Editorial: Don't ignore violence in Detroit

The Detroit News
Detroit police chief James Craig addresses the media at a press conference outside Public Safety Headquarters

As we mourn the tragedy of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, we should not ignore the violence taking place on a daily basis in our cities, including Detroit.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Sunday ordered that the Michigan and U.S. flags on the Capitol buildings be flown at half-staff to honor those whose lives were lost in the shootings. 

But what about the dead of Detroit?

Two women in their 20s were hit in a drive-by shooting Monday on the west side. One victim was able to drive them both to the hospital, where they were listed in temporary serious condition.

Four men were shot over a dice-game on Detroit’s west side Tuesday night — all four victims were listed in temporary serious condition. That alone should be remarkable, but it’s the second time in a week that violence has broken out over a game of dice.

Saturday night, a sore loser left a dice game only to return in his car and shoot the winner multiple times. The victim was listed in stable condition.

That same evening, a 30-year-old woman was gunned down at Rouge Park.

Our city experiences violence on a daily basis, as do others. In Chicago, for instance, emergency rooms had to shut down last weekend because they were overwhelmed by shooting victims. Nine died. 

Detroit Police Chief James Craig says that while 2018 ended with Detroit’s lowest number of homicides in 50 years at 261 deaths, as of this week the city is 10 homicides up from where it was last year.

“I’m not sitting here flying a flag of success,” Craig says. “Have we made progress? Yes. Is there more work to be done. Absolutely.”

Craig says police have successfully reduced violent crimes by leveraging identification technology — like facial recognition software and traffic cameras — to make arrests that lead to convictions. The knowledge that violent crime will lead to an arrest and a tough sentence generally deters would-be criminals, according to Craig.

Still, he says he has noticed a disturbing trend of spontaneous violence erupting from arguments. 

These crimes are harder to track. It is impossible for police to predict when an argument will break out at a block party or when someone’s poor driving will provoke road rage. Yet in Detroit, these kinds of altercations routinely lead to shots fired.

To explain this kind of violence, Craig points to poverty and mental illness.

“These play a key role in driving violence in any city,” he says, noting that whether you look at Chicago, Los Angeles or Detroit, violent crime is always higher in the less affluent areas.

“Then tie in the young people who grow up in violent environments,” Craig says. “Many suffer from PTSD.”

Violence is a community issue. And it’s one that is still a very real challenge facing Detroit, and many other urban areas around the country. While mass shootings understandably get a lot of attention, we shouldn’t overlook the regular violence that still rocks too many neighborhoods.