Brennan Walker, 14, got lost on his way to his high school. He knocked on a stranger’s door for help. The homeowner picked up his shotgun. Thank goodness he missed. This should sound familiar. Something similar happened in Dearborn a few years ago.
As long as metro Detroit remains frozen in old racist attitudes, it has little hope of attracting new industries and well educated young people. Racist fear remains strong among hundreds of thousands of white suburbanites, especially those over forty. The region voted against mass transit two years ago for one main reason: the fear that white suburbanites had of Detroiters riding the bus into their communities.
All cities have scary neighborhoods. But good people live in them. This is true in Detroit. A decade ago, I organized a neighborhood on the east side of a Detroit for a lawsuit to support the community. My clients were delightful, generous warm and decent people. My interns and I knocked on many doors. No one responded with a gun.
The suburbs fight Detroit on resource questions. Suburban Detroit has been designed as badly as possible with dozens of little cities and villages, each with its own government officials, police departments and courts. The lack of strong regional governance prevents coherence in publIc services and policy. It wastes enormous amounts of taxpayer money. The suburbanites even managed to get “local control” enshrined in the state constitution in the early 1960s. The counties and the metro region as a whole lacks a focused strategy on almost anything. Why? Because Detroit would have power as the biggest city in any rationally designed collaborative joint venture. And the terror of Detroit, and the fear of mixing its citizens with those of the suburbs, remains a greater motivator of suburban voter behavior than economic improvement or sound governance.
In short, this pathetic incident epitomizes decades of sad racist fear. It’s time for elected officials to speak out and stand up for decency and common sense: Not just about the criminality of responding to the doorbell with a weapon. But to face up to the ugly suburban racism about Detroit. The region’s future depends on 21st century common sense, and will be defeated by 20th century racism.