This is Detroit

Eric C. Novack

Forgive me if this sounds cliché, but imagine Detroit on a fall Sunday morning. Imagine a place in the downtown area with a beautiful park in the middle of it called Campus Martius, where one could get a cup of coffee and the morning paper at a small café called Au Bon Pain. Then imagine you're with someone who makes you feel content and at ease, let's say a friend, girl friend, or spouse, and the two of you decide to walk around downtown and enjoy this glorious day. You're feeling at peace and completely secure. And then … and then imagine in broad day light a guy sitting on a park bench near you calls out to you, "Come here!" You, of course, ignore him because you're enjoying your time together and don't want your moment to be interrupted. And maybe he calls after you again, "Come here!" and then gets up and starts following you. You begin to panic. You wonder if he has a gun, a knife, or another weapon of some kind, but then you stop yourself and think you're being ridiculous, he probably just wants a quarter or a cigarette. But then you hear him say as he walks faster to catch up to you, "Don't walk away from me Mother FUCKER!"

You know that there is going to be a problem after that. So you let go of your friend, girlfriend, or spouse and tell her to run. But your companion is in shock and as you turn around this guy…your assailant has a chain or an improvised whip that he is spinning around at high velocity. You reach for your wallet and are ready to hand it over as soon as he asks for it. But he doesn't want your money; he just wants to terrorize you. This isn't a safe situation to be in. This guy is mad at the world and wants to take it out on someone. He just wants to ruin your morning or your moment. You look over to your friend, girlfriend or spouse again and say "RUN!" once again. But it seems that she is frozen with fear. So you step up to the guy and ask him to "Back off" or "Be cool." He smiles because he is happy he has found a live one. He tells you, "I'm going to beat the fuck out of you!" And then raises his hand to your companion and tells her to "Scram!" But again she is frozen. Then you recognize this guy is only interested in you and you know somehow he is playing a game of "Jailhouse Rules." So you get him to follow you away…away from her and he does and smiles while he chases you with his whip or chain and he says things like "I'm gonna make you pay for coming down to my city." He of course assumes because you're white that you don't live in Detroit. Of course he is wrong and you want to correct him, but he doesn't really care. So he's chasing you and you run to a place with other people around, let's say Jefferson Avenue in front of Hart Plaza. And there are plenty of cars on the street with people in them. But the people either don't notice or just don't care.

You begin to accept the fact you're going to take a beating, just because you're white or happy or he thinks you're from out of town. And as you run you slip and spill your coffee and your glasses fall to the sidewalk. Your assailant stands above you and tells you to pick them up. You grab your glasses off the ground and get up and as soon as you put them on your face he's gone. He's gone.

Now imagine that this whole story I told you was true.

I don't know what is going on in this city. I see so much love and art and possibility, but I also see so much hate and ignorance and hopelessness. This, my friends, is Detroit. My Detroit. Your Detroit. And my assailant's Detroit. I'm just glad no one was hurt.

© 2002