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Tim Kiska: We’re Peddling As Fast As We Can

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Eleanor Josaitis Funeral - Aug. 12, 2011 (WWJ Photo)

Eleanor Josaitis Funeral – Aug. 12, 2011 (WWJ Photo)

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By Tim Kiska

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has announced that the city is going bust, yet another indication that the city is in a downward spiral.

These days, I keep thinking about Eleanor Josaitis. She spent most of her adult life in 24/7 overdrive pushing for racial and social justice, and was buried one afternoon last summer.

Josaitis was omnipresent in public life since the late 1960s, reminding people that urban problems cannot be ignored. To do so, she argued, would guarantee anarchy in the Motor City in the long run. The long run, it turned out, is now.

On the afternoon of Josaitis’s burial, Detroit Police sent an e-mail blast telling us that 15 people were shot in the city the night before.

The numbers in that e-mail were hard to wrap your head around.  Six people were dead and nine others injured in a total of nine separate incidents.

One incident involved five people, another three.  And, to put an exclamation point on the mess:  Police reported a seventh shooting fatality on the city’s east side later that afternoon—this one involving a teenager.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Literally at the same time that Eleanor Josaitis was being put in the ground, a couple of teenagers on the east side were fooling around with a gun. Details are sparse, but that rock-hard fact is that a 16-year old is dead.

The details, when they finally came out, were beyond depressing:  a teenager was shot to death at a backyard party. A couple of guys were murdered while gambling on the east side. This city has seen a lot of pain, but that weekend hurt more than most.

And this week, with its dismal announcements of financial doom in the city, the pain gets even worse. So many people have struggled to for a long time to make Detroit a better place.

Eleanor Josaitis was a reminder of that. This town has so many heroic stories of people on the barricades so others might vote, or buy homes where they wished, or get a decent chance at a job.

In the near future, people will be paid to move into the Midtown area. The “say nice things about Detroit” – such a feature of mid-1970s, Coleman A. Young-era Detroit – seems to be making a return.

The New York Times thinks we’re hip.  And now, this.  It’s another reminder of everything else that has gone bad. The fact that the city of Detroit is deeply in the hole; the Detroit Public School system is on life support, and can’t cut employee pay fast enough;  the Kabuki-like inner-workings of the Bing administration became so bizarre that it tumbled into a public spectacle. Kwame Kilpatrick was in jail, then out of jail, then in jail again, then out again.

Who knows how that will end?   Somehow, it would seem obvious by now that we’re not dealing properly with the problem—whatever the problem is.

It’s great that Whole Foods will open a new place here—in 2013. I can hardly wait.

Meanwhile, we’re dealing—or not dealing with– a lethal, combustive stew of economic deprivation, guns, drugs, sociopathic behavior, and a culture that seems less like a culture and more like a toxic, choking miasma of violence and ugliness.

If the Tea Party had its way, we’d just walk away from the bubbling caldron and let “the market” somehow make it all better.   Everybody in this town is peddling as fast as they can. Eleanor was the fastest peddler of them all.

But somehow, it hasn’t been enough.

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