The two men sat on the crooked front steps of a crumbling old home in a battered east-side neighborhood where the houses are outnumbered by fields and the grass that smothers them grows waist high.

It was late morning, the day after Detroit filed for bankruptcy. The news made national headlines and signaled a new low in the city’s troubles.

But it didn’t mean the slightest thing to these men. They have more immediate concerns.

“I feel like I’m in Beirut,” said Antonio Tucker, 43. “It’s a mile just to walk to the store at night, and you got to go through with no streetlights. It’s dark and it’s scary and these abandoned buildings, you don’t know who’s going to jump out of them or what’s going to happen.”

Both men said they’d heard about the bankruptcy and thought it was unfortunate – in the abstract, at least. But their free-falling neighborhood trumps that news in their daily lives. For them and for many Detroiters, the city – represented by unlit streetlights, unanswered 911 calls and unfulfilled hopes – has already been bankrupt in many ways for many years.


Tucker had lived near 8 Mile Road on the east side, but his street became so dangerous that he moved back to this area, north of Midtown, where he grew up. So many people have moved out of this area at the intersection of Hancock and Moran over the past several years that the desolation makes him feel safer than his old house did.

Still, he merely traded one kind of bad neighborhood for another.

He sat with his friend, 58-year-old Ralph Strickland, on a neighbor’s porch Friday.

“No grass is getting cut, half the streetlights aren’t on in the city,” Strickland said. “It’s terrible. It’s really bad. Can’t find a job down here. There’s no jobs.”

Over the past decade or so, as the residents went away, so did the houses, they said. New businesses rarely open around here, and the old ones are vanishing. Like Boyd’s Party Store across the street, which has been shuttered since the elderly owner died a few years back. Nobody wanted to take over a store in a dying neighborhood.

“I mean, look at it,” Strickland said, pointing down the empty block. “It speaks for itself.”

When police stopped showing up in James Jackson’s neighborhood, he took matters into his own hands.

Jackson, known by his nickname Jack Rabbit, is a 65-year-old retired Detroit cop who now runs his own tow truck service. Cuts in the Police Department have led to delayed response times around here, where residents waited hours for police to come to things like burglary calls.

So Jackson became his own security force to fill the void, much in the same way that some people step up and mow city parks when the city fails to do so or board up abandoned houses in their neighborhoods when the city won’t shutter them.

When drug dealers began broad daylight sales on street corners in his Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, a still-solid area of well-kept homes, Jackson would park in front of them in his tow truck and start videotaping, sending them scattering. When prowlers roamed the street looking for easy targets, he’d chase them off. When a string of break-ins occurred, he created a newsletter to alert residents.

Jackson is torn about Detroit’s bankruptcy. On the one hand, as the neighborhood’s unofficial security, he sees bankruptcy as a long-awaited rock bottom from which the city can hopefully begin to rebuild itself. But on the other hand, he gets a pension from the city, and there’s been much talk about cutting pensions.

“I just hope they don’t cut it too much because it wasn’t much to begin with,” Jackson said. “But you’re kind of picking on the helpless folks when you’re picking on the pensioners.”

Bankruptcy just might help where everything else has failed, he said. “To me the glass is half full. I think things will get better now.”

There’s nothing subtle about Andre Ventura’s disdain for city government.

It comes through forcefully on the hand-scrawled sign he erected in his front yard, facing 8 Mile Road and its tens of thousands of daily commuters.

“Warning! Corrupt Detroit politicians coming soon to jail cells near you,” reads his latest message.

He’s not shy about complaining about life on a collapsing block. Not long ago, the sign said, “Warning! This city is infested by crackheads. Secure your belongings and pray for your life. Your legislators won’t protect you.”

Nearby, two American flags fly upside down over the empty lot on the corner. A symbol of distress.

Shortly after putting up the signs, Ventura got attention from the police – they’d stop and have their pictures taken with it. So did firefighters. “They’re the ones getting shot at,” he said. “They know how it is.”

Ventura, 43, grew up in the suburbs but moved to Detroit a decade ago to fix up dilapidated houses and open adult foster care homes. He’d been a disaster relief worker in the South, traveling to towns devastated by hurricanes and tornadoes, and felt his skills could be applied better in his hometown, which had undergone its own kind of disaster.


But years in a crime-infested, crumbling neighborhood near I-75 began to wear on him, and his frustration burst forth in those signs.

He started putting them up a few years back, after watching his neighborhood deteriorate with little help from city government. He’d shoot off letters about his neighborhood’s conditions to any officeholder whose address he could find, but rarely did he get a reply.

He said his neighbors, the ones still left, were indifferent to the big bankruptcy news.

“Out here, they don’t know, and they don’t really care,” he said. “They’re worried more about their lives and everything they got.”

Sydney Jackson sat on her aunt’s front porch and looked out on her street, just off a ravaged part of 7 Mile Road on the east side.

It was about to rain, and her family had left their backyard birthday party to find shelter under the front awning.

She’s nervous about the city’s bankruptcy – it poses a tangible threat to her. She retired from Detroit’s water department eight years ago and lives off a modest pension.

“I’m very worried ’cause that’s my main income,” the 60-year-old said.

“What happens to these people? How do they continue to pay the bills? How do they continue to live here?

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