Friday, November 04, 2005

Devil's Night Finds a New Home

Detroit has long suffered from an image as a brutally violent city, its very name evoking images of widespread murder, robbery, and arson. Perhaps nothing cemented this picture Detroit more than the wave of "Devil's Night" fires that plagued the city in the early 1990s.

For those unfamiliar with this ritual, starting in the early 1980s, minor pranks performed on the night before Halloween ranging from ding-dong ditch to the tping of a local curmudgeon's house escalated into widespread arson as Detroit's gangs torched the city's many abandoned (and some un-abandoned) properties. The number of arson incidents rose to such an alarming level that Detroit itself was seemingly set ablaze each year on the night preceding Halloween. The annual Devil's Night conflagration became so notorious that journalists from as far away as Japan travelled to the Motor City to view for themselves the inevitable flames that set the city on fire.

Fortunately for Detroit, patience for these acts of violence wore thin. Renamed "Angel's Night", the City of Detroit dramatically increased its police presence on the nights leading up to Halloween. More importantly, regular citizens readily volunteered their time to serve in citizen patrols that roamed the city looking for n'er do-wells. These "angels" (along with a muscular police presence) dramatically reduced the number of arsons that once afflicted Detroit in the run-up to Halloween, and they continue to serve as a beacon for the good that can be accomplished by an active citizenry that is motivated to make a positive impact on society.

Unfortunately, another city with French ties is now experiencing its own wave of Devil's Nights. The suburbs of Paris have now burned for 9 days as the mostly Muslim residents of the impovershed suburban areas ringing Paris have taken to widespread arson, vandalism, and rioting.

Can Chirac become the "angel" necessary to stop this violence. I doubt it.

On the plus side, perhaps now that the world's most civilized city has experienced its own Devil's Night, others may soon start recognizing the tremendous strides made by Detroit in bringing civility to its streets through a combination of good policing and citizen involvement. I doubt that too since Detroit seems destined to be everyone's convenient whipping post.

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