African American Michigan: The 1980s and 90s in Detroit

The 1980s and 90s in Detroit

Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of the Detroit field division Timothy Plancon pauses during an interview, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, in downtown Chicago. (AP Photo/Annie Rice)

Editor’s note: This story is the seventh in a series looking at racial disparity in Michigan. This is also the second of a two-part look at how drugs became pervasive in Detroit in the mid-to-late 1980s.

In Detroit, which is home to the majority of Michigan’s Black population, the continuous breakdown of the auto industry in the city led to harder times than before, which helped create the type of environment where drugs could spread quickly.

In Kevin Boyle’s “The Ruins of Detroit: Exploring the Urban Crisis in the Motor City” explained that “Detroit lost 5% of its jobs every years between 1972 and 1992, a rate of deindustrialize dramatically higher than that of the 1950s.”

The majority of these lost jobs were auto plant employs and union jobs. White flight, issues with the union, and auto companies leaving Detroit helped to leave the residents of Detroit economically for dead with little resources to recover.

To try to recover the city, Mayor Coleman Young tried to refocus Detroit as a service and entertainment sector. Young gained a controversial image by attempting aggressive measures and corporate alliances.

Jeanie Wylie, author of “Poletown: Community Betrayed,” said that Young’s attempts to court new corporations was a “Faustian bargain, the mayor selling his soul–and his city–for the promises of economic regeneration.”

Many Detroiters in the community known as “Poletown” lost their homes when the community “was razed to accommodate construction of a Cadillac plant on land where generations of Polish immigrants and Blacks lived and worked.

Poletown was one of Detroit’s oldest integrated neighborhoods.

The spread of the auto industry to Detroit in the 1950s saw important, higher waged jobs move into an area that was otherwise very low income. Auto jobs moving out to Mexico, Canada, and overseas sent Detroit spiraling backwards.

“From Motor City to Motor Metropolis: How the Automobile Industry Reshaped Urban America” by Thomas J. Sugrue, showed how the decaying auto industry affected Detroit, even further.

“The small shops, bars and restaurants that catered to workers during their lunch breaks or at shift change shut their doors. Neighborhoods near closed plants lost population,” Surgue said. “Without convenient jobs–and with the hulks of old plants looming over them–they became less desirable to live.”

Tax revenue plummeted. Property taxes and wage taxes were all but depleted. Surgue argued that local government struggled with “providing education and social services to an increasingly impoverished population.”

The Drug Abuse Warning Network conducted a study, “Substance Abuse in the Detroit Metropolitan Area,” showed a strong correlation between job loss, increasing poverty, and the influx of crack in Metro Detroit, and a sheer drop in heroine.

Another noted DAWN trend was that the homicide rate, rising with poverty levels and drug influxes, were teenagers. Teenagers that could not find work.

Also in Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll, the Reagan Administration’s dump of easily accessible drugs created a supply and demand in. Gang violence and homicides rose as competition over the market flared in highly impoverished cities, where it was literally fight or die.

The DAWN report stated that “the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s has left a cohort of heavy users who will require a good deal of help from the medical, drug treatment, and social service systems for years to come.”

They’re not getting proper help. Reagan’s “War on Drugs” dolled out jail times and instead of helping Detroit, took out more workers, tax revenues, and parents.

The War on Drugs fed on the same populations the Reagan Administration had funneled crack to in the first place.

Senator Cory Booker said in 2016 that, “There is a challenge with America where we have invested, unfortunately, in a war on drugs, which has been profoundly painful to our nation, with a 500% increase in incarceration in our country, disproportionately affecting poor and disproportionately affecting minorities,” instead of aiding communities that need help.


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