Detroit's inferno

Dec 16, 2009 at 12:00 am

The devil came to my hometown
Made everything fall down
If you ain't seen chaos and destruction
Just take a look around

The frigid weather that swept in this past week has folks zipping up their overcoats, slipping on gloves and pulling their hats down tight. Which in Detroit begs the question: Has hell frozen over?

It may be extreme to refer to my hometown as hell, but there have been so many bad things happening around here lately that this has to be one of the more hellish locales in the United States. Could it be that Dante set his Inferno, where sinners serve out a poetically just punishment for their particular sins, in Detroit?

We already live in the inferno, with rampant unemployment, high crime, some 70,000 abandoned buildings, poverty off the hook and scandals up and down the political spectrum. Here are some of the most recently revealed sins and sinners creating their own levels of the inferno.

Take, for instance, last week's report that Detroit's fourth and eighth grade students had the worst basic math scores ever on National Assessment of Education Progress standardized tests.  They were only slightly better than what you would expect if the kids had never been to school and just guessed at the answers, says Michael Casserly of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools.

Skip the excuses and the backbiting. We're talking worst-ever scores here. There's no excuse for that. The school board, the teachers, even some parents have failed our kids. In the long run, lack of education will doom many of them to hellish lives and do nothing to help pull our city out of the muck we are mired in. Under the best of circumstances turning the city around is a 20-year task. Without an educated citizenry, the task is hopeless. The poetic justice for the guilty in this instance shall be to wander the city deaf and blind, unable to understand or impact their surroundings, prey to the street criminals they helped create.

Another civic sinner revealed this past week is former mayor-for-a-day Kandia Milton, who pleaded guilty to a federal bribe-taking charge. Milton served as chief of staff and deputy mayor in the last year of Kwame Kilpatrick's administration and even replaced the mayor for a day in August 2008 when our chief official was jailed on a bond violation. Kandia's brother, DeDan Milton, faces charges in the same incident, as did former Detroit police officer Jerry Rivers who pleaded guilty to bribery a week earlier.

Kandia is reportedly cooperating with a federal corruption investigation into local politicians and officials. What really raises eyebrows here is that Kandia was a childhood friend of Kilpatrick and one of the closest mayoral associates to go down in the mounting scandals. A cooperative insider usually speeds up criminal investigations, and folks are wondering if this will lead to charges against the former mayor. Apparently, nobody who isn't inside the investigation knows what's coming, but the heat has to be making some folks uncomfortable. The devil is in the details, and the more fruitful the information Kandia reveals the softer the sentencing judge will be on him. He may well manage to keep his own tail out of prison.

However, poetic justice may be less forgiving. In the Detroit Inferno, Kandia and all bribe takers shall have to work low level, low pay, thankless civil service jobs in offices with endless baskets of money sitting about. Yet whenever they grab a handful of money it melts away to nothing. Monica Conyers will have the added penalty of being unable to utter a curse word. And, in a special nod to Sam Riddle, who faces similar charges, those who give bribes shall have pockets bulging with money but receive nothing in return when paying for services. And they should also get charged for their bribery.

Now let's consider Kilpatrick. The man that many consider quite devilish (despite claims of personal marching orders from the man upstairs) appeared in Motown last week to testify in a hearing that will determine if Kilpatrick will be allowed to make smaller payments in the $1 million restitution he owes the city. The accumulated issues swirling around our lying former mayor seem to be getting to him. His old combative demeanor showed some cracks; his moods seemed to swing from moment to moment during the hearing. He was defiant, arrogant, joking, and even regretful at moments. During a discussion of plastic surgery for his wife Carlita, Kilpatrick seemed to choke back tears. 

Regardless of his emotions, the content of testimony in this restitution hearing has shown Kilpatrick to be living large yet crying poverty. Poetic justice for him should be twofold. First the convicted perjurer shall always utter the truth whenever speaking. Second, he shall live surrounded by comely women yet never be able to satisfy his lust. And, oh yeah, he still has to pay the restitution.

The gospel of John reads:
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I am not a sinless person, but as there have already been many stones cast at these sports sinners, I feel free to let a few fly. Tiger Woods should have to live in a one-room shack with his wife, kids and all of the women he has been sexing up. The Detroit Tigers shall suffer ignominious defeat in the American League playoffs as Curtis Granderson has a career series in leading the New York Yankees to victory. William Clay Ford will have to watch every game of the 2008 winless season over and over for eternity. And Allen Iverson just has to be Allen Iverson. Ouch!

Something of real consequence: Micah Fialka-Feldman, a 25-year-old man with a cognitive disability, has been fighting Oakland University for the right to live on campus the past two years. Feldman has been taking classes at OU since 2004 and has been active in several campus organizations. He began paying tuition as a full time student in a special program in 2007. That's when the problem started. Feldman applied to live in the OU dormitory. First the university accepted his $100 deposit, approved his application, and gave him a move-in date via e-mail. Then the university reversed its decision and said he was not eligible to live in the dorms — despite several appeals, the university hasn't budged. Feldman, with the support of the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service Inc., has sued OU in federal court for violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. What seems a small case at a relatively small institution has nation- wide implications. On Thursday, Dec. 17, at 2:45 p.m. in Room 861 of the Federal Courthouse in Detroit, Judge Patrick J. Duggan will preside over a summary judgment hearing in the case. Feldman, a courageous activist, invites supporters to witness the proceedings that could go for or against him, or send the case to trial in federal court. Updates and more information are available at

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]