Melissa Harris-Perry | February 23, 2013
>>> good morning. i'm melissa harris-perry. this week, the news out of the midwest was that of a city in crisis. detroit , michigan, once the nation's richest city per capita, once the nation's fifth largest city, once a symbol of u.s. innovation, industry and success, is in such dire straits that the city is in need of an intervention. on tuesday afternoon, a panel of state-appointed experts released their findings that the city of detroit faces quote, a financial emergency, one which they say the city is not equipped to address. as a result, detroit may soon become the largest american municipality in history to file for bankruptcy. the decision may be left to just one person. if michigan governor rick snider decides to act on the panel's report and appoint an emergency financial manager , a decision expected to be made in the coming week. key findings of the six-person panel include that the detroit police department has more than 2,000 employees but no accurate information on how they are deployed. that the city's long-term liabilities in 2012 grew beyond $14 billion and that the city officials violated accounting and budgeting rules. detroit is on the verge of collapse but if you're thinking wait a minute, didn't we already save detroit , the confusion is understandable. because in the american lexicon, there really are two detroits, the proverbial one and the literal one. the proverbial one is the one that mitt romney famously wrote about in 2008 "new york times" op-ed entitled "let detroit go bankrupt." that is the detroit where we all lived when the floor fell out of the 2008 economy. that was the detroit represented by the three big auto manufacturers whose failure would have symbolized to many of us the very failure of america , and that detroit as the obama for america campaign reminded us repeatedly, is now very much alive and kicking . but that detroit , the detroit we all want to see survive, exists in the entire country, not within any specific municipal bounds. then there is the literal detroit , the one where people live, the renaissance city founded initially in 1701 . once it was a hub for mechanical manufacturing and detroit in the mid 20th century was a magnet for those looking for work. the city's population grew to more than 1.8 million residents in the 1950s . today, according to the latest census, detroit is the only -- the country's 18th largest city with just more than 700,000 inhabitants, for a city that covers almost 139 square miles . a space that san francisco , boston and manhattan could fit in with room to spare. there are so many factors contributing to the city's financial distress but among them, an 18.2% unemployment rate and there is this. the detroit news reported this week that nearly half of the city's owners of residential properties failed to pay their tax bills last year, amounting to nearly $250 million uncollected. no taxes, no revenue. even if everyone had a job in the city and they all paid all their taxes it wouldn't be enough because there simply are not enough detroiters. michigan's republican governor, that tough nerd rick snider drove the population point home in a thursday media roundtable.
>> an overriding strategic goal for the city of detroit is back to this. we need to grow the city of detroit .
>> man, when you see a chart, you know you've got an answer. but actually, what i've got is a deafening question. how? how will you build the city for two million people and more than one million of them leave, can you ever get your city back? joining me now, a son and daughter of detroit . first, charlie leduff , a pulitzer prize winning journalist and investigative reporter for detroit 's fox 2. he's also the author of the new book " detroit , an american autopsy." also with me is a nerdland favorite, jamel hill, a detroit native and columnist for espn.com and co-host of a new podcast, "his and hers." thank you both for being here. so i actually want to start with you, because to me, detroit feels like new orleans in a lot of ways in that people have an almost irrational attachment and love for the city so i will give you a chance. represent for detroit . why should we care?
>> well, i think what you said in your open was so true. this is not just the story of one city. this is the story of america . this is the story of boom or bust. as you so eloquently pointed out in your novel. we have all been a nation of overspenders, we were a nation of people who bought into the craze of industry and detroit , that is exactly what happened. you had a lot of people that migrated from the south that moved to detroit because of the promise of big dollars and big jobs, and when that started to cave in, it left kind of a permanent underclass and this is a city, i know we'll get to this a little later, that was stung by the riots and if you go down many detroit blocks, it's almost as if the riots just happened yesterday. so as much as we like to talk about how detroit , you know, is just now kind of failing, truthfully, i lived there all my life, detroit has been failing for decades. this is not a new problem.
>> charlie, you make exactly that point. you're like okay, this golden age of detroit narrative, you --
>> the thing mom told us.
>> you were like that's not true. that never existed.
>> it didn't. look, why should you care? because first of all, there's human beings in detroit , period. that's not liberal or conservative. we're all on earth together so it's hell on earth over there. the ambulances don't show up, the police aren't working, we ran out of money, but we ran out of money everywhere, didn't we. so detroit 's failures, you could actually look across the country and it mirrors it. there's no detroit democratic liberal running wall street . there's no detroit democratic liberal running halliburton. this is a national sickness. it is sloth, greed, ripping off our kids, not paying our bills. detroit built this country, everybody knows it, that's why we're talking about it. this isn't baltimore. detroit went down and --
>> he said this is not baltimore.
>> but pay attention . pay attention . because if you don't pay your bills, this is what happens to you.
>> let me ask about that. i do think there's kind of two ways to read it. certainly even your book operates on these multiple levels. there's corruption and greed and bad things happening but as you point out, that's true in tons of american cities , where things are fine. or at least where they're limping along in a relatively reasonable way where we're still seeing economic growth , yet you can uncover -- scratch the surface, plenty of corruption and bad choices and not paying your bills.
>> poor government.
>> so why did more than a million people leave? what is it that led to that kind of exodus from detroit ?
>> we never dealt with our racial issues, right? we're from detroit . we thought we're the terminus of the underground railroad . turns out we're the southern town. we never dealt with race, did we?
>> never did. everybody knows eight mile, right? well, eight mile is now 14 mile. that's one reason. another reason detroit collapsed, listen, we're uneducated but you could come to detroit and make a life. you can have a boat and a country home . you can do -- put your kids through college but we didn't put our kids through college.
>> i guess part of what occurs to me as i hear the stories of the human beings who live in detroit , not just the municipal spreadsheets --
>> thanks for saying that, by the way. this is not a book about dead buildings.
>> right. right. you've got the governor with his chart and i just keep feeling like that chart is not telling me so i can give you a chart of the arson in the city. i can give you a chart of the blight in the city. but i can't tell you what it is like to be a person living next door to a home that then has burned down and -- so --
>> or an empty block.
>> yeah. tell me, talk to me about what that kind of real life experience feels like on the ground.
>> i still have many relatives that live in the city of detroit and i look at how -- i know i work at espn but i'm not like that. i look at what's happened to their neighborhoods. it used to be a source of pride where you could shop in your own neighborhoods and feel comfortable and safe, and that has all been eliminated because the population has shrunk, people have moved out, and because of the economic forces, you wrote about a couple of these cases in the book and unfortunately, everybody who is from detroit knows someone who does this, but if you get underwater in your house, the first solution is burn it down, get the insurance money. so you have a lot of people, it's a huge problem. you have people sort of feeding on the underclass that's already there and you talk about this, irrational detachment to detroit . detroiters are very sensitive to the fact that our problems somehow become the butt of the joke in the entire nation. i'm not picking on chicago . chicago 's murder rate , what's happening there, is unbelievable to me. but everybody still wants to go to chicago . chicago is still seen as this great american city.
>> i got to jump in. chicago a week ago friday, i was checking the numbers, had 50 homicides. detroit , which is one quarter the size and population, had 45. so if detroit was chicago , we would have 200 murders. nobody cares .
>> right. the murder rate in detroit is higher. it's interesting you make this point. we'll go to break. i want to come back and talk more about this. but we have been pushing to try to get the ordinary nature of daily urban violence a place at the national table and it's pendleton's tragic death which gave us the chance to talk about it. it's still chicago and there's a way in which chicago matters. you don't even have to make the claim for it but trying to make the same claim for detroit . when we come back, i want to talk about exactly that. why does detroit matter and therefore, is it a job for more than just one