A man was assaulted right outside the doors of the store where I work today (er, April 28). It was maybe 20 feet from where I was standing, but because it was outside and because of the way things are designed, I didn’t realize what was going on until it was over. Two or three people randomly beat the crap out of this poor guy for no reason. He tried to crawl inside the store to stop it. Once he attracted our attention, one of the assailants flashed a fake police badge, and then they all vanished.
The guy was okay-ish. He was (understandably) very upset and had some marks on him, but he at least was up and walking around. Our store called 911 twice, and a passerby called as well.
It took the Detroit Police THREE HOURS to show up. THREE HOURS. This poor, upset guy was standing there, all freaked out and injured, trying to figure out how he would get around since the people who just assaulted him ride his bus, and the DPD was nowhere to be found.
Three hours after it happened, still no police anywhere to be seen, it was time for my break. I went outside and asked the man if he was still waiting for the police. He said that he was, and that he intended to stay until they came. So, I called 911 myself.
My workplace is right on the Detroit side of the border, and when I called 911 on my cell phone, initially I was connected to the police department of the suburb across the street. I explained what had happened to the dispatcher and that it had been THREE HOURS with no response, and she told me she had heard the call go out. She connected me to the Detroit dispatcher, who could actually do something about it. Despite her suburban counterpart having heard of the call, the Detroit dispatcher told me she couldn’t find anything in the system about it. I was at least phone call #4 about this incident and the suburban dispatcher knew what I was talking about, but the Detroit operator did not.
The Detroit Police finally showed up not long after my call and took a report. After three hours, the many witnesses and of course the assailants themselves were long gone. The police got surveillance camera footage from my employers. The man went home, finally given some closure and some of the dignity of due process. Good for him for staying long enough to resolve this. I’m sure a lot of people can’t or just don’t, and moreover I’m sure a lot of times the DPD just never shows up. A system where a basic visit from the police requires gumption, several hours of availability, bravery, and a series of phonecalls is a system that will inherently hurt those who need its protection most.
I know this story won’t surprise locals. Nearly everyone I know up here who’s spent any time in the city has at least one very upsetting DPD shitty response time story. There’s a big guy who lives in Detroit, not far from me, who has developed the technique of sitting on his assailants when he gets jumped, because when he calls 911 and tells them he’s sitting on the person who just jumped him they actually show up quickly. But this was my first time witnessing how long it takes DPD to respond to a really horrible, violent crime, and seeing it firsthand is still very jarring. The (small number of) individual Detroit police I’ve met have been upstanding individuals working very hard at a very hard job, but the system overall does. not. work.
The recent embarrassingly cliche Dateline special has brought about a flurry of defensive discourse in community meetings, online, and even in the media. I am enjoying reading and hearing locals advocate some of the city’s beautiful and strong points. Still, though, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, a city needs to function in order to attract and retain residents. I hate to make a statement like this, because I have been on the receiving end of so many similar “If only [blank], I’d deign to grace your neighborhood with my divine presence” statements over the years, but honestly: Hearing from a number of residents that the Hamtramck Police consistently show up rather promptly when called was one of the main reasons I ended up choosing to move here rather than Detroit proper. There, I said it, I’m a NIMBY. I have definitely lived without decent police response in the past, my personal favorite incident being the St. Louis 911 dispatcher who told me that the street I lived on did not exist; however, in St. Louis I had the geographical knowledge and the social network of neighbors to deal with problems when they arose. Moving blindly into a place I barely knew onto a street I’d never seen before the day I moved in, I at least wanted the security of knowing that basic services were going to hold up their end of the bargain in keeping me safe at home.
I hope the man who got beat up today is alright. I hope the Detroit Police actually try to find the people who did it and get this guy some justice and closure, but what I saw today doesn’t exactly make me think he’ll be looked after.