Lest you think it can not happen in your happy town, consider that Flint residents were also “fat and happy with much work for everyone, and a booming metropolis.”

Rampant crime gives Flint aura of wild West

Financial woes force police cutbacks even as murders and arsons soar

From The Detroit News:

 Francis X. Donnelly/ The Detroit News

Flint— Nine abandoned homes were torched Monday and Tuesday, and a  dozen burned in a four-hour period last month. The week before, a civil rights  pioneer was killed in his upper-income neighborhood.

Two weeks earlier, one of the police mini-stations erected as a solution to  rising crime was burglarized.

Once upon a time, these things shocked residents.

That was before Flint led the nation last year in burglaries, arsons,  aggravated assaults and murders, according to FBI statistics.

It was before violent crime surged even higher this year.

And it was before the destitute city — once the third largest in Michigan — cut the number of police by two-thirds in three years.

Vehicle City, the nickname given Flint as the birthplace of General Motors,  has become the state’s version of Dodge City.

“This is the worst it’s ever been,” said Patty Pruett, 43, who has lived in  Flint for most of her life. “It’s a battlefield.”

The grim statistics tell only part of the story.

Because police are shorthanded, it takes patrols hours to respond to calls  and, when they do, they fail to solve many cases, officers said.

Even when police find suspects, they have no place to put them. The city jail  has been shut for three years because of budget cuts, and the county jail is  full.

Misdemeanor offenders who once were taken to jail now are given court summons  that they routinely ignore, police said.

The criminals freely roam the streets while residents huddle in their homes  like they’re in prison, officers and citizens said.

“There’s no place you want to walk after dark,” said Cathy Klutts, 52, whose  mom was killed last year. “What can you do?”

Her mom, Merlyne Wray, 73, was shot by a 14-year-old boy who had asked to use  the phone in her Flint home, police said.

The situation has grown so dire that several politicians want to declare  martial law and bring in the National Guard.

An editorial in the Flint Journal last year asked someone, anyone, to help  the city.

Call the governor, beseeched the newspaper. Call other mayors and sheriffs.  Call the president. Call Rudy Giuliani.

“It’s a tide of death and destruction that keeps this city awash in blood and  fear,” the newspaper wrote.

From rich to poor

Before GM began leaving in 1978, Flint was a bastion of plentiful jobs that  paid well. The bounty provided abundant city services and cultural institutions.

Within a decade, Flint became one of the poorest cities in the state with one  of the highest jobless rates. Today, 1 in 5 residents is unemployed while one of  three lives in poverty, according to state and census figures.

“GM went off and left us,” said the Rev. Ray Dunlap, pastor of Eliezer Church  of the Apostolic Faith. “After the jobs left Flint, crime went up.”

On a heart-shaped lot behind the church, Dunlap, 82, created a memorial  garden that contains 11 wooden crosses. Each lists the name of someone who was  murdered. One was a minister.

The economic collapse led to the crime surge because the city had to cut  police, residents said.

The city of 102,000 — now the seventh largest city in Michigan — has 124  police officers, according to Flint police unions.

That’s 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, easily the lowest rate in the state.  The second lowest is Detroit at 3.9.

“I know the city is broke, but something needs to be done,” said Tina  Moreland, 52, whose daughter was killed last year. “It’s too much to handle.”

Moreland is raising her 6-year-old granddaughter because Sheena Smith, 22, of  Flint was shot by a man who fired into a crowd during an argument she wasn’t  involved in.

Embattled Mayor Dayne Walling has likely come to rue a remark he made shortly  after taking office in 2009.

He pledged to cut crime 10 percent the next year. Instead, Flint became the  murder capital of the U.S.

During contract negotiations, the police refused to make concessions. Walling  said the financially strapped city had no choice but to continue layoffs.

Walling, 37, who has publicly feuded with police and survived recall  attempts, is facing a tough re-election campaign. Six people are opposing him in  the August primary.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Marilyn Cain, 66, who began propping a table against  her front door at night after her neighborhood had six murders in a year.

“The mayor needs to do something.”

Walling declined comment for this article. Police Chief Alvern Lock didn’t  respond to phone calls or emails.

After the FBI released the crime statistics in May, state and county  officials began talking to Flint about how they could help.

Last week, Michigan State Police doubled the number of troopers in the city  from 10 to 20.

Also, the Genesee County Jail in Flint moved 85 of its 580 inmates to other  lockups last month, allowing room for more people to be arrested in the city.

Despite all the crime, the long-moribund downtown has begun to shake awake in  the past decade. It has attracted residents, several large companies and even  reopened a hotel, The Durant, that had been closed for 32 years.

Feeling of lawlessness

With all of the other troubles faced by Flint, manhole covers have been  disappearing.

Some 80 covers have been stolen in the past few months, probably for scrap,  police said.

For residents, the lowly metal objects are an example of how nothing is safe  from thieves. A feeling of lawlessness has seeped into the city’s psyche, they  said.

Doris Keels, 57, a community activist who works as a volunteer dispatcher at  a police mini-station, worries about her grandchildren.

“They don’t have a chance to be kids,” she said. “You can’t let them walk to  the store alone because they might disappear.”

In south Flint last week, Walt Samson, fixing his bicycle in the garage,  stood to count the number of homes burglarized on his block. He stopped at six.

A woman down the street was killed when her son beat her with a frying pan.  Two blocks away, Cathy Klutts’ mother was killed.

As Samson spoke, a neighbor, his foot poking out the window of his car, drove  through a stop sign without halting.

Samson, 56, who can’t read or write, is protecting himself.

He extended his 4-foot fence by 2 feet; bought two Magnums, calibers .22 and  .44; and owns four pit bulls. Sign on the doghouse: “Life is good.”

“It’s the police,” he said. “They’re not there. They’re just not there.”

In north Flint, a dozen young and middle-age men lingered outside Brothers’  Food Center in the middle of the workday, oblivious to a “no loitering” sign.

One of the men, looking over his shoulder, handed money to a second man  before receiving a packet he quickly pocketed.

A toddler on a tricycle, looking for his father, wheeled up to the group  along the busy four-lane street.

A store clerk complained about the men, saying they panhandle, shoplift and  get into fights. He said he calls the police every day but they hardly come.

The clerk’s boss didn’t want to talk about the problem.

“I don’t want the store associated with this sort of thing,” said owner Ramzi  Farah.

From The Detroit News:


About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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