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June 20, 2011

Devils Night

And other true tales of Detroit
Ze'ev Chafets - ISBN - 9780394585253

Given the world situation, from the Mid-East thru Greece and on to England, it seemed not inappropriate to reread this 20 year old book (long out of print but easily and cheaply available as a used book.) It was written by an Israeli journalist who spent his youth in Detroit, and revisited it in 1988-89, where he interviewed hundreds of residents. He renders reflections of their life and opinions in a failing city which is now an utter ruin. (Copy and paste this link and witness the disaster of present day Detroit. See where more of America is headed)


The book explores the downfall of Detroit, beginning with the riots of 1967-68, and progressing thru the time of its publication, when Halloween was ritually celebrated by torching buildings by the hundreds, leaving but a shell of the formerly famous and wealthy city. It's a wake-up call for those who will listen.

He begins by describing the macabre game called "King of the Corner:" stand on any downtown corner and look in every direction. Seeing no one qualified you as King of the only metropolis where one can walk a downtown block during business hours without passing anyone. Many of its suburbs are prosperous, but the cultural and emotional divide between them is "as wide as any which divides hostile nations." And that was 20 years ago. It's far worse now. Detroit has become a decrepit slum, 83% black, badly governed and dangerous.

Formerly dubbed the Arsenal of Democracy, its population has now shrunk from 1.8 million to just over 700 thousand, one third of whom live below the poverty line. For over 5 decades it has been governed by liberal Democrat administrations, using their "progressive" agenda. Coleman Young, the (first black) mayor at the time (1974-93) originally reined in the largely white police department, appropriately integrated it, then promptly lost control. With his ideologically "liberal principles" he intentionally authored "a gentle police force." Too placid. Robbery, a crime in most of the country, is an occupation in Detroit.

Ironically, race became more of a subject that it had ever been. One of Chafets' confidants explained to him that there were four types of blacks: Afro-Americans, blacks, colored folks and niggers. At vacation time an Afro goes to the Bahamas, a black to Harlem; the colored go south to visit kin folk, and the niggers don't go anywhere. They wait for the others to leave so their homes can be burglarized. "The longer I stayed in Detroit, the more accustomed I became to the local habit of immediately classifying everyone by color."

Schools, horrendous; drop out rates, catastrophic; illiteracy, near universal, even amongst those who graduate. Unwed motherhood is the rule and drugs are ubiquitous. One mother observed that while the children had more opportunity than before, "they've been raised without any values." Seems a rather hollow trade, but she was then certain that, while Detroit was the first to experience all of this, it would be the city to find the solutions for such problems. It has failed, and now there's no opportunity either. For most non-whites (and many blacks) the problem isn't racism, it's fear. "People don't see every black as bad. But the image of Detroit is of a decaying, crime-ridden city headed by a mayor who [made] racist remarks. . . . The values of people in Detroit are completely foreign. . . . The language is different and the way people think there is different . . . [the feeling is] that anybody coming from Detroit is going to cause problems."

Until the mid 60s "Detroit prided itself on being in the vanguard of American liberalism; today, the term has become an epithet." Now it's a poster child for how not to do things, while for the philosopher it demonstrates why that is so. "Young genuinely [saw] the world in racial terms. . . . [he didn't see] black folks as oppressive . . . so [he didn't] consider that blacks [were] capable of racism." Chafets' extended dissertation on Young masterfully explains how his level of corruption was worse than any before. Young was confident that blacks would solve their own problems--as well they might have with different leadership.

One of Young's entourage later observed that "we asked for control of this city. Well, now we're in control and everything is out of control. We don't build anything, not even a grocery store. The mayor has been in office fifteen years an only two blacks own anything downtown. Why? Because we don't hold [Young] accountable. What we have is a group of blacks running a black plantation."

He concludes that, by almost any measure, Young, Dinkins and Wilder (other historic black mayors) were "yesterday, not tomorrow." His wrap up is prophetic and alone worth the read. Though 20 years old, it is a picture of where we are headed if things do not change. Racism is sharply attenuated, but corruption is rampant. Blacks who listened to people like Young and Wilder are, more recently, conditioned to looking to the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and currently to academics like Cornell West. Even the media--even Fox--interviews these people as they enhance their celebrity. It isn't pretty. And it isn't wise.

But the book is a good read, and a reminder of the beginnings of American decline, and its likely end should we not heed the implicit warning.

Posted by Curmudgeon at June 20, 2011 4:04 PM