Wayne State University is, I often tell the parents of prospective students, quite possibly the safest large campus in the state. I’ve taught there for nearly a quarter-century, and I get crime reports from Wayne’s superb police chief, Anthony Holt.
They usually have entries like this:
“Student was wandering around Cass Avenue at 2 a.m. and a man grabbed her cell phone and ran away.”
Yes, if you put your i-Pad down and turn your back, it is quite likely to disappear.
Somebody 10 years ago threw a brick through my car’s back window one night, and stole what they must have thought was a computer bag.
I wonder what the thief thought when he found out he’d scored a paperback biography of Soapy Williams and a half-eaten apple.
My sweetheart, who is barely five feet tall, earned a graduate degree a few years ago mainly by taking night classes at Wayne, and neither she nor I had any worries.
So it was a shock and a blow when I heard that a Wayne State officer had been shot in the head last night, after stopping a man on a bicycle.
Wayne State’s precinct is technically a part of the Detroit police department, but operates as its own separate entity. The officers are some of the best I’ve seen anywhere. They patrol constantly and are vigilant but not obtrusive. I needed to call them once when I had a mentally ill student, and they were there in 90 seconds.
As I write this, we still don’t know many of the details of last night’s shooting, except that the place where the officer was shot was not on campus, but some blocks west of it, at an intersection where I would guess few students ever go.
The two things everyone I talked to last night had in common were hoping that the 29-year-old officer lived, and hoping the suspect would be apprehended as soon as possible.
Had this shooting happened 20 years ago, my guess is that there would have been great worry it would have a massive negative impact on enrollment, but I think the metro area is more sophisticated now.
Detroit is a different place.
When I began teaching there in the early 1990s, the campus was next to the infamous Cass Corridor, which featured street prostitutes and homeless people living in trash-filled vacant lots.
Today, this is called Midtown, it is filled with trendy restaurants, and there is a waiting list to get an apartment there.
Yesterday, hours before the tragedy, the city was celebrating the announcement that the Detroit Pistons would return from a far-off suburb to play basketball in Detroit, for the first time since 1978.
There were lots of factors behind why they left and why they are coming back, but a big part of it is simply this: Many of the affluent white suburbanites who are their main customers weren’t comfortable coming to the city then; they are now.
The Detroit Lions came back more than a decade ago. This is no longer the Detroit of 1980s Blaxploitation movies.
Next week, I will teach two night classes. Afterwards, I will walk to my car, vigilant, but if anything, less worried than ever, and proud to be a part of it all.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.