kunst

    What happened to Detroit? Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the automotive/industrial era. Everybody was happy and complacent. People have to buy our products, so there is no incentive to improve them. Laugh at those little tin cans the Germans and Japanese are trying to sell. Oh, they cost less, last longer, and are more efficient? Never mind, we’ll keep making cars that rust out and have to be replaced every three years. That didn’t work out so well, did it? Detroit’s glory days were fueled by money from outside, and when that ceased, the whole structure became unsustainable. Same thing could happen to Silicon Valley, just substitute San Jose for Detroit.

    1. TheCatSaid

      Were Detroit’s auto technology beginnings funded by the US government to the same extent that Silicon Valley’s did? I doubt it.

    2. JerryDenim

      I don’t really know anything about Dan Gilbert, he might be an asshole or a pretty decent guy, but I don’t think rich, self-made entrepreneurial guys like him buying up huge swaths of prime historic downtown on the cheap and attempting to gentrify it is Detroit’s biggest problem at the moment. While I’m certainly not trying to say Gilbert is a hero, I also don’t think guys like him are primarily to blame for Detroit’s woes. At least he seems like he is interested in building something real. Detroit has been hit with one horrible storm after another but the first big turning point of Detroit’s long leg down was the 1967 race riots. That was some heavy shit, even by today’s middle eastern standards of unrest. It took the National Guard AND the 82nd Airborne to put that insurrection down. After the riots the trickle of white flight became a stampede and desegregation only added more fuel to the fire. This was the birth of the far-ranging irrational suburbs that are now in decay. The seventies and eighties Detroit was hit by the bad effects of white flight and the ailing American auto industry. In the nineties it began to suffer under the era of free trade followed by a plague of government corruption compounded exponentially by shady municipal loans and derivative deals typical of the Clinton/Bush/Obama era of financialization. This was the final death blow for the poor, beaten down city. Everything since the crash of 2008 has been austerian asset stripping. I think Detroit has paid a very heavy price for the crimes of America’s haunted past (slavery) and has been one of, if not the hardest hit city in America by our disastrous trade policies. Wall Street then came in and devoured what was left. What you see happening now in Detroit is just the maggots on a corpse. Dan Gilbert just might be able to drum up a decent micro-brew and coffee scene downtown for a few thousand of his Quicken employees if he plays his cards right but I can’t see Detroit making a real comeback as a REAL city without the United States completely remaking itself and radically altering our trade and tax policies.

      1. mle detroit

        Good points, and much better than the original article, which confuses the independent (although on welfare) City of Highland Park with neighborhoods in the City of Detroit. Oh well, hysterics sell.

        Dan Gilbert’s efforts in the 7.2 Downtown are starting to spill over to my own upper middle class neighborhood, judging by the young white couples who showed up to the open house next door. My black neighbors got an offer for more than they asked, much to the joy of both black and white older residents who’d like to downsize but have been waiting for house prices to recover. Public schools are still a problem, but an influx of young parents who can afford to be involved will be good.

      2. Ishmael

        I am sorry, I was following you up to the point of “slavery.” No slavery in Michigan.

        What a crutch! The civil war was over 150 years. Most of the white people who came over and settled this country were dirt poor and many were indentured servants. They fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War losing everything they had and still recovered.

        I believe you were on target during most of your post but you miss as well as many here miss one of the big requirements to move forward and that is self reliance. The other thing we need to return to is law and order and that is especially true of the top.01%. We need to crack down on cronyism and corruption.

        The path way is clear change or go the way of Argentina, Venezuela and Greece. My bet is this country is going to stay on course and become some third world crap hole.

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