Strug­gle with crime per­sists in neigh­bor­hoods

Sto­ries of city’s come­back don’t ring true for all res­i­dents

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY GE­ORGE HUNTER The Detroit News



Juana Tor­res packs a pis­tol when she isn’t teach­ing preschool.

“I don’t take it to school around the kids, but oth­er­wise if I’m go­ing some­where, you won’t catch me with­out it,” said Tor­res, who has a con­cealed carry per­mit. “Lord, I hope I never have to use it — but if I have to, I will.”

Tor­res, 51, whose son was killed in 2013, lives on Detroit’s east side in one of the na­tion’s most dan­ger­ous com­mu­ni­ties. She is among the thou­sands of Detroi­ters strug­gling to sur­vive in the cul­ture of crime that grips many neigh­bor­hoods.

Tor­res and other Detroit res­i­dents bris­tle when they hear sto­ries tout­ing the city’s come­back.

De­spite new ameni­ties like the QLine and Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena, and the in­flux of well-heeled young pro­fes­sion­als into Mid­town and down­town, peo­ple who live in many Detroit neigh­bor­hoods say they are still afraid to let their chil­dren play out­side.

“It’s nice to have beau­ti­ful things down­town for peo­ple to come in and see,

but hav­ing a sta­dium or what­ever isn’t go­ing to change the mind­set of peo­ple who are go­ing around rob­bing and killing peo­ple,” Tor­res said. “It all boils down to peo­ple’s mind­set.”

‘Se­ri­ous cul­tural prob­lem’

Po­lice Chief James Craig said there’s been a dou­ble-digit re­duc­tion in vi­o­lent crime since he came to Detroit in 2013, but added the im­prove­ment is not al­ways easy for res­i­dents to process.

“If you’ve been a vic­tim of a crime, or you have a friend or rel­a­tive who have been vic­tims, you’re not go­ing to feel safe,” Craig said. “The hard-work­ing, good peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hoods some­times feel like there’s noth­ing hap­pen­ing, when that’s not the case.”

Since 2013, Craig said vi­o­lent crime is down more than 11 per­cent. But the city still av­er­ages about six killings and 20 shoot­ings per week.

FBI data re­leased last month show vi­o­lent crime in Detroit surged 15.7 per­cent last year, an in­crease that ranked it as the na­tion’s most vi­o­lent big city — a dis­tinc­tion that Craig dis­puted, say­ing an an­ti­quated soft­ware sys­tem caused some crimes to be dou­ble re­ported.

“We’ve def­i­nitely made progress, but there’s a cul­ture that’s not go­ing to change overnight,” Craig said. “Where there’s poverty, there’s crime, and Detroit is at or near the bot­tom as far as poverty goes.

“There’s only so much the po­lice can do. There’s a se­ri­ous cul­tural prob­lem that needs to be ad­dressed.”

Count­ing the crime

In many Detroit com­mu­ni­ties, vi­o­lence has been in­grained for decades. There have been more than 24,000 homi­cides in the city since 1967 — greater than the pop­u­la­tions of 488 of Michi­gan’s 533 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and more than three times the num­ber of sol­diers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan com­bined since the War on Ter­ror was launched in 2001.

In the past 10 years, there have been more than 3,500 homi­cides and 12,000 non­fa­tal shoot­ings in Detroit, ac­cord­ing to po­lice sta­tis­tics.

In ad­di­tion to the vi­o­lence, prop­erty crimes are ev­ery­day oc­cur­rences in many Detroit neigh­bor­hoods. From 2013-16, there were 145,307 re­ported prop­erty crimes in Detroit. Thou­sands more likely went un­re­ported be­cause res­i­dents don’t ex­pect po­lice to re­spond.

Re­ported prop­erty crimes have dropped 27 per­cent since 2013, ac­cord­ing to po­lice data, but there were 44,692 prop­erty of­fenses logged last year — one for ev­ery 15 res­i­dents.

In the midst of it all, peo­ple like Tor­res try to live nor­mal lives while guard­ing against the con­stant threat of crime and re­cov­er­ing from be­ing vic­tim­ized by crim­i­nals.

“You just do the best you can, but it’s not easy,” she said.

Tor­res lives in the 9th Precinct in the 48205 ZIP code, which for years has been among the most vi­o­lent in the United States. Since Jan­uary, her street, Colling­ham Drive, has been the site of a homi­cide, 16 as­saults, 16 bur­glar­ies, nine mo­tor ve­hi­cle thefts and four rob­beries, ac­cord­ing to Detroit po­lice data.

She said she’s done her best to raise her fam­ily in a dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment and is proud all of her liv­ing chil­dren at­tended col­lege and are do­ing well.

She added while she isn’t cur­rently in a re­la­tion­ship with the kids’ fa­ther, he’s been in the pic­ture and helped raise them.

De­spite her ef­forts to “raise a good fam­ily,” Tor­res says crime has in­fil­trated their lives.

Tor­res said her 20-year-old son, LaRonn Walker, also was en­rolled in col­lege like his four sib­lings, but he didn’t get the chance to at­tend — he was shot and killed in De­cem­ber 2013 while vis­it­ing a friend. No ar­rests have been made.

Tor­res said by the time her son was killed, she had al­ready dealt with sev­eral vi­o­lent deaths dur­ing her 12 years as as­sis­tant dean of dis­ci­pline at South­east­ern High School.

“We had two or three stu­dents killed ev­ery year,” she said. “Here I am try­ing to sup­port fam­i­lies whose chil­dren were mur­dered, and it hap­pens to me.”

Looks that kill

Among the stu­dents slain dur­ing Tor­res’ ten­ure at South­east­ern: 17-year-old Je’Rean Blake, whose May 2010 killing prompted the po­lice raid that re­sulted in the ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ing death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stan­ley-Jones.

Je’Rean was killed by Aiyana’s un­cle, Chauncey Owens, who re­port­edly was an­gry be­cause he didn’t like the way Je’Rean had looked at him. Owens was con­victed of the killing and sen­tenced to life in prison.

Je’Rean was the sec­ond mem­ber of his fam­ily to be killed be­cause of a fa­cial ex­pres­sion: His 18-year-old un­cle, Ja­mall Cargill, was killed in June 1994 af­ter laugh­ing at a drug dealer who had a beef with an­other man, said Deborah Cargill, Je’Rean’s aunt and Ja­mall Cargill’s sis­ter.

“That’s why I wear sun­glasses when I go out: I don’t want any­one to think I’m look­ing at them the wrong way,” Cargill said.

Lyvonne Cargill, Je’Rean’s mother, said she knows sev­eral peo­ple who have been killed in Detroit. She said she sent her 18year-old son to live with her niece in Ch­ester­field Town­ship to get him away from the city.

“I just wanted to get him out of the ’ hood, be­cause of the type of peo­ple he was hang­ing around with,” she said. “He’s do­ing good now.”

Tor­res said she also sent her youngest son to school in the sub­urbs; he grad­u­ated last year from Dakota High School in Ma­comb Town­ship and is at­tend­ing Lans­ing Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

“He took LaRonn’s death hard,” Tor­res said. “We had to put him in coun­sel­ing. I’d go into his bed­room and he’d be hold­ing LaRonn’s pic­ture, boo-hoo­ing.”

As her fam­ily strug­gles to heal, Tor­res said she takes pre­cau­tions as she goes about her daily rou­tine to avoid be­ing fur­ther vic­tim­ized by crim­i­nals.

On her way home from work each night, she phones her 17year-old son to alert him so he can watch her walk from her car to the house, in case a rob­ber — or worse — is lurk­ing nearby.

“You do what you have to,” she said, “to be safe.”

‘Con­tact ba­bies’

Stephanie Hale, 26, who lives on the city’s east side near Eight Mile and Ryan, said she wants to move out of Detroit be­cause she feels her fam­ily is in dan­ger.

“It’s ev­ery­where,” she said. “The guys leave their guns lay­ing out on the side­walk when they play bas­ket­ball. My dog got shot for no rea­son in my yard. That could have been me or my kids. I want to move. It’s not safe here.”

Hale told the Detroit Board of Po­lice Com­mis­sion­ers in Septem­ber an off-duty Detroit cop shot her Ital­ian mas­tiff, Vorgo. Po­lice of­fi­cials are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the claim. Hale said while the mas­tiff was re­cov­er­ing from the gun­shot, her other dog, a pit bull named Aiko, was stolen from her yard.

“It was day­time; ev­ery­one was out­side — but no­body’s say­ing any­thing,” she said. “They say they didn’t see who did it.”

On Tor­res’ street, she said four peo­ple died of over­doses last year in­side an aban­doned house near her home. “That was the place where ev­ery­one went to get high,” she said. “They fi­nally boarded it up.”

She pointed to a house across the street. “That place is still aban­doned,” she said. “I worry who might be stay­ing in there.”

In her pre-K class at Car­leton Ele­men­tary School, Tor­res says she reg­u­larly en­coun­ters what she calls “con­tact ba­bies.”

“Th­ese kids come in smelling like mar­i­juana, and they’re high,” she said. “You can see their eyes are all red. Some of th­ese par­ents are so tri­fling. You’d think mar­i­juana was a new per­fume or cologne, you smell it on them so much.

“I have to say some­thing to the par­ents, be­cause if I don’t, I’ll be wrong,” she said. “I asked one dad, ‘ why do you have to make your habit your child’s habit?’ He seemed hum­bled and said he would stop.”

Tor­res’ daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren moved to the Dal­lasFort Worth area, and while she says she wishes they were closer, she’s happy they’re out of Detroit.

“I’d like for them to be here so I could see them more of­ten, but that’s be­ing self­ish,” she said.

“They’re in a neigh­bor­hood now where they can play out­side with­out wor­ry­ing some­one will steal their bikes or hurt them.”

Deborah Cargill said it’s up to her and other res­i­dents to ad­dress the crime prob­lem in Detroit.

“I don’t blame the politi­cians. The heal­ing starts from within,” she said. “We have to fix us first be­fore things get bet­ter.

“We have to ask if there’s some­thing wrong in our com­mu­nity,” she said. “When peo­ple say ‘ black lives mat­ter,’ they have to mat­ter to us, too. We can’t just get mad when some­one from the out­side does some­thing we don’t like.”

Pho­tos by Todd McInturf / The Detroit News

Juana Tor­res, 51, lives on Colling­ham Drive in Detroit. Since Jan­uary, her street has been the site of a homi­cide, 16 as­saults, 16 bur­glar­ies, nine mo­tor ve­hi­cle thefts and four rob­beries, ac­cord­ing to Detroit po­lice data.

Todd McInturf / The Detroit News

Juana Tor­res said she takes pre­cau­tions as she goes about her daily rou­tine to avoid be­ing fur­ther vic­tim­ized.

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