• 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.




  • On The Craig Fahle Show: The $70 million blight fight

    Even in bankruptcy, Detroit has millions of dollars in state and federal money to tear down blighted buildings and clear up vacant lots. Some unspent money has even been found in the city’s own accounts. Scott Woolsey, executive director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, discussed how the funds will be spent and what difference they could make in Detroit.

    “As soon as the weather breaks, you’re going to see a lot of homes come down,” Woolsey says. “You’re going to see a pretty massive effort in terms of demolition and vacant lot cleanups across the city.”



  • From the Weekend: Detroit readings not to miss

    The Detroit Free Press had a slew of stories over the weekend related to the city’s bankruptcy. Here’s the most essential reading:

    It’s been widely reported that Detroit’s bankruptcy has highlighted flaws in its pension financing and administration, and that’s drawn attention to how public worker pension systems operate. In a look at proposed reforms, their promises and their drawbacks, John Gallagher writes:

    Some maintain government pension funds will stay healthy as long as the stock market remains high. Others believe America faces a genuine crisis in which millions of retired teachers, cops, clerks and other government pensioners face cuts to their monthly checks. Just last week, the nonprofit Society of Actuaries released a report by a panel of experts that said the total amount of unfunded liabilities in public pension plans in the U.S. amounts to nearly $1 trillion. Other experts peg the underfunding at three or four times that.

    Kevyn Orr spoke with Detroit Free Press writers, telling them he’s frustrated the city’s pensioners haven’t accepted his plan that cuts 26 percent from retired general workers’ payments and 10 percent from police and fire retirees.

    The offer is fair, he said, and delaying could jeopardize creation of an $815-million rescue fund meant to boost pensions and protect Detroit Institute of Arts masterpieces from being auctioned to pay off creditors.

    Meanwhile, as debate continues about whether (or how) gains made in the downtown and Midtown areas could spread to neighborhoods, the new hockey arena complex is moving ahead with $261 million in public funds. Editorial  Page Editor Stephen Henderson weighs in and explains how the structure and management of the arena deal contradicts much of the broader discussion about the city’s future:

    Detroit is lost, it seems, when it comes to translating big wins in the city’s core into benefits for most of the people who live here, and we need both city and state government to step it up when it comes to balancing the swell of good fortune that’s overtaking parts of the city.

    Under terms of the new stadium deal, Detroit loses the $7 million the team pays the city from percentages of ticket and suite sales, food and beverage concessions, souvenir sales and parking. The deal is raising other questions, the Free Press reports:

    Publicly and privately, some residents and elected officials have questioned whether negotiators should have gotten more in the deal for state taxpayers — who are footing much of the construction costs — as well as more financial sweeteners for the City of Detroit, even though its contribution was limited to land for the arena site.







  • On The Craig Fahle Show and MiWeek: Thomas Sugrue and Detroit’s bright spots

    Author of the definitive work about Detroit’s decline, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit,” Thomas Sugrue speaks with Craig Fahle. Sugrue will appear at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Policy Conference Feb. 27. Hear a preview.

    At the Conference, Sugrue spoke with our Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner DPTV and the MiWeek team:

  • In the News: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s State of the City speech

    If you missed the speech, listen here.

    Or watch DPTV’s coverage here.

    News Stories:

    Council Member Saunteel Jenkins like some of what she heard.

    “Strategic demolitions” to begin soon.

    Mayor Mike Duggan laid out what he said is a strong case that change can come quickly for Detroit in the Detroit Free Press.

    Mayor Mike Duggan vowed Wednesday that “change in Detroit is real” to fix broken city services, as reported by The Detroit News.

    AP tackled the mayor’s “strategic demolition” plan to tear down vacant and fire-damaged homes.

    Fox 2′s recap of the speech with video

    Channel Four’s coverage

    Channel 7′s report

    Channel 7 also filed a separate report about Duggan’s “D Insurance” proposal: a city-run auto insurance program to combat high rates for city resident.

    “Hello jobs, goodbye blight.” That’s not the Reuters headline. But here is their story about the speech.

    Editorials and Columns:

    Big hopes that Duggan can cure Detroit’s big problems” from the Detroit Free Press.

    Duggan projects action, optimism” from The Detroit News.

    Freep Columnist Rochelle Riley writes “The first thing you want to ask Mayor Mike Duggan, after his first State of the City address is: ‘You really think you can do all that stuff you just said?’ The second thing is: How can I help?”