As some of you may know, I grew up in Southeastern Michigan, about eight miles north of 8 Mile Road, which marks the infamous border between Detroit and its suburbs. I know you've all seen "8 Mile" and know what I'm talking about. Don't pretend otherwise.
I'll admit, the cute little city where I grew up, Birmingham, is a far cry from the mean streets of Detroit. We have an Anthropologie, for goodness' sake! But, still, there's no denying that even us Metro Detroiters who grew up in cushy suburbs have an undeniable link to that complicated metropolis that everyone loves to hate. Like it or not, the city of Detroit defines Southeastern Michigan, and I find that people who grew up in its surrounding suburbs simultaneously ridicule Detroit for being dirty, dangerous, and depressing, while also feeling some sentimental tie to it, in all its decaying glory.
A house in Birmingham
A house in Detroit
After all, Detroit has its own unique character and history, and is associated with some pretty significant industrial and cultural achievements for our country, despite the city's current bad rap. There are the obvious things that Detroit is famous for, of course, like Motown music and the now-struggling auto industry, but there are also the things that perhaps only Metro Detroiters can appreciate, like Red Wings hockey fever, incredibly delicious Middle Eastern cuisine, and the adrenaline-pumping experience of getting lost in the Cass Corridor when driving back from Canada. Only in Detroit!
What makes me really sad, though, is that despite the love I have for the fuzzy, romantic idea of Detroit, the actual city really is putrid, and has only gotten worse over the last decade. It's true that I haven't lived in Michigan for over six years; my parents moved to Nevada between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and since then I've only gone back to Detroit once, to visit my high school best friend during my senior year of college. But I follow Detroit's decline closely. The city's fall, sadly, is not that hard to keep track of. To put it extremely mildly, Detroit has been through a lot of crappola lately: the spectacular collapse of the auto industry, for example, as well as the humiliating and frustrating spectacle of Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor, being convicted of perjury, after dragging the city through several years of corruption, waste, and scandal. You might already know all of this; Detroit's sad state has been broadcast widely. Forbes named it the "most miserable city" in the United States (http://www.forbes.com/2008/01/29/detroit-stockton-flint-biz-cz_kb_0130miserable.html), and it is holding steady in the number three position for worst crime rate in the country (http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/11/24/crime.stats/).
The crime rates, the crappy economy, the abandoned houses and lack of infrastructure: this is all bad stuff. But I think one of the biggest slaps in the face that the city of Detroit has received in recent years came from its mayor, the aforementioned Kwame Kilpatrick. This man, who is widely regarded as the Worst Mayor Detroit has ever had (which is saying something), dragged Detroit through quite the sideshow of corruption scandals, and even threw a stripper-murder scandal in there for good measure. Sigh. He was charged in March of this year by the Wayne County prosecutor with misconduct in office, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and perjury, and in August, two felony counts of assaulting or obstructing a police officer. Eventually, according to the New York Times, "He agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts of obstruction of justice and to plead no contest to a felony count of assault on a police officer; to pay restitution to the city of $1 million; to surrender his law license, forfeit his state pension to the city and be barred from elective office for five years; and to serve 120 days in the Wayne County jail, followed by five years’ probation. The other charges were dismissed." So yeah, he's in jail.
Kilpatrick and his chief of staff (with whom he had an affair) Christine Beatty
But here's the really baffling thing. Kwame Kilpatrick was an awful mayor; he used taxpayer money to give his friends jobs, buy himself cars, and get himself out of trouble. A lot of people in Detroit, who are mostly poor and largely disenfranchised, were understandably ticked off and called for his resignation early on. However, even as Kilpatrick was racking up the charges and facing jail time, people were writing supportive messages to him on the website http://kwamekilpatrick.com/. Here are some of the messages:
i,m sorry kwame kilpatrick that u in jail i wish u get out soon
this is latoya white. we miss u mayor. -latoya white
i feel like everybody cheat but you just got cought but they dont
have to take you to jail for that
Kwame - Kwame i dont think u Should Resign you are a strong african american man
you have done so many thinhg for detroit. Everyone mess up in there life, you should
stay strong through this and and work through this with your wife your No.1 Fan Elijah M.
I'm sorry, but WHAT? Why in the world would anyone in Detroit support Kwame Kilpatrick after he wasted their money and made an embarrassment of the city? Based on the three messages above, I think there is some confusion about what Kilpatrick was actually going to jail for. Hint: it wasn't for cheating on his wife. It was for LYING UNDER OATH and PERJURING himself in court. But even assuming for the sake of (stupid) argument that it would be somehow possible in the United States of America to be sent to jail for adultery, why would people support him anyway? It blows my mind.
It can't just be because Kilpatrick is African-American and people view his jailing as racial targeting, because most of Detroit's population is African-American, and huge numbers of black Detroiters wanted the mayor locked up. Check out, for example, this very thorough blog advocating for Kwame to take a hike: http://goawaykwame.wordpress.com/, and this video showing ordinary Detroiters publicly calling for Kilpatrick's resignation:
And it can't just be the fact that he is a "strong African American man" that makes people want to support him, either, because both of the police officers who blew the whistle on him were also African-American, and I'd imagine you have to be a pretty strong individual to stand up to a corrupt public official who is in charge of your livelihood. Is it because Kilpatrick dresses well and wears a diamond stud earring? Because one would think that if you're an impoverished person in Detroit whose mayor is using your tax dollars to pad his own salary, you wouldn't want to write effusive messages to the mayor wishing him the best. Right? Or am I missing something?
The whole thing is sad and confusing, but at least Kilpatrick is in jail for a while and probably won't be holding public office again any time soon. Hopefully the voters of Detroit will learn something from this fiasco and elect mayors who won't drive the city even further into the ground. In the meantime, I'll continue to watch and hope for the best for the city from the removes of Boston. Come on, Detroit, bring back the glory!