September 2, 2011 at 1:00 am

Detroit's deadliest neighborhood

City's northeast corner had more summer shootings than any other area

Tamora Powell, right, and Aisha Powell attend the wake of their nephew, Allantae Powell, an Osborn football player killed last week. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

Detroit — At first glance, the streets along Detroit's northeast corner don't appear to be the city's most dangerous.

On a recent sunny afternoon, teenagers played basketball on a new court while younger children chased an ice-cream truck. An elderly woman sat on the porch of her well-kept brick bungalow and watched two boys toss a football.

But across the street, the dead were honored with memorials on utility poles. Some featured stuffed animals, others consisted of dozens of liquor bottles. Farther down Novara Street, one of several burned-out homes bore a message in spray-paint: "R.I.P Vees."

"It's not too bad around here during the day," resident Richard Evans said. "At night, though, it gets pretty crazy. … If you see trouble starting, get in the house quick."

The nights have been deadly: At least 38 people were shot and eight died from the first day of summer, June 21, to Aug. 21, in the 48205 ZIP code, a 6.5-square-mile slice of the city north of Coleman A. Young International Airport roughly bordered by Eight Mile, Hoover, Conner and Kelly.

That's more shootings and deaths than any other ZIP code in the city, according to a Detroit News analysis of crime data provided by police. The neighborhood of 44,000 residents accounts for 6 percent of the city's population, but was home to 15 percent of its murders and 13 percent of its shooting victims.

Citywide, there were at least 254 shootings involving 303 victims — and at least 52 died — during the two months studied by The News. The tallies could be even higher, since 24-hour Major Crime Summary Reports the Detroit Police send daily to the media aren't comprehensive.

Other parts of the city with high rates of shootings include the Brightmoor neighborhood and the southeast side, each of which had well more than the citywide average of 3.5 shootings per 10,000 residents over the period.

Downtown and Midtown also had higher-than-average rates, but that is largely due to a statistical quirk because of their low resident populations. If daytime workers were considered, the two would be among the safest in the city.

Despite the outcry over this summer's 52 shooting deaths, the level of violence isn't unprecedented: Statistics aren't available for the summer of 2010, but 76 people were murdered over the same two months in 2009.

And for every shooting that makes headlines, dozens more get no media attention.

In some neighborhoods, like the northeast side, gunfire is nearly as common as sunsets.

"You hear shots all the time around here at night," said resident Charles Williams, 40, who lives in the 48205 ZIP code. "I just try to mind my own business; I keep my head down and don't mess with anyone. If I had the money, I'd move."

Police are outgunned

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said his officers are "frustrated" by the constant gunfire.

"They are frustrated with how some homicides are so senseless," he said. "It's reckless; it's wanton. It baffles the imagination, and that's where the frustration is."

Police are outgunned, Godbee said.

"Officers now have a challenge with the high-powered weapons on the street, like the AK-47 and TEC-9, in the hands of individuals with very little to no respect for the community or law enforcement," he said. "Our officers are working at a tremendous risk."

In an attempt to quell the violence, Godbee this month rolled out "Operation Inside Out: Night Angels," a program that re-deploys desk officers to patrol one eight-hour shift per week. The program has put an extra 40 to 50 officers on patrol each shift.

David Malhalab, who retired from the Detroit Police Department in 2005 after 21 years of patrolling some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods, said putting more officers on the street will have little effect if the department takes away from other vital resources.

"You need police officers in the precincts; you need detectives," Malhalab said. "What good is having 50 extra cops on the street and only two detectives? The reports generated by the patrol officers go to the detectives, and if there aren't enough detectives, those reports will pile up on somebody's desk and the crimes will never get solved."

In many neighborhoods, including several streets in the 48205 ZIP code, streetlights don't work. When Detroit Police Officer Brian Huff was killed last year in the area at an abandoned duplex on Schoenherr near Eight Mile, officers at the scene said they couldn't see much because the streetlights were out.

"You've got to have good community relations, but you can't have that with a dysfunctional city," Malhalab said. "If the residents have a streetlight out in their area, they need to see someone come turn that on. If not, they lose faith in the city — which means they lose faith in the police."

Godbee said a disproportionate number of shootings involve convicted felons who have been released from prison.

In 42 of the shootings studied by The News, the victims claimed they didn't know why they were shot, or who pulled the trigger. Many told police they were walking down the street, heard shots and felt pain. One victim bolted from an ambulance after he was transported to a hospital, police said.

"In a lot of those cases, (the victims) know who shot them, but they don't want to tell the police — they want to take care of it themselves, and then you get yet another shooting," Malhalab said. "A whole lot of the shootings are from people selling drugs, which leads to confrontations and disputes, which leads to someone pulling out a gun."

Residents in northeast Detroit said they weren't surprised their ZIP code was the city's most violent this summer. But they said the neighborhood isn't all bad.

Some blocks, like those on Novara, are dotted with abandoned homes. But there are blocks like Evans' on Fairmont with well-kept, sturdy homes and manicured lawns.

"There are still people around here who care," said Evans, 35, who lives with his wife, Doris, and their 2-year-old son.

But the number of people who remain in the city and try to improve their neighborhoods may be dwindling.

'Kids killing kids'

Detroit's population plunged 25 percent since 2000 to 713,777. Abandonment was more profound in the 48205 ZIP code, where population declined 34 percent from 67,000 to 44,045.

Gangs have caused big problems at Osborn High School on Seven Mile and Hoover, according to an April report from Mayor Dave Bing's office.

"Gangs, especially transient gangs that are less organized — and often, randomly violent — terrorize some of our neighborhoods including … Osborn," said the report, which relied on Detroit police data.

At least four current and former students were killed this summer.

On Thursday, friends and relatives gathered for visitation services of the latest shooting victim, Allantae Powell, a promising football player who was killed in an Aug. 24 drive-by shooting.

Standing outside Butler Funeral Home, relatives struggled to make sense of the bloodshed.

"I know five kids that got killed in the past few years," said Evelyn Walker, Powell's grandmother, who lives on Carlysle near Eight Mile. "And you hear about a lot more in the neighborhood, too, every day it seems like."

Powell's aunt, Sankia Powell, said she sees photos on Facebook of children she knows posing with guns.

"I went on vacation last week, and when I got back everyone's telling me who got killed; I was only gone a few days and four people were killed," Powell said.

"It's other kids doing most of it," Walker answered, shaking her head. "Kids killing kids."

(313) 222-2134

Staff Writer Robert Snell contributed.

Allantae Powell
Memorials like this one at the intersection of Novara and Redmond are a ...
In the northeast corner of Detroit, at least 38 people were shot and eight ... (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)