By now, millions know the story.
Thirteen days ago, on the east side of Detroit, a ten-year-old boy darted in front of a truck driven by a middle-aged tree trimmer named Steven Utash. He couldn’t help hitting the child, whose leg was broken.
When Utash got out to check on the boy, a mob beat him so severely he nearly died. He was in a medically-induced coma for days, and may end up with permanent brain damage.
All that is horrifying enough, but there is one additional terrible detail which is the main reason the story has gotten national attention.
The tree trimmer was white. His assailants were all black. And I can tell you that this is doing more damage to Detroit than a hundred drug murders could have. This may be more devastating to the city than Kwame Kilpatrick ever was. People are used to crooked politicians of all colors, shapes and sizes. Detroit had white mayors who wound up in prison long before Kilpatrick was born.
But what happened here seems to confirm everything I’ve heard from every white racist since the 1970s.
This incident seemed to vindicate L. Brooks Patterson, the Oakland County executive profiled in the New Yorker magazine.
Brooks, who has been bashing the city for 40 years, told a national audience they’d be crazy to get out of their cars to get gas in Detroit.
Now, how can anyone say he was wrong?
I myself have been deluged with nasty emails, including one from an Ohio man who complained that white religious leaders weren’t organizing marches “decrying this racially motivated beating.”
Well, I’ve thought about this a lot – and my conclusions are different from what I’ve been reading.
Some people are honestly convinced this is a case of blatant black racism. Others say it isn’t. But my feeling is that it really doesn’t matter. Asking that question solves nothing.
This horrible beating does illuminate three very real problems we have mostly been ignoring.
First of all, this is a failure of Detroit’s leadership to be straight with all of us. The city does not have enough police to do an adequate job. Detroiters know that neighborhood is not a place where you get out of your vehicle. The city needs to add cops or be candid about the fact that they really can’t protect everywhere.
The next major problem is that the city has a large underclass who are not in school, not in the labor force, not any part of what we think of as conventional productive society. Their lives really are nasty, brutish and short, and we mainly see them only when they collide with our world in incidents like this.
We ignore their existence at our peril.
Finally, the horror Steven Utash suffered illustrates another grim reality. We all need health insurance. He evidently didn’t have any, and his medical bills may amount to millions. I don’t know why he didn’t sign up under the Affordable Care Act.
But I do know that everyone needs a health care plan. Because the bottom line is that something as catastrophic could easily happen to me.