Column: A city at riskDETROIT — He is a famous gospel singer, a TV star, a pastor who gave the stirring eulogy at Whitney Houston’s funeral. That didn’t stop several men from attacking him at a Detroit gas station in broad daylight Wednesday.
By: Mitch Albom, Worthington Daily Globe
DETROIT — He is a famous gospel singer, a TV star, a pastor who gave the stirring eulogy at Whitney Houston’s funeral.
That didn’t stop several men from attacking him at a Detroit gas station in broad daylight Wednesday, roughing him up and stealing his new car, his money and his expensive watch, leaving him with an injured hand and torn pants.
“I was like, this isn’t happening,” Marvin Winans, founder of Detroit’s Perfecting Church, told a WXTV (Channel 7) anchor after the incident. “Come on. We give you money. We help.”
It didn’t matter what good Winans’ church has done. The attackers took what they wanted. Winans later maintained, in the grand scheme of things, he was grateful to only have suffered minor injuries.
“I’m blessed and fortunate,” he said.
A similar thing happened a few months earlier to an 86-year-old World War II veteran named Aaron Brantley. He had just bought gas on Detroit’s west side. A father of eight, a grandfather of 18, Brantley had a Bible on his front seat from the Bible study he attended that morning.
Didn’t matter. He was attacked from behind by a young man, who drove off in Brantley’s car. Brantley, his leg broken, crawled on the pavement as customers passed by, not bothering to help.
When interviewed, Brantley also appeared grateful. “I could be dead, because that’s what they do to you these days," he told one TV crew. “They don’t care about your life.”
In both of these cases, and in multiple other less-high profile carjacking victims, the attitude was gratitude.
And it is understandable.
But it won’t solve things.
We may have reached a point in Detroit where surviving a carjacking is reason to praise God. And, yes, worse things could happen. But what IS happening is insane.
And it can’t be tolerated.
We can’t just be grateful that we weren’t killed, that we “only” had our leg broken, that we “only” lost a vehicle or that we were “only” terrorized and now freak out at performing the simplest public task in Detroit — like pumping gas or going to an ATM.
Not being dead is one thing.
Living this way is something else.
Twenty-six years ago, I was on my way to Opening Day at Tiger Stadium when I stopped into a Southfield dry cleaners. I was greeted by a man with a gun. He was robbing the place.
I was lucky, yes. I survived the event. For months I had nightmares about the gun that was pointed at me. I wondered what would have happened if the man had been startled or lost his temper. Certain friends told me to move, to leave the state.
I chose to stay. I chose to believe that the incident was not the norm. I chose to fight the stereotype, and to not let the worst amongst us pull everything to ruin.
Winans may be doing the same when he says to the Channel 7 anchor, “I refuse to be afraid of us.” But when the well-known and the unknown are robbed not at night but in broad daylight, not in some darkened alley but at a place of business, not all alone but in full view of other people, then other action must be taken.
Some citizens are screaming for mandatory security at places like gas stations. Others point to a severe lack of police in a financially strapped city.
But reportedly these carjackers are young people (the Winans and Brantley alleged robbers were all under 22). Which means not too long ago, they were being raised, presumably, by a parent or guardian. Either those adults take more responsibility, or this will only get worse. Either our communities act like communities, or this will only get worse. Either we citizens watch out for each other — and don’t look the other way — or this will only get worse.
“Our young people have to find their purpose in life,” Winans, 54, said in a released statement. “It has to be bigger than sitting in a gas station waiting to rob innocent people.”
But someone has to teach you that from a young age. If the parents or guardians of the carjackers are reading this, can you honestly say you did your best?
Because there is no guarantee here. No safety net. We can easily become a city where the attitude is gratitude for surviving a simple day. Do you know what they call that?
A war zone.
Is that how we want to live?
Mitch Albom is a Detroit Free Press columnist.