By Shea Howell
May 20, 2016
Last week Nolan Finley, the conservative columnist for the Detroit News wrote a surprisingly sensitive column about “Detroit’s dying kids.” Contrasting with Flint children who have “names,” “faces,” and “advocates,” Finley explained, “The children of Detroit are nameless, faceless and voiceless.” Describing the deaths of our children and the violence they face, Finley said, “It’s a slaughter, and no one outside the neighborhoods seem to care.” He observes that, “Dying kids don’t fit into the happy narrative of a Detroit comeback.”
This is the second time Finley has had the courage to raise questions about the dominant narrative of resurgence and revitalization.
One of his most widely discussed columns was about two Detroits, one white and one black. Giving voice to a reality that few in the media are willing to talk about he said :
“Near the top of the list of the challenges Detroit faces as it starts its post-bankruptcy era is avoiding becoming two cities — one for the upwardly mobile young and white denizens of an increasingly happening downtown, and the other for the struggling and frustrated black residents trapped in neighborhoods that are crumbling around them.
Later he explained, “Nobody wants to inject race into the marvelous story of downtown’s rebound” but, “with racial tension simmering across the country, Detroit must heed obvious warning signs.”
It is a sign of progress that a conservative, older, white man at the Detroit News is willing to question the dominant “comeback” narrative. It is important that we find ways to talk about what is happening in our city and Finley is raising questions that most of his contemporaries avoid.
We must talk about race, about genocide and the war being waged on black, brown and poor people across our city.
Still, Finley’s description of the violence is troubling. His article is remarkable for what it doesn’t name.
He doesn’t mention the names we do know. This column was published just a few days before the sixth anniversary of the death of Ayanna Jones. Police killed her while she was sleeping on her couch. She was 7 years old. Her name is known around the country. And so is the fact that no one has ever been held accountable for the taking of her life.
Nor does Finley mention #SayHerName National Day of Action to stop police violence against Black girls, women and gender nonconforming people, held a few days after his column appeared. In an article supporting the action, Ebony noted, “Stories involving Black women and police violence rarely garner massive outcry. In fact, Black women and girls who are victimized in similar cases are virtually missing from the mainstream media.”
Finley begins his article talking about Flint and the poisoning of children through their water supply. Yet he is silent about the effects of water shut offs in Detroit that deny children the most basic of human rights.
He is silent about the mass evictions, as children and their parents are forced out of homes. He is silent about the violence in schools of relentless testing and unsafe buildings, without bathrooms, heat or compassion.
This silence is as important to understand as the violence Finley does name. They are related, not separate realities. We need to understand that it is more comfortable for Finley to talk about interpersonal violence. In doing so, he does not trouble the powerful who require the violence of police, shut offs and evictions to protect their privilege and consolidate their power.
To look at the full truth of violence demands we look not only at victims, but at perpetrators. It demands that all of us look in the mirror and see how much we have contributed to the dehumanization and destruction of daily lives. To take seriously Black Lives Matter means no more half-truths.