Stir it up: When murder isn’t even newsworthy

The first I knew of the murder that took place a couple of blocks from my house was an email from the Nextdoor Greenacres neighborhood website. A neighbor wrote that she'd been walking her dog and heard gunshots nearby. A little later she heard ambulance and police sirens. A few minutes later I saw another note from Nextdoor Greenacres. It said that someone had been shot on Piccadilly just north of Bloomfield.

Feeling a little fearful, I sent my friend who lives on Piccadilly just north of Bloomfield an email asking if she was aware of the shooting. When nothing came back within a few minutes I decided to go by the scene to see what was going on. The police were already there cordoning off the area with that bright yellow crime scene tape stretched all the way across the street. Some people were gathered watching the police. I approached a couple of women and asked what side of the street the shooting had taken place. I was trying to figure out if my friend had been shot.

One of the women turned to me and said, in a rather combative fashion, "That's my sister's house and I ain't saying nothing else."

I asked again, and she repeated her statement. I then explained that I just wanted to know if anything had happened at my friend's house. Once I figured out it was across the street from my friend and didn't involve her (she wasn't home at the time) I went over to chat with another group of people.

There were a couple of women with kids watching. They didn't know anything more than what I had found out. While talking I found that one of them had only been living here for six months. Another woman came over who had only been living there for three months. Both women were rather freaked out. They had just moved into what they believed to be a safe neighborhood — Greenacres is just south of Eight Mile between Woodward and Livernois — and pretty quickly someone gets killed in the middle of the afternoon.

A few days later the woman who had been living there only three months told me she had been sitting near a window in her home when the shots went off. "So I ducked and covered," she says.

I went home expecting to see something about it on the evening news. When the news came on, it led with the story about the 4-year-old boy who had been mauled to death by pit bulls. The next story was about the 7-year-old girl who was killed at the Taylor Sportsplex. Both are horrific events worthy of coverage. There was nothing about the murder near my house.

The next day I looked for something in the daily papers. I was curious. Who had been killed and under what circumstances? There was nothing to be found. I did a Google search. Nothing.

Then I started asking neighbors what they knew. Somebody said he'd been killed inside his vehicle. Somebody else said it was in the house. I heard that a car drove up; someone got out and shot the man. I heard that someone had gone around the back of the house and laid in wait for the man. Some neighbors didn't even know anything had happened.

My friend who lives across the street from the guy who was murdered is understandably shaken up. She liked the guy. She said the family had moved there a couple of years back and had put a lot of money into fixing up the house. She said that he played with his grandkids. She didn't think he was a bad guy. His or his wife's mother had died recently as well as a close cousin. So it seemed as though bad fortune was raining down on the family.

She was also impressed with what she thought was the thoroughness and politeness of the police at the crime scene. Some of them had used her bathroom during the investigation.

A couple of days later, a neighbor who had not known about it until I asked him sent me an entry from a Detroit police Facebook page. After identifying the location, it read, "The 49-year-old male victim was inside of his vehicle when the suspect walked up to him, said some words, and fired shots, fatally wounding the victim."

I asked another neighbor who sometimes sends out neighborhood crime reports. She told me that she'd heard from someone who talked to the police that the victim was shot 16 times in his vehicle and was dead on arrival at the hospital, where they found a "great deal of drugs on his person."

The murder took place on Thursday. On Sunday police descended on the block to interview neighbors. I heard that one neighbor was told by police that the deceased was "a bad guy who moved into a good neighborhood." I heard that police were going to come to a community association meeting to explain what happened. There also seems to be a sense among some neighbors that they don't want much publicity about the killing because they didn't want to besmirch the neighborhood and cause the housing values to go down. Hmmm ... I thought it might be helpful for folks to know there was a killing on the next block.

One week after the murder I went back to the area and knocked on a few doors to find out what they knew. I found it interesting that one of those green "Create Peace" lawn signs sat in front of a house a couple of doors away.

One woman taid she and her son were in their house when she heard shots. They hit the floor. She also said that after the shooting, as they lay on the floor waiting to be sure it was safe, that she felt a bit of guilt that she was hiding rather than going out to see if she could help someone that may be injured.

She said that a car had driven up and two men got out and shot the victim in his car. She told me that through the evening of the murder while the police gathered evidence the wife and her sister were there and that they never seemed to display what she thought was sorrow or grief about the man's death.

She added that the wife moved out the next day and that made her feel much better about living there. "When she moved out, then I was fine," the woman said. "She took all that bad energy away."

From what I can ascertain, the last time someone got killed in this neighborhood was about 25 years ago. So it's not like that stuff happens around here that often. And this murder seems to be a very specific, targeted event. Somebody came to get this guy for whatever reason they had.

I know this is the sort of thing that haunts some other neighborhoods. There were 298 reported murders in Detroit in 2014, and 163 reported through July. And apparently they don't all make the news.

It's interesting to me that just the void of news on the subject can be unsettling. I called a detective at the local precinct and he told me maybe someone from community relations could tell me something. I left a voice mail at that office.

So there is no easy answer here. Police put their reports out and it's up to the media to make their choice on what to cover. Apparently there were more "interesting" killings that took place that day. Based on the news we've been getting, from Paris to San Bernardino, this was small potatoes. And that is the pity that a guy gets loaded up with bullets and it's no big deal.

Speaking of media voids

Newspapers such as the Metro Times first sprang up to fill in voids for alternative voices. That's how the Fifth Estate, Detroit's irreverent publication, started in 1965 by Harvey Ovshinsky. "It's an anarchist paper. It evolved to that. In the beginning it was a newspaper that was talking about things that young people wanted to read about and discuss that mainstream newspapers weren't discussing — music, war, protest," say Barb Logan, co-curator with Peter Werbe of the exhibit "You Can't Print That! 50 Years of the Fifth Estate," still on exhibit through Jan. 3, at the Mobile Homestead behind MOCAD in Midtown. Fifth Estate folks once pasted "Easter Canceled" posts on church doors, and enraged Maoist with a paint-splattered image of their hero. "It was always a way of thumbing their noses at people who took themselves too seriously," says Logan.

About The Author

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
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