Is Detroit more dangerous than Karachi? Views from a visiting reporter

Aug 20, 2015 at 2:17 pm
click to enlarge Karachi, Pakistan. - Nomi887, via Wikimedia Commons
Karachi, Pakistan.

Farhan Zaheer is a Karachi, Pakistan-based business reporter who works for The Express Tribune and the Pakistani affiliate of the International New York Times. He joins Metro Times as one of 16 journalists visiting the U.S. as part of a three-week International Center for Journalists fellowship. We asked him to write about his first impressions of Detroit.

When I was coming to Detroit I was told to beware ... of almost everything in this city. Interestingly, all of this advice was coming from U.S. nationals living in other U.S. cities. Coming from Karachi, the most populous and arguably the most dangerous city in Pakistan, all of these safety instructions were not new to me.

The first question that came to my mind: Is this city more dangerous than Karachi? I thought it could never be.

I arrived in Detroit after flying in from Washington, D.C. But the moment I told my taxi driver that i was heading to Detroit, he pointed toward a camera on the windshield, installed by the taxi company to take live pictures of muggers.

My reaction was, “Oh my God, mugging on the very first day in the city!”

Anybody from Karachi knows how notorious the city has become for crime in last 10 years or so. I think I must have made a world record as I have been mugged at least eight times in last eight years. Yeah, an average of one mugging per year, which is even high compared to Karachi-standards. But more than anything else, the biggest thing on my mind that I was in a foreign country carrying cash and valuable electronic items.

Now, it’s my second week in the city — and I am still safe and alive. I have also dared to travel to downtown numerous times, despite all the warnings.

Some of my friends here told me that Detroit, especially its downtown, has been notoriously dangerous, but security in last few years improved. The situation is very similar in Karachi, where security has improved in last two years. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for a city to shake off negativity once you get labeled “dangerous.”

Because of security concerns, I was told to use taxis to commute in the city. For the first few days, l stayed in a hotel in nearby Warren. But it was far from my newspaper’s office. So one of my colleagues contacted a family in Ferndale through an Airbnb. This is how I met a very nice young couple who was ready to host me for over two weeks. I am glad that I shifted from a hotel to a cute little house because it provided me an opportunity to see what daily life is in Detroit and the United States.

I am now able to ride a bike to travel to my newspaper office. I am enjoying my bike rides here, because Karachi has very few separate bike lanes along its roads.

While living in Detroit, I realized its residents, just like those who dwell in Karachi, abhor when people are warned not to visit Detroit because it is an unsafe city. Being a resident of Karachi and a Pakistani, I can completely relate to this image problem. People in Pakistan don’t like when their country is called one of the most dangerous countries in the world, or when different governments release travel advisories that their citizens should be careful when they visit Pakistan.

I found out a pamphlet-type informative guide about Detroit. Its front page reads in bold letters: WE’RE NOT SORRY. It says, “The Detroit you think you know isn’t real.” It went on to say, “Keep this handy illustrated guide with you so you can explain to others that it’s not all bad. That you can indeed get a bite to eat or meet someone who isn’t set on killing you.”

I can understand the safety concerns of those who visit Detroit in the U.S., or Karachi in Pakistan. I know these concerns are not completely baseless. But I must say anybody — whether a Detroiter or Karachiite, is a human who has feelings for his city and country. Everybody wants to see his or her city and country moving forward and progressing.

Being a Pakistani, I can feel the pain with which this pictorial guide was published. But many times, ground reality differs a lot what we see on mainstream media. And sometimes even word of mouth fails to tell us what we can only see through our own eyes.

So to those who warn people not come to Detroit — why don’t you come and see for yourself how lively this city is?