Though crime has been one of its biggest challenges in the past two decades, Detroit hasn’t truly been considered a gangster town for nearly 100 years.
But despite the fact that White thugs like the Purple Gang, who reportedly committed 500 murders and dumped bodies into the Detroit River during Prohibition, are long gone, the now Black-majority city is increasingly linked with criminal corruption. In the space of barely nine months, “the D” has seen three top city officials and a prominent developer admit to shady moves connected with cash in the millions and billions. Despite the city’s trouble, some say that identifying corrupt politicians is the beginning of a cleansing process to help remake Motown into a world-class metropolis.
“We’re coming after you,” the FBI’s Andrew Arena recently warned those who’ve engaged in corruption. Arena, who grew up in Southwest Detroit, heads the city’s branch of the top law enforcement bureau. He held a press conference immediately following Councilwoman Monica Conyers’ admission last week that she took $6,000 in bribes from businessman Rayford Jackson, in exchange for her implied support of a $1.2 billion sludge contract with the city. Jackson had pleaded guilty barely a week earlier and both are expected to face federal prison time.
“Look over your shoulder,” Arena advised all crooked officials. “Look under your bed. Look in your closet. We’re coming after you.”
Conyers’ plea follows that of one of Detroit’s most significant guilt admissions in the city’s history: Kwame Kilpatrick, a once bright, rising star of the Democratic Party, stepped down from his position as mayor in 2008, following charges that he had two cops illegally fired. Kilpatrick’s chief of staff Christine Beatty later pleaded guilty to similar charges, after it became public that she and Kilpatrick feared the policemen’s investigation of overtime abuse would reveal that they were having an extra-marital affair. Kilpatrick had already used over $8 million in city money to settle a lawsuit from the cops by the time he and Beatty served jail time – but their names could surface again in unrelated investigations.
Other matters linked, at least in court documents, to Detroit corruption, include the drive-by murder of a stripper with reported ties to the ex-mayor. Symbolic blood-letting from the exposure of poli-tricks could continue throughout 2009.
Still, leaders like first-time City Council candidate Shani Penn see positives in identifying the hustlers in government: “The uncertainty that the citizens have had (about who is corrupt) is removed, so there’s no more uncertainty. We have some idea what has happened. I think that it allows us to move forward as a city.”