Osborn: Bulldozing gives hope in crime-ridden corner

SLIDESHOW: Click or swipe to see how Osborn is improving (or not) across a wide array of metrics...

Katina Thomas was watching TV when she was startled to see her own house appear on the screen.

The show was a rehash of the 2012 homicide of Jane Bashara, a business executive who was strangled at her Grosse Pointe Park home and her body later dumped in Detroit, near Hoover and Seven Mile, in Thomas’ neighborhood of Osborn.

To Thomas, it says a lot about a place she defends fiercely.

“People do their crimes somewhere else, and then come here to dump (the bodies),” she said.

In fairness, it’s also a place where people do a lot of crimes and shoot lots of guns, according to FBI crime statistics.

Located in northeast Detroit along the Macomb County border, Osborn comprises a large portion of the 48205 ZIP Code that has been described as the most dangerous in America. The neighborhood, once a haven for city police officers and firefighters, also has plenty of vacant and blighted homes and has lost 13 percent of its population since 2011.

A mural outside Matrix Human Services on East McNichols and Gratiot points to the pride many feel for the Osborn neighborhood, which is beset by crime and blight. (Bridge photo by Joel Kurth)

“We have issues,” Thomas said. “We have blight, dumping, and not enough enforcement to stop it.”

The neighborhood is low-income, but residents like Ernestine Moore say they’re determined to use whatever resources they have to protect Osborn.

Moore lives with her adult daughter and doesn’t hesitate to march out of the house in slippers and a robe when she spies someone dumping, as she did recently. Last year, the city took 321 complaints about illegal dumping in the Osborn neighborhood.

“I was yelling, ‘If you don’t get that crap out of here now, I’m reporting you!’” Moore said.

Moore said she’s been shot at before, and it only left her determined to stand up when she can.

Osborn residents say they’re fiercely protective of their corner of Detroit. From left to right: Ernestine Moore; Kayana Sessoms, program director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance; and Katina Thomas. (Bridge staff photo)

Life at this margin is full of uncertainty. Thomas  who works for AmeriCorps, a neighborhood-organizing effort coordinated by Wayne State University, lives in a house she bought in a blind-bid city auction for $3,900, more or less sight unseen. The grass and landscaping was so overgrown she figured it avoided being entirely trashed.

She pried the boards off the windows, moved in and started making it livable, she said. Having been put out her last rental by a landlord who wanted to sell, she never wants to be at anyone’s mercy again.

“I was once an outsider here, and they made me feel welcome,” Thomas said. “The 48205 has a strong presence of activism that you have to be here to know. People who will go out in the cold and the rain to get things done.”

The neighborhood is a focus of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggans’ demolition campaign that has razed nearly 12,500  homes citywide. In Osborn, 601 homes have been demolished, while the mayor, who is facing reelection in November,  is considering a pilot program that aims to cut crime with targeted demolitions of drug houses and others that harbor criminals, said John Roach, Duggan’s spokesman.

Eight gas stations along Seven Mile and Gratiot are now partners in Project Green Light, a citywide effort to deter crime. About 200 gas stations have invested $4,000 to $6,000 apiece in cameras that are monitored by police, as well as enhanced lighting at the businesses. Citywide, officials say crime has been cut 50 percent around participating businesses.

“You used to be able to buy any drug you wanted right there at the pump,” said Thomas. “All that’s stopped now.”


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Joe Ferrari
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:05am

Both sets of my grandparents lived on Strasburg Street. It is so sad to see how that area has deteriorated.

Katina Thomas
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 11:52am

Although the article pointed out the stats for the area, in fairness participants of the interview who were told that we were being asked about the positive impact and changes in the community, the article is very different from what I believed the point was .
Specifically, "why take a chance here?" At the time, I was unaware of the stats of the area. The home that I previously lived in was not "sold" as stated but the owner lost the home to foreclosure.
Unfortunately, it seems that the negative has been reinforced and all the good things we spoke on were ignored.
It is disheartening to the people who live here.
Hopefully, when the community stakeholders and residents partner to do something good, the media outlets will be there.

Not speaking on behalf on anyone else personally but the point being is that we care.
No area of the city should be "devalued" based on race, income level, or perceived lack of interest in a decent place to live or work. We want what every zip code in "America" wants, which is the opportunity to be safe and prosper. I had zero knowledge of what the area was before. It is not fair to paint a picture of the residents being biased, when I could not speak on what I never knew about, including the Bashara case. The purpose of mentioning the case was to highlight a specific example of how other areas can influence the "facts" and make further stain the image of Detroit. In short, as long as we allow people to "keep their streets safe" by committing heinous acts and blaming Detroit for it then how do we justify painting a bleak picture of any area and claim it to be factual?

How much of this crime, dumping, and blight is a result of things that have nothing to do with ANYONE that lives in Detroit? What percentage of the issues at our gas stations are fueled by the 8 Mile / Gratiot pipeline? Why is the poorest areas called upon so heavily to "do something" about it and given the least amount of resources to accomplish that goal? Those are a few of the "facts" that as a community member, I was hoping would be revealed. Better yet, wishful that proactive and positive conversations would be the result. That is what we are most "fierce" about.

I did NOT hear anyone state that we saw the area as a "crime ridden corner" of the city. The "fierceness" about wanting better conditions for our neighborhoods is a sentiment that reaches City wide. We are 1 Detroit and we could all benefit from an collaborative effort to unite and improve ALL areas of the city. For me, that is the intent of the spirit of activism. That is what I see from those who actually live here , as well. People coming together to try to find possible solutions to the problems, even if we have to roll up our sleeves and help out! Maybe I'm mistaken but it seems this route focuses on and furthers us toward "positive goals" versus highlighting the negatives.

Joel Kurth
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 1:18pm

I'm sorry to hear about your concerns.

If you'd like to speak with me about the story, I edited it. I'm available at 586-306-4708 or jkurth@bridgemi.com