With only a few days left in 2012, Detroit is poised to see its highest murder rate in nearly two decades.
As of Dec. 16, there had been 375 homicides — more than the number counted each year since 2008, according to Detroit Police Department statistics.
This spike in homicides comes at a time when the city is grappling with a financial crisis, facing a possible emergency financial manager and struggling with a budget that has included pay cuts to police officers, who also have been hampered by working longer shifts.
Daron Brashears, who longed to be an orthodontist and had earned his dental assistant certificate, was one of this year’s homicide victims. His mother, Misty Brown, said the 23-year-old was fatally shot at a house party in August.
Like many mothers in Detroit this year, Brown endured her first painful Christmas without her son.
“It’s so frustrating,” Brown said. “When I think about it, it makes me angry; you know that this guy that took his life just took everything from him and from us.”
With the current known number of homicides, which is sure to grow by year’s end, Detroit’s homicide rate is roughly 53 homicides per 100,000 residents. The city’s rate hasn’t been this high since 1994, when it was roughly 54 homicides per 100,000 residents. In 2006, the rate hit 52 per 100,000.
Meanwhile, New York City, with more than 8 million residents, recently reported a historic low of 414 homicides so far this year, putting the city’s rate at 5 homicides per 100,000 residents.
Yet as Detroit’s homicide rate climbs to its highest in years, Detroit police officials declined to comment for this report, despite several attempts over the course of three weeks to interview top brass about the year’s homicides.
A spokeswoman for the department said there will be a news conference regarding major crimes, including homicides, next week.
“Due to this briefing,” Sgt. Eren Stephens said in an e-mail Thursday, “interviews will not be provided at this time.”
The Free Press received a list from the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, which determined 387 deaths that occurred in Detroit were homicides as of Dec. 14. For some victims, only the location of death — oftentimes a hospital — was listed, rather than the location where the injury occurred. It was unclear why there was discrepancy between the police and medical examiner’s figures.
The majority of the homicides were the result of gunshots, and most of the victims were black men.
During an interview with the Free Press earlier this month following a quadruple homicide on Detroit’s east side, Inspector Dwane Blackmon, head of the Detroit police homicide section, said there have been an abundance of killings this year born from arguments and disputes and committed by people who know their victims.
“What I’ve seen this year is a good third or more of our cases fall into that category,” he said.
Carolyn Bradshaw, who said her 35-year-old son, Ernesto Bradshaw, was shot to death in April after his home was broken into, is distraught by the violence.
“It’s so sad that our young black men are killing each other like that,” she said. “I know there’s hard times, but just to take a life for a couple dollars, I’m very saddened by it.”
Reasons are many
Local leaders are dismayed, as well.
Many reasons are given for the violence: Drugs, too many illegal guns on the streets, lack of jobs, poor education opportunities.
In 2011, the Free Press published the series Living with Murder, which was a yearlong project that explored the homicide toll in Detroit. Officials and community members gathered at a forum after the report was published and documentary video released to talk about combatting the problem.
Once again, leaders are grappling with how to stem the bloodshed.
“What’s outrageous about this is that it has become the norm,” said the Rev. Jerome Warfield, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, adding that there needs to be more outrage in the community at the number of homicides. He said city residents need jobs that provide livable wages, a better functioning government and more education opportunities.
Leaders say illegal guns are also a major problem.
The vast majority of Detroit homicides are the result of gun violence. Detroit also has seen large numbers of nonfatal shooting victims — 1,121 as of Nov. 14 this year, according to statistics obtained by the Free Press through a public records request.
That compares to 1,244 nonfatal shootings for all of 2011.
“There are more weapons on the street than we could take off the street,” Blackmon said earlier this month. “It seems like it’s … an endless flow of weapons.”
Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown said the Police Department needs to put more emphasis on seizing illegal guns.
“The only difference between a homicide and a nonfatal shooting is maybe the aim,” he said.
Brown said there needs to be a citywide strategy.
“People in our city have to understand that if you carry an illegal gun, you’re going to be stopped, you’re going to be arrested and you’re going to be prosecuted,” he said.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a crackdown on gun violence on the city’s east side, saying the area was plagued with crime.
“For the law enforcement community, the homicide rate is our greatest challenge,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said. “It is a complex issue with no easy answers. A lack of economic opportunity, law enforcement budget cuts, the lure of easy money through drug trafficking, lack of respect for human life and the abundance of illegal guns all contribute to the problem.”
Tips are up
The causes of death on the long list of homicide victims from the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office are repeated over and over.
“Multiple gunshot wounds,” many say.
“Gunshot wound to the chest.”
“Gunshot wound to the neck.”
“Gunshot wound to the head.”
Louise West said her once troubled son, Casey Durham, wanted to turn his life around and was thinking about marrying his girlfriend. But after serving years in prison, she said, he again fell into hanging with the wrong people.
Durham, 34, was killed and his body dismembered. It was found scattered between two homes in October, West said.
“I don’t get a lot of rest like I normally do,” West said. “I really don’t know what happened to my son.”
John Broad, president of Crime Stoppers of Michigan, said the organization has received roughly 7,000 tips this year for crimes in southeast Michigan. In Detroit, there were about 446 tips this year for homicides — up from 159 tips in 2007.
The Free Press previously reported that homicide investigators solved 50% of the killings committed in 2011 and 2010.
Broad said there are four things that he believes, if changed, could impact the homicide rate: teaching anger management and conflict resolution to schoolchildren beginning in third grade; encouraging police to arrest fathers when they abandon their children; stopping truancy, and dumping the no-snitch culture in Detroit.
Blackmon said earlier this month that the no-snitch culture historically has been an issue.
“The problem that I’ve seen that’s been more of a revelation to me is that … family members would not tell police who shot their own family member,” he said. “That part has been the most disturbing.”
Broad said residents need to look out for one another.
“We’ve got to speak up,” he said.
For Misty Brown, each day is a struggle to cope with her son’s death.
She said Brashears was killed with an assault rifle. The gun, Brown said, did so much damage to her son’s chest that he was killed instantly.
“It just makes you wonder, like, how are these kids getting this?” she said. “This is just crazy.”