Countless myths have been spun about Detroit. So many, in fact, that we spend a good deal of our time explaining the truth of the matter to people. We practically have a comeback monologue about every one of them.
For today, however, let’s tackle just one: The myth is that, every midnight on New Year’s Eve, Detroiter’s load up their AK-47s and fire them into the sky for hours on end. Any plane flying over the city will be hit and end in a fiery crash. Lead rains down all over Detroit to the point where city residents have to sweep their sidewalks free of bullets in the morning.
Well, not really. Every once in a while, celebratory gunfire will claim a life, as when Sandra Latham was killed in her kitchen on Jan. 1, 1995. But the deaths and injuries are surprisingly few. Technically, you’re probably in more danger being in the company of a drunken reveler popping off rounds than you are walking down the street a half-mile away.
Also, it isn’t all gunfire. Some of it is fireworks. I know that because my friends and I have set off fireworks at midnight. Perhaps you can’t tell the difference between the two, but fireworks tends to sound like a rapid bunch of explosions, where gunfire sounds like sharp, regular reports. Can’t tell the difference? You’re not alone. Emergency services groups around the country are even posting videos to YouTube
trying to explain the difference in sound, if only so they aren’t deluged by reports of gunfire on two days a year: July 4 and Jan. 1.
Another thing: To the trained ear, it’s mostly handguns. Every so often, one will hear an actual barrage of reports that suggests somebody has a fully automatic machine gun. But, for the most part, this is rare. Mostly what you hear is garden-variety semi-automatic pistols and revolvers. These aren’t fancy, tricked-out, expensive, military-grade weapons. These are householders blasting away with their home protection.
One thing you can say for certain: At midnight, in Detroit, on New Year’s Eve, you hear a heck of a lot of gunfire. It’s illegal. It’s foolish. And nowhere is it more foolish than in a crowded place like the city to fire into the air.
And yet, it’s exciting. Even if I’m spending a quiet New Year’s Eve at home, I always remember to open the window at midnight and listen. In these days of fear and loathing of guns, we might forget that these people aren’t just celebrating irresponsibly. They’re showing off their power, flexing their freedom a bit. Or maybe showing the criminal casing their house that they’re ready for them.
Yes, around midnight, I’ll give it a listen. It’s a pretty tough world out there, but some of my fellow citizens are ready for whatever comes their way. And there’s something appealing about that.
Or as Humphrey Bogart said to the Nazi major in Casablanca: “There are certain sections of New York, Major, I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”