Bankole: The evolution of Mike Duggan

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Is it an election year political stunt, a Damascus experience or an effort to call attention to the longstanding problem of fatalities in Detroit that has come to personify the urban crisis?

Whatever the case, it was refreshing to see Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan ask the University of Michigan last week to do a study of murders that have taken place in Michigan’s largest city. That way we can determine if they could have been prevented.

“I am interested in putting together a team that backs up and looks at that individual’s life, both the victim and the shooter. There is no one in America that is treating a murder victim on the streets of a city the same way a hospital treats a hospital death. What if we did a research project that backs up the root cause of these deaths? We are looking for partners to do something like that,” the mayor challenged the university, according to published reports.

Ironically it took this long to get here. Duggan could have called for this study three years ago or even last year given Detroit’s history for wearing the label of the murder capital of the world as a result of the homicide epidemic.

But he decided to do so now. Could that have been because of the evolution of a politician whose beliefs have changed over his time in office, because of a shift in issues facing the office or a compelling urgency to deal with issues of the moment?

Duggan is a former Wayne County prosecutor and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. So the call to conduct a clinical research into the murder rate is very familiar territory for him.

Let’s join Duggan in the effort to get UM officials to take up his challenge and launch an anchor project in the city where the university began two centuries ago.

Mark Schlissel, the university president who declared public service, diversity and inclusion to be cornerstones of his presidency when he arrived three years ago, should see the mayor’s challenge as a golden opportunity to enhance the school’s Detroit engagement and make a lasting difference.

UM — ranked last year as the No. 1 public university in America by QS World University Rankings —has the standing, reputation and resources to launch such a program that has the potential to be a national model for other institutions of higher learning.

The task of putting such a project in motion would not be as difficult for the university as, say, the Michigan Legislature, which has still not taken any action on Duggan’s D-Insurance proposal to address the high costs of auto insurance in the city.

Unlike the Legislature, where competing interests are raising legitimate questions about the D-Insurance plan, all the university has to do is to either commission a study or start a clinic regarding the concept.

As the university celebrates its bicentennial, implementing such a project focused on the lives in the city, including the growing number of precious babies that have been victims of this violence, could be a transformational undertaking.

Duggan’s realization that there is a need to put a clinical searchlight on the cause and effects of killings in the city underscores the fact that we should not only be concerned about death but also what leads to it.

Concerning ourselves with the circumstances that drive people to end their lives or the lives of others will also help the families of the bereaved and community at large recover from the trauma of such experiences.

There are many families in Detroit still trying to recover from the nightmare of seeing loved ones killed, sometimes right in front of them.

There are many streets in Detroit that have been killing fields. Getting to the root cause of such heinous crimes is a bold way of demonstrating the power of restorative justice.

UM and Detroit teaming up together can save lives by getting to the people who are crying for help before it is too late.

“The mayor’s idea is really interesting,” Schlissel said in an email response. “It certainly sounds like a novel approach to possibly diminishing violent loss of life.”

Duggan has thrown down the gauntlet. The ball is now in Schlissel’s court.


Twitter: @bankieT

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.