Thursday, October 08, 2009

Not Chaos--Just Overstimulation

Thousands of people swarmed Cobo Hall in chaos this morning trying to get applications for housing and utility payment assistance from the city of Detroit. People fainted, others fought as the Detroit Police Gang Unit tried to keep people in line --- some since last night --- and in check.

--The Detroit Free Press,Chaos reigns at Detroit aid event

The mayhem seemed to reflect the desperation of a city in which one in three lives in poverty and 28.7 percent are unemployed. Others said it was exacerbated by rumors the government was literally handing out cash. It wasn’t.

--The Detroit News,Chaos erupts as thousands jockey for aid.”

Put me down for that second theory--the one about the rumors of cash being handed out.

I had business about a block away from Cobo yesterday and could see the lines snaking down Congress and south down Washington.

But they were lines—not a mob, not a riot, not mayhem. I’m sure at the sharp edge of the wedge inside Cobo it was much more tense. That’s where applicants who waited hours started getting the bad news that free cash wasn’t actually being handed out, and that most of them almost certainly weren’t going to qualify for this particular government bailout. We’re still trying to confirm a report from Verizon of more than 30,000 text messages emanating from Cobo between noon and one o’clock, telling relatives loitering at the Motor City Casino to just go on back home.

Fights broke out? People fainted? Oh, please.

Detroiters break out in fights with each other every day in neighborhoods, businesses, buses, school board meetings, even in city council chambers. People get shot in Detroit every day. And threats to shoot people?—In Detroit hearing a threat to go get a gun and shoot someone is only slightly less common than hearing someone say, “have a blessed day”—even in city council chambers. Promises to come back with a gun to kill someone has been a favored comeback between rival parents tussling outside Detroit’s top schools for years.

The only difference with these fairly minor incidents yesterday is that instead of being spread out all over the city, 50,000 Detroiters were all gathered in one spot. Naturally, all the cops and the EMS trucks were all gathered there, too. Think of all the gas they saved.

I suppose headline writers simply had to reach for the word, “chaos.” It was either that, or a headline that says, “Greedy Detroiters Wait Hours for Phantom Bucks”.

If anything the Detroit News photos show a passive, expectant bunch (no surprise, as people outside the doors were still under the impression that they would soon be cradling family-size buckets of Obama Bread).

I don’t see how this speaks “volumes about the despair of one of the nation’s poorest cities,” any more than it speaks volumes about how greed is found amongst the less well-to-do just as often as it’s found amongst Wall Street traders or America’s avaricious tonsil doctors.

These folks at Cobo weren’t in despair: people in despair have given up and don’t bother any more, which is what the word means.

Do these go-getters rushing the doors look like they’ve given up? Just look at the concentration, the determination, the focus on the goal, the eyes full of Hope! These folks were just filled with Hope—Hope of getting free money.

All in all, considering what their expectations were and the big bust the process turned out to be, I’m impressed there wasn’t any real violence, chaos, or mayhem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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