Entertainment and incarceration in Greektown, downtown Detroit’s wildest district

click to enlarge Detroit’s Greektown has become known as a hotbed of crime — and of police presence and surveillance. - se7enfifteen
Detroit’s Greektown has become known as a hotbed of crime — and of police presence and surveillance.

The story often goes like this: As the summer months encroach in Detroit, as temperatures get hotter and the crowds downtown get larger, Greektown gets crazier.

In May, as Michigan began its slow climb down from new coronavirus highs in April, the phrase "I'm in Greektown area" became a short-lived local meme — a sort of euphemism for the revelry the neighborhood has become known for — after a post on Twitter went viral of a mother sharing a text-message conversation between her and her son, who had tracked her phone's location to a bar.

But as the crowds and temperatures grow, news of crime in Greektown rises like mercury in a thermometer.

In June, a shaky, low-res, vertical cellphone video was posted on Instagram and Facebook by the account @crimenewsinthed. In the video, DPD officers struggle to gain control over a fight at the intersection of Monroe and Beaubien streets.

The incident was sparked by two groups who had reportedly encountered one another on the street and began fighting before the scuffle turned toward intervening officers, resulting in multiple injuries and arrests, according to the police.

Labeled a "brawl" by several news outlets, it didn't take long for the video of the fight to go viral and splash its way across local headlines, eventually eliciting a response from city officials. Five days after the incident, Mayor Mike Duggan and interim police chief James White held a press conference where they unveiled a five-point-plan, along with a $382,000 initiative approving 4,000 hours of overtime for officers with the express purpose of "crowd control" in neighborhoods like Greektown.

Then, earlier this month, another viral video from Greektown showed a Detroit police officer punch a man in the face after a confrontation, sending him flying to the ground. The officer has been placed on leave while the department investigates. During a news conference, Chief White said he had "serious concerns" about what he saw in the video.

"We've come to expect our officers to de-escalate situations," he said. "I did not see de-escalation there. I did not see our training there."

Though city officials emphasized a growing "party atmosphere" caused by the lifting of pandemic restrictions, the pattern of high-profile crimes followed by increased policing was not a new phenomenon for Greektown.

In 2017, a similar video of an incident depicted what local media at the time described as a "mob" of young men beating two people on the street at Monroe and St. Antoine. It wasn't the only violent incident to grab attention that year. Weeks later, a shooting outside a party bus prompted police to beef up patrols in the neighborhood and led a group of Greektown business owners to join Detroit's then-budding Project Greenlight network — establishing the area as Detroit's first heavily surveilled "Greenlight Corridor."

Despite a surplus of cameras and constant monitoring, 2018 saw more violent incidents, including a nonfatal quadruple shooting and another beating outside the Bouzouki strip club that put a 30-year-old man in a coma.

Often, the question posed after these high-profile incidents is whether Detroit police are doing enough to curb violence in the city. On the other hand, many Detroiters complain the focus on policing downtown eats up police attention and resources, causing them to neglect Detroit neighborhoods, where violent crime is just as — if not more — prevalent.

"There are places in the city, particularly on the east side, where if you take a ride through there, especially at night, you'd realize there's a complete absence of law enforcement," Boston-Edison resident Kwame Yamoah told The Detroit News in April 2019. "On the other hand, if you go downtown, you'll see plenty of police officers. So the complaint about downtown receiving more police attention than the neighborhoods ... one can't dispute that."

James Craig, then-Detroit police chief and now a prospective Republican gubernatorial candidate, disputed these claims at the time, telling The Detroit News that other precincts were more heavily staffed than downtown.

Greektown is an entertainment district. It's a place to get a drink or get drunk. A place to eat food, people-watch, and, depending on your luck, maybe win or lose some money at a craps table or Wheel of Fortune-themed slot machine.

If you ask people on the street why they come, you'll get a variety of answers: from dinner dates to just checking out the scene.

"It's the place to be," one partier tells Metro Times a few weeks after the brawl. "There's always something going down in Greektown."

It might seem inevitable that anywhere there are large concentrations of people drinking, gambling, and partying, there's bound to be bouts of violence that occur — and certainly, Greektown has seen more than its share over the years.

But in the aftermath of 2020 — the grave social and wealth inequalities the pandemic produced and exposed, and the unrest sparked by Black Lives Matter protests against police violence and systemic racism — the dynamic of crime and the way media and city officials respond to it has been called into question by abolitionist activists and historians who say Detroit has inadvertently trapped itself in a "self-fulfilling cycle," one that never actually attempts to address the root causes of urban violence.

To them, the story of Greektown is intricately tied to the story of Detroit — and all the ways it's changed over the last century, and all the ways it hasn't, where dreams of urban renewal and revitalization collide with the waking reality of segregation, gentrification, and economic inequality in one of America's Blackest cities.

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