Forget White Flight. Detroit now suffering from Dead Flight.

I love Michigan. Despite the problems its having economically I think it’s a great state and despite the fact that Detroit is suffering from too many problems to count I have a bit of a soft spot for it after my years working as a Michigan Bell lineman in the city in my early twenties. Growing up here one of the topics I can remember hearing people talk about from time to time was the phenomena of White Flight. Basically it’s where the whites that once made up the majority in Detroit fled to the suburbs increasing segregation and the number of people below the poverty line in the city. The phenomena is not unique to Detroit, but unlike some other major cities where whites are returning to the city they once fled, Detroit doesn’t seem to be following that trend.

What’s even more telling about Detroit’s problem, though, is that it appears the dead are fleeing as well:

By now the statistics are as well known in London as they are in Livonia. Detroit has lost half its population since its heyday of the 1950s, and every year the city hemorrhages an estimated 5,000 people more. First it was white flight to the suburbs; then with the city’s continued spiral into poverty and violence, blacks began to flee to those same suburbs. And while census figures show that whites are returning to some of the nation’s largest cities, Detroit is experiencing a flight of a different kind. As the Imbrunones’ second funeral demonstrates, Detroit is experiencing the flight of the dead.

The movement of the dead from the nation’s largest black city to its overwhelmingly white suburbs is a small, though socially symbolic phenomenon, revealing the grinding problems of race, crime and economics that plague both sides of Eight Mile.

From 2002 through 2007, the remains of about 1,000 people have been disinterred and moved out of the city, according to permits stored in metal filing cabinets in the city’s department of health. Looked at in another way, for about every 30 living human beings who leave Detroit, one dead human being follows. Moreover, anecdotal evidence compiled by a Detroit professor suggests the figure may be twice as high, meaning city records may be incomplete and that thousands upon thousands of deceased people have been relocated from the city over the past 20 years.

I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of room for the dead in my life. As far as I know I’ve never been to my biological father’s grave site. It doesn’t help that it’s someplace in North Carolina and I don’t have a clue as to where, but even if I did I can’t say that I’d ever stop by to see it. My maternal grandparents are buried in West Branch, Michigan and I’ve not been back to their graves since their funerals. The same goes for my Uncle Bob (Grayling, Michigan) and Uncle Gene (Dryden, Michigan I think). Even my best friend Bill Owen has yet to have me visit his grave in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Again, none of those are particularly close to where I’m currently living, but I could make the trip if I wanted to. When my mother passes away or my stepfather I can’t say with any certainty that I’ll ever visit their graves either.

I’ve always felt a little odd about that because I know a few people who make pilgrimages to the graves of loved ones on a regular basis. I think part of it is probably because I don’t believe in an afterlife and even if I did I’m not sure going to a grave would be necessary to talk to whichever deceased person I wanted to talk to. Not being a believer I’m not real clear on how all that stuff is supposed to work, but you see scenes in movies all the time where someone visits a dead person’s grave and talks to them about something or other as if the grave was some sort of metaphysical phone or something. I often wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I don’t feel the need to go see where someone I love is buried. And now that I think about it I realize I’m not sure if my maternal grandparents were buried or cremated. How sad is that?

The point being that I can’t begin to understand why someone would feel the need to dig up dead grandparents who have been in the same plot of ground for over 50 years (as is the case in the news item I linked to) just to relocate them to the suburbs. The article offers two possible explanations:

The practice appears to be most common among families like the Imbrunones: former east side Catholic Detroiters who moved to Macomb County years ago, miles away from their dearly departed. The cemetery that appears to lose the most is Mount Olivet, located in the heart of the wild east side, with about 100 disinterments a year. The destination of choice seems to be Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township, which is now home to 11 members of the Imbrunone family.

Although there is little information or statistical evidence regarding the phenomenon across the country, it is quite likely that Detroit and its surrounding communities lead the way, as it does in population loss among the living.

The reasons are two-fold, surmises Patrick Lynch, a Clawson funeral home director and executive board member of the National Funeral Directors Association. “People have to drive to a place that may take them through neighborhoods they otherwise may never go,” he said. “Their safety might be compromised. Whether that is real or perceived, it’s real to them.

“Second, families have left the city and they want to bring their family members closer to them,” Lynch said. “People have grown older and they simply don’t or can’t drive to the city anymore. They want to be near to those they love.”

[…] The granddaughters, being the next of kin, elected to pay the approximately $5,000 to move their grandparents to Macomb County because they wanted to be closer to them. “In our family you don’t forget about your people,” Palazzolo said. “I hope that’s human. It’s at least Italian.”

Love. That was one part of the decision. There is another.

“To tell you the truth, yes, it’s fear,” Palazzolo said. “Have you been to Detroit? I pray the car doesn’t break down. I cringe when I drive down Gratiot. I’m worried for my life. There’s a lot of bad people in Detroit. But to tell you the truth, there’s a lot of bad people out here. But at least we’re closer this way.”

Earlier this summer Peter Cracchiolo, 89, of Grosse Pointe Shores, removed his mother and sister from Mount Olivet and relocated them to Resurrection. Cracchiolo, too, grew up on the city’s east side and his family was part of the great white exodus. His explanation for moving his dearly departed was convenience, though the Detroit cemetery is closer to his home.

“I’ve already got relatives up there,” he said of the suburban cemetery. “I’ve got friends up there. It’s one-stop visiting this way. Me, I don’t forget my people. No sir.”

I still don’t understand. I haven’t forgotten my grandparents, uncles, or my best friend despite them being dead for quite some time now, but I’ve never felt the need to drive to their graves for a visit. Nor, for that matter, would I feel any better if they were closer to where I lived. What I do understand is the Professor’s explanation:

“What it says to me is that there is a deeply ingrained fear on the part of suburbanites in terms of their attitude toward the city and its hold is very powerful and very deep,” Vogel said. “When they’re afraid to cross Eight Mile to visit a cemetery, it tells you what we’re up against and any solutions are not going to be easy.”

When I was a kid stories of how dangerous Detroit was were discussed at a whisper usually reserved for tales of the Bogeyman and, in many ways, that’s exactly what Detroit was to us middle class white kids. Even where I grew up in Pontiac, which in many ways wasn’t all that different from Detroit, the tales of murder and depravity in the city were near legendary. I can clearly recall, after hearing one particularly horrible story at the tender age of 8 of how the blacks would murder any white person they caught in Detroit after midnight, that I swore to myself I’d never set foot in the city out of fear for my life (which is ironic because I was literally born in Detroit). It was a matter of bragging rights to be a white kid who claimed to have spent any amount of time in Detroit. Racism clearly played a role in the stories and it still does today.

Given that Bogeyman-like hold Detroit has over so many people in the suburbs I can understand how they’d feel uncomfortable having to drive into the city to visit a grave site. But I don’t understand the need to visit grave sites in the first place. I can also see the troubling sign that the Dead Flight represents and how it shows Detroit still has a long way to go before it’ll come close to its former glory.

So that’s what the Uniroyal Giant Tire once looked like.

If you’ve spent any time traveling here and there on I-94 in Detroit then you’ve probably seen the Uniroyal Giant Tire at least once or twice. If not then you can click the image to the left for a larger version.

Anyway, the Giant Tire was something that always fascinated me on the infrequent occasions I saw it as a child and it’s been there for as long as I can remember. I recall asking someone, possibly my parents, where it came from and being told that it was once a ferris wheel or that it once had a ferris wheel inside of it. I tried to imagine there being a little door people could walk in to ride the ferris wheel inside the tire and thought it was a shame you couldn’t do that any longer. Then I thought it was weird that you’d want to ride a ferris wheel inside a tire as the view would totally suck.

It never occurred to me to use the Internet to look up just what the hell it looked like when it was a ferris wheel until I saw this item on the 1964 NYC Worlds Fair at Boing Boing. The picture included with the article is of the Giant Tire as ferris wheel which you can see in the image on the right (and can again click to embiggen).

And I had that feeling of a paradigm shift in how I see the Giant Tire. The first shift dealt with the fact that the tire is a mere three years older than I am being as I was born in 1967 so, yes, that’s exactly why it would seem to me like it’s always been there because for me it always has.

The other shift was a realization of how silly I’d been for imagining that people went inside the tire to ride a ferris wheel with no view to speak of. It never once crossed my mind that they’d have built it in the manner shown to the right. It was also cool to find the Uniroyal webpage devoted to the history of the tire:

The Uniroyal® Giant Tire was originally created as a Ferris wheel attraction at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. The wheel held 96 fairgoers and was powered by a 100-horsepower motor. More than two million people rode the Giant Tire Ferris wheel during the fair, including Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, John Jr. and Caroline.

After the 1965 World’s Fair festivities ended, the Giant Tire was relocated to a Uniroyal sales office in Allen Park, Michigan, and has towered alongside I-94 near the Metro Airport ever since. Over the decades it has become an important symbol of Uniroyal’s 111-year heritage and a cultural icon for the city of Detroit known the world over.

In 1994, the Giant Tire received a facelift to give it a sleeker, more modern look. Neon lighting and a new hubcap were added.

In August of 1998, the Giant Tire was modified again—this time to resemble a NailGard® tire. A giant nail was placed in the tread to demonstrate the product’s ability to seal 90% of tread punctures up to 3/16” in diameter.

In 2003, Uniroyal invested close to $1 million to renovate the Giant Tire as its contribution to Detroit’s I-94 corridor revitalization effort. The renovation, which included structural repairs and an update to the exterior, will ensure that the Giant Tire is enjoyed for many years to come.

I can remember the upgrades it received over the years. I can also remember seeing that a lot of idiots liked to take potshots at the tire with bows and arrows as there were a number of arrows sticking out of the tire at various points over the years. I recall reading somewhere that some folks opted to shoot at it with guns instead of arrows which would make riding a ferris wheel inside of it a rather more risky undertaking. To this day I’d love to have a chance to see the inside of it even though the ferris wheel that once sat inside is long gone. I found that out from this Detroit News article on the tire and Michigan’s Giant Wood Stove:

The interior’s Ferris wheel assembly went to an amusement park and a new framework of structural steel was built to support the giant attraction. The tire weighs more than 100 tons and took 130 days to rebuild. The tire, described as “the largest ever built,” is designed to withstand hurricane force winds, and certainly blowouts.

In 1990, Michelin Tire bought Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Co, and in 1994, announced plans to renovate the structure. The tire’s fiberglass cover, washed, painted and updated, emerged with a sporty new look. A company official, Lowell Eckart, Uniroyal brand marketing manager, said: “Updating the giant tire is symbolic of the revitalization that the Uniroyal brand itself is experiencing,” he said. “Given the brand’s prominent position as an original-equipment supplier, it is fitting that the symbol of the brand’s close connection to Detroit be refurbished.”

The Uniroyal plant attracted generations of men and women seeking a better life and a better future. Now only the giant tire remains to bear witness to the working lives of those who sweated and toiled in the riverfront factory that helped build the city of Detroit.

I always get a little thrill from learning the history of things like the Giant Tire. It’s been there my entire life and I never fail to think about it whenever I drive past it, but only after 40 years have I ever been in a spot to learn about it. I’d thought about looking it up any number of times when driving past it, as I did every day for the entire four years that I worked at Ford Motor Company, but by the time I’d get to a computer my ADD would have long since kicked in and made me forget all about it. At least until the next time I saw it. It’s like finding a long missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that you’ve been meaning to finish finally show up and fall into place.

Group gathering signatures for amendment for universal Michigan health care.

The folks at the Michigan Messenger blog (a great blog for any fellow Michiganders who want to keep up with the goings on in the state) have an entry up about a petition drive to get a universal health care amendment added to the state’s constitution:

“We are certainly creating a lot of excitement across the state,” said Valerie Przywara, a field organizer with Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network, a statewide network that promotes comprehensive health care.

John Freeman, chairman of the of the ballot committee, said political leaders in Washington and Lansing have failed to deal with a broken health care system. The constitutional amendment, he said, would require that state leaders craft a “Health Care Security Plan” that ensures that people who currently have health insurance won’t lose it, provides health insurance coverage for those without it and controls and reduces health costs.

“Far too many people are one serious accident or a pink slip away from bankruptcy and losing their health care, and that’s wrong,” Freeman said last week. “No one that works hard and plays by the rules should have their families or business cast into financial ruin because they don’t have access to affordable health care.”

The petition drive has picked many supporters, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Also supporting the drive are more than two dozen organizations, including the Service Employees International Union, AARP Michigan, Michigan Unitarian Universal Social Justice Network, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), Michigan Disability Rights Coalition and the Michigan Osteopathic Association.

U.S. manufacturers, especially automakers, are finding it hard to compete globally because of the high cost of supplying health care to employees and retirees. Foreign governments are helping foreign auto companies compete by providing health care for employees to make their cars cheaper and U.S. cars more expensive. There are also an estimated 750,000 to 1 million Michigan residents with no health care at all.

I have to admit that with the state’s economy in the shape it’s in now that it’s hard to imagine how we could possibly pull something like that off without driving the state into bankruptcy, but damn if I don’t think it’s something the state could really benefit from if we could find a way to do it. If I come across any of the petitioners I’ll probably add my signature to the list.

Daily Kos wants Michigan Democrats to vote for Mitt Romney…

… and it actually makes quite a bit of sense:

Let’s have some fun in Michigan – Daily Kos

With a history of meddling in our primaries, why don’t we try and return the favor. Next Tuesday, January 15th, Michigan will hold its primary. Michigan Democrats should vote for Mitt Romney, because if Mitt wins, Democrats win. How so?

For Michigan Democrats, the Democratic primary is meaningless since the DNC stripped the state of all its delegates (at least temporarily) for violating party rules. Hillary Clinton is alone on the ballot.

But on the GOP side, this primary will be fiercely contested. John McCain is currently enjoying the afterglow of media love since his New Hamsphire victory, while Iowa winner Mike Huckabee is poised to do well in South Carolina. 

Meanwhile, poor Mitt Romney, who’s suffered back-to-back losses in the last week, desperately needs to win Michigan in order to keep his campaign afloat.  Bottom line, if Romney loses Michigan, he’s out. If he wins, he stays in.

And we want Romney in, because the more Republican candidates we have fighting it out, trashing each other with negative ads and spending tons of money, the better it is for us. We want Mitt to stay in the race, and to do that, we need him to win in Michigan.

I’ve been kind of annoyed with the big flip of the bird the DNC gave Michigan because we had the audacity to actually, you know, have some impact on the next presidential election. Which, when you consider the condition of our economy, isn’t an unreasonable desire in my mind. I’ve never participated in a primary before and I’m officially registered as an Independent, but I might just be willing to wade into Republican territory this time out seeing as there’s not much point in participating in the Democratic side even if I were so inclined. And it’s been awhile since I’ve gotten into any mischief.

Berkley Nativity scene charter amendment has been defeated.

It seems the residents of Berkley, Michigan—or at least the ones that bothered to vote Tuesday—felt the charter amendment to force the city to display a Nativity scene in front of City Hall was a bad idea. The proposal failed to pass with 55% voting against it versus 45% voting for it:

There won’t be a nativity scene displayed on the Berkley City Hall lawn this year, after voters rejected a fiercely debated ballot proposal Tuesday.

“Well, the people spoke,” said Bob McCoy, 52, of Berkley who served as the finance chairman for the group Berkley Citizens Vote Yes to Christian Holiday Display. “I’m pretty disappointed.”

McCoy said he was surprised the measure failed. He said the fight to put the nativity scene back on city property wasn’t about religion but about celebrating the season.

“Christmas is a national holiday,” he said.

I disagree, this measure was always about promoting religion and the people behind it made that pretty clear in their statements and with the website they set up. There’s no logical reason why you can’t celebrate the season just as well with the Nativity sitting a short distance away on church property. It’s still in full view of the public, it’s no longer being watered down with secular symbols, and there’s no reason Christmas can’t be enjoyed just fine without having it sit where it doesn’t belong. The fact that Christmas is a national holiday has no bearing on the issue especially considering that, technically, the U.S. actually doesn’t have any National Holidays:

Holidays of the United States vary with local observance. Strictly speaking, the United States does not have national holidays (i.e. days where all employees in America receive a day free from work and all business is halted). The U.S. Federal government can only recognize national holidays that pertain to its own employees; it is at the discretion of each state or local jurisdiction to determine official holiday schedules. There are eleven such “Federal holidays”—ten annual and one quadrennial holiday. The annual Federal holidays are widely observed by state and local governments; however, they may alter the dates of observance or add or subtract holidays according to local custom. Pursuant to the Uniform Holidays Bill of 1968 (taking effect in 1971), some official holidays are observed on a Monday, except for New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. There are also U.S. state holidays particular to individual U.S. states.

OK so that’s being a bit nitpicky I’ll admit, but the point remains that simply because the government gives its employees the day off for what is—technically—a religious holiday (and even that is debatable these days) that doesn’t mean it should be promoting the religion in question with displays on public property.

Christians in Berkley Michigan try to force nativity scene on City Hall.

Here in Michigan in the Detroit suburb of Berkley there’s been an ongoing attempt to subvert the Wall of Separation because some True Believers™ are upset that the City Council did the right thing in moving the city’s nativity display off of public property and onto private church property to avoid a lawsuit from the ACLU. It seems Berkley has had a nativity scene on display for years, but without any additional holiday decorations such as a Santa Claus or Jewish menorah which the courts have ruled are necessary to keep such a display Constitutional. The City Council had two choices: Water down the scene with additional non-Christian decorations or give the nativity scene to the downtown churches to display solo. They made the better of the two choices in my mind in part because it allows the display to be downtown without being water down and in part because I’ve always thought the argument that including other decorations was a pretty fucking weak attempt to allow something that shouldn’t be allowed. The Detroit News had an article on the dispute back on the 15th which read in part:

Leading the charge for a civic display in Berkley is Georgia Halloran, a 37-year resident angered by last year’s decision by the Berkley City Council to remove the figures from City Hall property and turn them over to the Berkley Clergy Association to display at local churches around the town of 15,500 residents.

Halloran and other residents collected 952 signatures to force the question to a vote on Nov. 6. She sees passage of the initiative—which would amend the city’s charter—as Berkley’s chance to stand up to the American Civil Liberties Union, which told the city the display violated the law.

“I’m tired of these organizations coming into a small-town community and threatening us with lawsuits and the city rolling over,” Halloran said. “We are celebrating a national holiday. We are not promoting a religion. The government isn’t supposed to be hostile toward religion.”

So the True Believers™ got their panties all in a twist and have managed to get a petition on the November 6th ballot to force the city to reinstate the nativity in front of city hall. They’ve set up a website full of misleading information to try and persuade folks to vote for what is clearly an Establishment Clause violation that’ll just end up in an expensive lawsuit with the ACLU that they’ll probably lose which is just stupid when they could avoid the whole fiasco with what is a very reasonable compromise.

Fortunately there’s a group of folks out there actively campaigning against the charter amendment and they too have a website: Citizens for Religious Freedom and they appear to have a fair amount of support of their own. Additional today’s editorial in the Detroit Free Press advocates Berkley residents to vote NO on the proposal:

The decision made solid sense then, and on Nov. 6 citizens should insist the choice stand now by voting NO on a charter amendment that would require the city to display a nativity scene on public property.

There ought to be equal distaste for the amendment’s demands as there was among some for the city’s bow to the ACLU.

Both smack of inflexible strong-arming. Beyond fumbling with the charter, the proposal overreaches, going so far as to set the dates of the display and the minimum requirements of which holiday figures to include, namely Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Noticeably absent is any mention of Santa Claus.

Georgia Halloran makes the claim that this isn’t about promoting a religion, but if that’s true then why all the fuss over where the nativity is displayed? If not an implied government endorsement then what is it she thinks is gained by having the nativity on government property? How is the display diminished by having it on private Church property where it’s still in full view of the public, but no longer gives the impression of government endorsement? There answers to both questions won’t be found on their webpage because they don’t bother to address them. One is left to conclude that implied government endorsement is exactly the goal in mind.

There’s a chill in the air…

According to my calendar there’s still a week and a half to go before the official start of Fall here in Michigan, but you wouldn’t know it from the weather. It supposedly got up to 75 today, but the temp is currently sitting at 59 degrees and it’s supposed to drop to 49 before the night is over. This is after a previous week with highs into the mid 80’s. Some of the trees are already starting to take on their fall colors and you can definitely smell it in the air.

One of the things I love about living in Michigan is the change of the seasons. The subtle hints that you pick up on as the days grow shorter and the nights colder and the trees get ready for the coming winter. It’s as close to magic as you can get in the real world. The stores are already swamped with Halloween stuff as it’s the second most popular holiday behind Christmas. For that matter some of the stores already have a handful of Christmas related stuff out as well for the early, early starters. Coolest Halloween inflatable yard decoration I’ve seen this year was at a Sam’s Club (not our membership, but a friend’s). It was a giant inflatable Haunted Castle you could walk through complete with built-in strobe lights and spooky sounds. Of course it costs $249. Costco, where we have a membership, had the inflatable Reaper’s Carriage which includes a skeleton popping out of the coffin inside. The size and sophistication of these inflatable decorations seems to increase every year. Don’t know if I’ll ever bother with the inflatables myself if I ever manage to land a house, though I will probably try to build a few Halloween decorations of my own.

I always get a little giddy with the first chilly winds of September. Halloween and the Yuletide holidays that follow are probably my favorite time of the year. Can’t wait to make the annual trip to a local cider mill for hot cider and donuts. Ahhhh, pardon me while I slip off into a moment of nostalgia.

It’s a soggy Monday morning.

I swear the weather gets weirder the older I get and it definitely seems like the seasons are shifting to the left by a couple of weeks. It rained off and on all day yesterday and it was cold for August. I don’t think it made it very far into the 70’s yesterday and usually August is when we see a good chunk of 90+ degree weather.

Today it’s supposed to rain all day and harder than yesterday resulting in some flood watch alerts for areas of South Eastern Michigan that are prone to such things and it’s not supposed to get any warmer than 65 degrees. That’s just nuts for August. It feels more like October than August around here. Tomorrow we get back up to 76 tomorrow and closer to normal on Wednesday when it should hit 89, but the dog days of summer this isn’t.

Not that I’m complaining too much as it makes for nice sleeping weather when normally August is pretty miserable, but it does give one pause to wonder.

The 1967 Detroit 12th Street riots remembered.

On this date 40 years ago Detroit descended into chaos as a riot broke out on 12th Street. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about the riot:

The 12th Street Riot in Detroit began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. Vice squad officers executed a raid at a blind pig on the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount on the city’s near westside. The confrontation with the patrons there evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in modern U.S. history, lasting five days and far surpassing the 1943 riot the city endured. Before the end, the state and federal governments, under order of then President Lyndon B. Johnson, sent in National Guard and U.S. Army troops and the result was forty-three dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests and more than 2,000 buildings burned down. The scope of the riot was eclipsed in scale only by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Detroit has never fully recovered from the after-effects of the riot and the negative domestic and international media coverage. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and an extensive cover stories in Time magazine and Life on August 4, 1967. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.

I was born just over a month later on August 25th, 1967 and obviously wasn’t around to experience the event itself yet I was still impacted by the event in subtle ways as I grew up. Over the years I gradually became aware of a general animosity between Detroit and its suburban neighbors that I didn’t fully understand. I grew up in Pontiac and even though it was hardly what most folks think of when they hear the word “suburb” — Pontiac is practically a clone of Detroit on a smaller scale in most respects — that didn’t stop folks in Pontiac from talking about what a hell-hole Detroit was ever since the riots and that opinion was echoed by a lot of folks in just about every other suburb of Detroit. I can recall hearing time and again how the riot was the event that resulted in the ‘white flight’ to the suburbs that left Detroit predominately populated by blacks. That was only kind of true as it turns out that whites had been leaving the city for the suburbs ever since World War II, but the 1967 riot certainly caused the rate of that migration to exponentially increase. Former Detroit mayor Coleman Young wrote on the effect of the riot as follows:

The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit’s losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the rebellion, totally twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.

Coleman Young was Detroit’s first black mayor ever and he was quite the polarizing figure himself. He took office in 1974 and stayed there for the next 20 years with a chip on his shoulder and a fondness for swearing that would’ve made him fit right in here at SEB. By the time he left office he was considered by a lot of suburbanites as being part of the reason Detroit never seemed to recover from the riot.

Needless to say with today being the 40th anniversary of the start of the riot there’s been plenty of remembrances on radio and in the newspapers about it by people that lived through it. I’ve probably learned more in the past few days about an event that has subtly influenced my life from the start than I’ve learned in my near-40 years of living in south eastern Michigan. In particular I was struck by an Michigan Radio (NPR) news story by Sarah Hulett in which she talks with her grandfather, who was a cop in Detroit in 1967, about the riot and the fact that she chooses to live in the city today. The sentiments he expresses are quite similar to many of the ones I heard growing up. Click here to listen to her story. That item is part of a larger collection of stories on the 1967 riot called Ashes to Hope that’s worth a listen if you want to learn a little more. Another good collection of stories comes from this Detroit Free Press special and are worth taking a gander at.

As for me, I benefited both from growing up in Pontiac (which as I said was a lot like Detroit in some respects) and from a job with Michigan Bell (now AT&T) that had me working all over Detroit back when I was 19 years old. I got to see the worst and the best of the city while working as a telephone lineman and it sharply changed the perspective I had of the city for the better as growing up surrounded by so much negativity about the city had obviously colored my views. An image of Detroit that too many people still hold not only locally, but across the nation. I admit I have a soft spot for the town in part because I tend to sympathize with the underdog, but also because the stories I’ve heard about how the city used to be made it sound like a great place and makes me hope it might regain some of that former glory the way cities like Chicago have managed to do. Forty years later Detroit is still suffering from the 1967 riot and while it’s recovery has been a long time in coming it appears to be picking up momentum. Though there’s still a long way yet to go.

My brother proposes the “Salvation Tax” to solve Michigan’s budget woes.

Here in Michigan there’s been quite a bit of talk about new taxes after the governor and legislators signed off on a plan to close this year’s budget deficit by shoving a good portion of it into next year’s budget just so they can claim they didn’t violate Michigan’s constitution which requires a balanced budget. The very next day the governor put out a call for the legislators to get busy coming up with new tax ideas that can be used to balance next year’s looming shortfall. One of the ideas proposed so far is being called the Ticket Tax:

One option—a possible 6% sales tax on sports, music, movie and other entertainment tickets—has galvanized opposition by a group of power hitters that includes the owners of Detroit’s major sports teams and concert venues.

Fans Against Ticket Taxes launched its campaign Thursday, led by Mike Ilitch, who owns the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings and the Fox Theatre, and Bill Davidson, who owns the Pistons and operates three of the biggest concert venues: DTE Energy Music Theatre, the Palace of Auburn Hills and Meadow Brook Music Festival.

At the Tigers’ Thursday afternoon game, Comerica Park staffers handed out flyers urging fans to visit a Web site—http://www.NoTicketTax.com—and contact their state representatives.

The campaign illustrates the political peril of a steep tax increase, which many lawmakers say is unavoidable given a $1.8-billion deficit the state faces in the 2008 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

In response my brother sent off the following email to his state representatives in Lansing and he invites all fellow Michigan readers to do likewise:

    Mr. Marleau,

    I’m writing you regarding the “luxury tax”, going to the movies is hardly a luxury. I pay income taxes already and I fully expect to be paying more. I pay “Sin Taxes” since I smoke and have an occasional beer. Therefore I would like to offer up a new “solution” to the states money problems.

    I feel it’s time for the state of Michigan to be a leader in what I’m calling the “Salvation Tax”,  let’s face it religion is a big business, it’s time for God to put his two cents in where it counts (the state’s coffer).

    This program has only a limited effect upon the state. Think about it clearly, if another church leaves the state, so what? It’s not like they’re pulling their weight around here anyway.

    I thank you for taking the time to consider the salvation tax issue (those bastards squirrel away a lot of money), if you feel you would like help getting this to the floor, please feel free to e-mail me and I will do what I can to assist you.

    Wes Jenkins

At this point I think most people in Michigan are fully expecting some form of tax increase someplace as there’s really no other way to deal with next year’s budget without making cuts that most folks agree are just a bad idea. There’s already plenty of folks upset over guidelines put in place for State troopers that asks them to limit their daily mileage to around 40 miles a day as a result of the budget mess. So perhaps it’s time that the churches in this state started paying their fair share of the tax burden and help keep Michigan in the black.

Needless to say I think it’s a wonderful idea and I am dashing off a similar note to my representatives as well. If you’re also a Michigan resident you can look up your Representative here and your Senator here.