• Michigan Citizen and Kevyn Orr: Which history will be ultimately be written?

    The Michigan Citizen, one of Detroit’s African-American newspapers, has often had a lonely voice in its sustained criticism of the state’s emergency manager law and Kevyn Orr’s actions authorized by it. In the paper’s most provocative coverage of Orr’s first 12 months, the weekly publication reports on its staff sit-down interview with Orr, who visited the Citizen’s offices last week.

    The Citizen posed and Orr answered an array of questions, including some in ways the mainstream media haven’t or, frankly, wouldn’t: “Do you see yourself intervening in evictions or any of the suffering?” and “Some people can hear (your policies) as wanting a whiter, wealthier city. What do you think about that criticism?”

    Like it or not, those are the uncomfortable questions some Detroit residents and sympathetic observers have as they view the daily poverty, unemployment and disenfranchisement in most of the city. While downtown enjoys unprecedented investment and white hipsters are lauded in the local and national media, for example, where are the solutions for the unemployed, undereducated and poverty-stricken?, they ask. The Citizen is a voice that can steer the collective conversation about Detroit to include policy perspectives and proposals rooted social justice. In the paper’s ongoing coverage and now timely conversation with Orr, the Citizen hopes, in part, to broaden the framework by which the legacy of Michigan’s emergency manager system will be evaluated.

    To his credit, Orr, who has lived in the Miami and Washington D.C. areas, spoke to the Citizen of his ideal vision of Detroit: a widely diverse, safe urban area with balanced books and manageable debt. It’s his job as emergency manager, he says, to focus on the balance sheet and steer the city through a bankruptcy toward a sustainable, healthy financial future. In doing so, he’s proposing up to 80 percent cuts to banks and lenders to free up money for city services. The financial institutions predictably don’t like it:

    “They’re going to try to defeat this plan because their view is they’d rather take that money. And I’ve tried to restore it,” Orr says.

    The Citizen’s Shea Howell, drawing a vastly different conclusion, says this:

    This capacity, to think in a logic that excludes the consequences of your decisions on the lives of others, characterizes much of what we saw in Mr. Orr. This was most evident when he talked of pension cuts. Here he stressed, ‘There are only 20,000 pensioners in a city of 700,000.’ This is just a few people. A sacrifice for the many.

    This kind of numbers game is chilling.

    History will determine what the state law and Orr’s tenure will ultimately mean to the city … and if the Michigan Citizen was among the first to realize the consequences.

    -By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

    @WDETSandra and

    The Michigan Citizen, as part of New Michigan Media, is a member of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative along with WDET.

  • WDET’s Detroit Agenda: Crime and faith in a bankrupt city

    Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner WDET is examining the concerns of Detroiters over the next few months in a series we call the Detroit Agenda. It’s a series that brings forward the voices of the residents as they experience daily life in the city that’s currently going through the largest municipal bankruptcy in history.

    While lawyers, the emergency manager and the city’s elected leaders work out the long-term deficit elimination plan and the financial restructuring, one of the biggest concerns facing city residents is crime. But beyond the statistics and the headlines, there’s the aftermath of crime. As WDET’s J. Carlisle Larsen reports many Detroiters look to the religious community for solace.

    “The oldest theological question is: Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s the question in the oldest book of the Bible, it is the theme that runs through all of scripture and for the most part through all of our life,”

    Rev. Dr. Kevin Turman, Photo courtesy of Second Baptist Church

    Rev. Dr. Kevin Turman, Photo courtesy of Second Baptist Church

    That’s from Kevin Turman who has been the Senior Pastor of Second Baptist Church in downtown Detroit for more than 25 years. During his tenure at the church, many of his members have been the victims of crime. He says in some cases criminals have waited for congregants to go to church before robbing their homes. Turman says his church has also seen brutal violent crime. One incident he describes involved the murder of a teenage girl.

    “When she went to the friend’s house the two of them went to another home. And in the midst of their being at that home, apparently elsewhere in the home drugs were being both bought and sold and someone thinking money was inside came in robbed the home. Shots were fired the girl ran and she was subsequently—as she was running—shot and killed. Well the people who were in her Sunday school class, the people who were in the choir with her, the people who saw her around the church…felt that this was as tragic a circumstance as had been visited upon them.”

    Turman says he mourned the loss of the girl along with the congregation in order to begin the community’s healing process. Hephoto says one of the church’s roles is to help parishioners to avoid becoming cynical when crime happens.

    “It’s very easy to become suspicious of others, hateful, and it is the role of the minister and the role of ministry to help people understand that there has always been evil in the world and that doesn’t make the world a bad place. It makes it a place where the struggle to be good and loving and kind is indeed a struggle. But it’s a struggle we need to continue to engage in.”

    Pastor Spencer Ellis, Photo courtesy of Citadel of Praise Church

    Pastor Spencer Ellis, Photo courtesy of Citadel of Praise Church

    On the far west side of Detroit another church has had to tackle the issue of violent crime. Spencer Ellis is the Senior Pastor and Founder of Citadel of Praise in the Brightmoor neighborhood. He says his church had a member who was a single mother of two. She was raped and murdered. Ellis says providing counseling to church members in the aftermath of violent crime is difficult. He says members may not feel emotional relief for a long time.

    “I wish I could give the ‘Take two pills and call me in the morning’ type, or I wish I could just give you the steps—‘Here’s the steps, and tomorrow is going to be okay’—and when you can’t provide that—I mean because the counseling we provide here is spiritual and we have to depend on a God that we don’t see but that we believe in to help us get through it. And it’s a faith walk.”

    But spiritual guidance isn’t the only comfort that churches can provide. Terri Laws, religion professor at University of Detroit-Mercy, says in times of crises, churches historically have stepped in to provide material help to mourning families.

    Terri Laws, photo courtesy University of Detroit-Mercy

    Terri Laws, photo courtesy University of Detroit-Mercy

    “There are families in those communities who were not anticipating a young man—or a young woman—to be murdered, for example. And that they don’t have the funds to have—they literally do not have the funds—to hold a service at a funeral home. Someone then—a pastor in a community then—chooses to open their doors, use their light, their heat, their church choir, in order to provide a home going service for that young person.”

    Ellis echoes this sentiment. When the single mother from his church was killed, Citadel of Praise paid for the funeral. Laws says funerals and sermons can provide a collective catharsis for parishioners.

    “So, in that immediate moment when compassion is certainly needed for the family there are always other people in the congregation who are very aware that it could be their son, or it could be their daughter and they’re identifying with the horror of losing a child, or with the horror of losing a child particularly to violence.”

    Turman says at Second Baptist Church he works to find the balance between the tragedy and hope. He says when he preaches, he chooses to focus on the positive, even when it is difficult.

    “I don’t preach about violence. I don’t preach about death. I don’t preach about hate. I preach about love. I preach about peace. I preach about hope. And I acknowledge though that it’s hard to find hope in some of these situations.”

    Turman says he doesn’t have all of the answers to why bad things happen to good people. But he says faith helps.

    –J. Carlisle Larsen, WDET, a member of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative

  • Michigan Citizen: “Grim ‘Future City’ for poor neighborhoods”

    Our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner, the Michigan Citizen, weighs in about the Detroit Future City plan.

    Don’t wait for the street lights to come on because they will not — in certain neighborhoods. Nor will there be any kind of infrastructure investment in the neighborhoods written off by Detroit Future City planners. Instead, there will be forests and storm water retention ponds, limited public transportation, and only those residents who brave it out.

    The Citizen, in the piece published this week, highlighted the opinions of Wayne State University Law Professor Peter Hammer, who finds the plan fails to address the “three Rs” that are so important to the city’s future: race, regionalism and reconciliation.

    Hammer, who also directs the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, spoke with WDET’s Craig Fahle about the same issue.

    Hear the audio here.




  • Everyone loves the firefighters…but are they worth it for cash-strapped municipalities?

    “Public myths are necessary to the sustenance of political order, but bad myths can undermine democratic decision-making.” So writes Bridge Magazine in a discussion about whether the “firemen first principle” should be informing as much public budgeting as it is. The principle holds that if taxpayers are opposed to public spending, threaten them with the elimination of firefighters. That’ll change their minds…but should it?