On Saturday night, thousands of Detroiters and Metro Detroiters came down to Midtown Detroit for Noel Night, an annual event of shopping and entertainment to put people in the holiday spirit. It’s a fun, carefree type of event. Or it’s supposed to be.
This year was marred by a sudden, violent turn of events as a personal dispute between teenagers led to gunfire and four young people were sent to the hospital with bullet wounds. All of them lived, fortunately, and the police have a suspect in custody.
But the fear of people who scrambled in the confusion and the cancellation of Noel Night events have had a different kind of lasting impact.
It can taint the way we view big public gatherings, it can damage our feeling of security among strangers, and it can make us fearful of a city that already suffers from a longstanding reputation of violence.
In the controversial conversation about a city on the rise— with a strong downtown and midtown corridor— it’s easy to forget that this is still a big city with big city problems. Crime. Violence. Neglect. Segregation. Poverty.
Detroit Today host, Stephen Henderson, speaks with Detroit Police Chief James Craig as well as Candice Fortman, WDET’s marketing director and lifelong Detroiter, who was working at the station on Noel Night.
“It’s always a question for us as neighbors, as citizens, as people who want to protect and love young people,” says Fortman. “How do we continue to make them feel safe in our city no matter where they are?… Why is it that young people feel like (carrying a gun) is their go-to? But that’s not just a question for young people; that’s a question for us… as a country. That has become more and more an answer to our problems is to pick up arms…What happened Saturday was painful because it was kids and it was our job to protect them.”
Chief Craig says not only is this a national issue — it also isn’t new.
“Violence didn’t just start yesterday,” says Craig. “Certainly, I’m not willing to let this one incident define the city of Detroit. Terrible, tragic that something like this has would happen at a family-fun event, of course. But that’s nothing new and it’s not unique to Detroit… when we talk about poverty, when we look across the nation, those neighborhoods, those areas that have high poverty, it’s safe to say it’s a correlation with high violence.”
Virgil “Al” Taylor, a youth advocate in the city of Detroit and founder of The Urban Requiem Project, says one major thing that has changed is the prevalence of guns.
“I grew up in Detroit,” says Taylor. ”We had gangs and we had all of that, but what we didn’t have was guns.”
When it comes to addressing this violence, Dexter Voisin, professor at The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration says it must begin with addressing trauma.
“I think a more holistic approach is… dealing with underlying trauma that many kids deal with on a daily basis ,” says Voisin.
“And I call this soft-trauma… not that the impact is soft, but very often the situation goes undiagnosed, unrecognized until it happens to flow into the media stream very often because it’s a high profile situation. But we have kids every day dealing with trauma associated with living in at-risk communities, and I think it’s important to look at that because those kids are more prone to be reactive.”
So what does all of this mean for Noel Night as an event?
“Obviously, we are very saddened that something like this occurred at such a popular event,” says Sue Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit, Inc. “We know how to do large scale, district-wide events… But I will say that ten years ago we had 23 venues and this year we had 108… The event really taxes — irrespective of any incident that happens — everybody in the neighborhood at this point… and I think we have to — as an organization producing the event — rethink all that.”
To hear the full conversation, click the audio player above.