Detroiters are very sensitive about the high crime rate in their city. Unlike other large metropolitan areas like New York or Chicago, Detroiters seem more comfortable discussing Detroit at home and not on a national stage. What’s the reason for this?
Most of it lies in the fact of “White Flight,” during which whites who lived in the city fled to the outlying suburbs in droves to escape what they perceived as a dangerous place to live and raise children. The consequence of White Flight was a rift between city and suburb that, although its peak took place in the 1990’s, exists to this day.
During its heyday, Detroit’s Mayor Coleman Young often appeared to be drawing battle lines between his city and the predominantly white suburbs. Many politicians in the suburbs were happy to oblige, including one mayoral candidate for the bordering suburb of Southfield who literally wanted to build a fence on Eight Mile Road, the dividing line between city and suburb mythologized in the Eminem film of the same name.
Suffering from the pull-out of whites with money and an enormous amount of poverty and crime, Detroit was often the murder capitol of the nation in the 1980’s. Gallows humor abounded as evidenced by those moments when other cities claimed the title when some Detroiters were heard to say, “We gotta get that back!”
Due to the overwhelming loss of infrastructure and the continuing abandonment of industry, sometimes for good reason, Detroit often seemed to turn inward, becoming a closed society that took umbrage at any criticism levied upon it by suburbanites. It was a natural reaction but many say it went too far.
Now there’s a TV show set to film in Detroit called “Detroit 1-8-7,” 187 being code for homicide in police lingo. The previews make it appear no different from the glut of hopeful cop shows currently filling the airwaves but the Detroit City Council has expressed concerns about the show pushing Detroit’s murder image. To someone outside the tri-county area, this probably sounds insane.
New Yorkers know they live in a tough city and they seem to take pride in it. What’s wrong with Detroiters? Is it possible that the mentality of constantly having to fight the suburbs has expanded to the entire nation? Jokes about how dangerous Detroit is have been in popular entertainment since the 1970’s. if you’ve ever seen “The Kentucky Fried Movie” you’ll hear a joke about how the bad guy’s lair is actually “worse than Detroit.” But those same jokes have been present about New York, Chicago, and East LA .
So, what’s the difference when it comes to Detroit. Is it because of the fact that Michigan happens to be one of the most segregated states in the nation? Perhaps it’s because Detroit, unlike those other cities, has almost no white population to speak of. If so, that would indicate that there is a racial component to the Council’s objections.
Assuming race is at the center of the issue, “Detroit 1-8-7” is going to have a difficult time convincing the City Council that the show is a positive, despite the notoriety and much needed financial boost the City needs.