I was one of the many Americans who looked forward to 2021, hoping it would bring a return to normalcy after the crazy year that was 2020. Then the year began with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, so I knew we, as a country, weren’t done having conversations about the upheaval in public life.
Related: From sundown towns to defunding the police, a journalist describes his 2020
In Detroit, the year began with news of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy as shots were made available to more and more people. Meanwhile, discussions were held around how to allocate funds in the City budget. During both of these conversations, I had conversations with a variety of Detroiters to learn about their priorities. I was surprised by how many people said no one had ever asked them for their opinion before. Which is why we at BridgeDetroit, are committed to having Detroit perspectives guide our coverage through our Community Priorities Model.
As the snow began to melt, my focus shifted to speed humps, drag racing and drifting. Detroit police were flooded with complaints from residents about cars speeding through their neighborhoods, blowing through stop signs, and making loud noises as their cars did doughnuts in parking lots and intersections.
At this point in the year, I was beginning to see the true power of hyperlocal journalism. I was able to inform residents about issues that dealt with their immediate surroundings. It felt good to feel like I was providing a vital service to my community, an aspect of being a journalist that can often get lost in looming deadlines and working long hours.
Then in March, Detroit police launched a surveillance program called Shot Spotter, which began raising many familiar questions among Black Detroiters about civil liberties. The system, which uses microphones and censors to give police real-time data on gunfire, has the potential to help police solve shootings, but residents are demanding transparency about the technology. The struggle for more police transparency is also ongoing.
As the summer neared, I got a surprise tip that then-Police Chief James Craig was retiring to pursue a bid for governor as a Republican. This meant three things: Detroiters would now be sharing their thoughts on Craig’s time as chief and his political affiliations, that his announcement would recontextualize the “Defund DPD” debate from 2020, and our city would be looking for a new police chief.
I regularly follow the police department and Board of Police Commissioners meetings, but in June, Detroit got hit with a massive rainstorm that led to severe flooding in several areas of the city. Cars were abandoned on major freeways that, at the time, looked more like rivers. The flooding caused damage to homes and businesses, and it took a lot of prized possessions from Detroiters that simply can’t be replaced.
In the wake of the flooding, I wanted to tell more stories about the incredible work Detroiters are doing every day. So I started talking to local business owners, poets and activists about the work they do to make this city better for all of us.
Now that the year is coming to a close, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite stories from 2021.
How the story of a pioneer Black Detroit doctor relates to disparities today
Detroit Dr. Remus Robinson began fighting racism and health disparities in health care almost a century ago, but Black Detroiters are still dealing with those issues today.
Detroiters demand police put brakes on drag racing, speeding in neighborhoods
Residents were so fed up, they threatened to “shut down” neighborhood streets because of speeding and reckless driving throughout the city. Police had no choice but to listen to these concerns.
The toughest anti-gun movement in Detroit
No guns, just gloves: How a Southwest Detroiter is using boxing to combat gun violence.
Three Detroit artists share what they lost in the flood
As Detroiters dealt with the aftermath of major flooding in June, artists — like their neighbors — had to grapple with what they’ve lost and what can never be replaced.
Why Detroit gun owners choose to carry
The gun control debate was resparked nationally following the fatal shooting at Oxford High School, but in Detroit, people own guns for lots of reasons. Unfortunately, the biggest reason is because they are afraid.