Friday, April 15, 2011

Flint: Murdertown, U.S.A.

Lest Flintoids past and present get too giddy after Kiplinger's proclamation that Flint is a "comeback city," The New York Times Magazine is there to bring everybody back to reality.

The intrepid Charlie LeDuff, riding along with a Flint cop, reports:

It’s not that the cops here are scared; it’s just that they’re outmanned, outgunned and flat broke.

Flint is the birthplace of General Motors and the home of the U.A.W.’s first big strike. In case you didn’t know this, the words “Vehicle City” are spelled out on the archway spanning the Flint River.

But the name is a lie. Flint isn’t Vehicle City anymore. The Buick City complex is gone. The spark-plug plant is gone. Fisher Body is gone.

What Flint is now is one of America’s murder capitals. Last year in Flint, population 102,000, there were 66 documented murders. The murder rate here is worse than those in Newark and St. Louis and New Orleans. It’s even worse than Baghdad’s.


  1. Ha, I always thought the murder rate was higher in Flint then Baghdad. Is that really a fact? If so, isn't some sort of higher force in order? Maybe black hawk copters and MP patrols?

    I am planning to visit in two weeks. Frankly, I am a bit afraid to do the usual sight seeing trip around town.

    Gosh, this is tough on my heart. My little brothers are from Flint. However they have been out of the city for so long. They would never understand. I wonder if i should even try to explain.

  2. Here's a piece in Time that discusses the Baghdad murder rate and how it's calculated, although it's 2008 numbers.,8599,1894566,00.html

  3. Give it a try's a history lesson that comes from your own eye witness account. I believe they will respect the source. Good luck. The Times Magazine article is a good example of beating a dead horse. A "Comeback City", that's when you are fortunate enough to wake up in the morning and still be alive in Flint. I know, I know...I just whipped that horse. Sorry.

  4. Walling already sent an email largely debunking this article. The truth is out there. Not sure where it lies.

  5. Does Baghdad have suburbs? Are they included in the murder rate calcuation? Imagine if Flint's murder rate encompassed the whole county. It would be a lot lower. It depends a lot on how you define a city's borders. I doubt if you could compare it to Baghdad. And did the 3000 World Trade Center deaths count against New York City as murders? Seems there is a lot of fuzzy math when it comes to murder rates.

  6. I guess the big question is how do you pay for the cops at their current pay and benefits package and balance the budget...without increasing the retirement pay out so a mayor down the line has to deal with the cost? More than 70 percent of the general fund is dedicated to public safety. Not sure how you put more cops on the street with their current pay and benefits, continue to do things like pick up the garbage and mow the grass, and balance the budget. Without raising taxes on an economically devastated city. Not saying it can't be done, but no one is explaining how. Charlie LeDuff, whose work I love, didn't offer any ideas. But that wasn't the point of his reporting. Seriously, lets hear some real ideas on this one.

  7. Anon, there's no doubt the murder rate is just insane in Flint. No argument there. But you do raise some interesting questions related to Baghdad. And the Time article mentioned above shows how subjective it is. Seriously, how would anyone even know who's getting murdered in Baghdad? What's counted as part of the war, or whatever it's officially called? How many bodies are never found. And who exactly is even keeping track? The "police" in Baghdad? The U.S. Military?

  8. Flint is like any other major city with areas that you know to avoid. The rest of the city and county are a gem. It's unfortunate that the continual cycle of negative media is all that bubbles to the surface, there is much more to Flint than that.

  9. I think most folks believe that almost all murders in Flint...excluding the occasional psychopath...are related to drug marketing or (less often) to drug user craziness.

    In Iraq, you can be murdered because of your religious or political affiliations, or who your friends are.

    Flint doesn't have very many instances of someone being murdered because they're Presbyterian, or happen to support Mitt Romney.

    I'd think a lot of people in Iraq would be very happy to have no more murders unrelated to illegal drugs.

    Such a comparison between Flint and Baghdad isn't very useful.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at