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: http://detnews.com/article/20110706/METRO/107060354/Rampant-crime-gives-Flint-aura-of-wild-West#ixzz1RLA30yjb
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.