Video: Artists transform Detroit neighborhood

By Chris Hansen Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 4/20/2010 2:24:03 PM ET 2010-04-20T18:24:03
transcript

CHRIS HANSEN: They litter the landscape, thousands and thousands of abandoned homes. And just like these buildings, Detroit is a shell of its former self.  One third of the people here live in poverty. Almost half the adults are illiterate, and about 75 percent of kids drop out of school. I could be describing some ravaged foreign nation, but this is the middle of America. I grew up in the Detroit area, and just like the people who live here, I’ve often wondered how can this city be saved? It starts with the people on the front lines.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Voiceover) People don’t care how they live or what they do in the community. They just feel hopeless. When they don’t care, this is what happens.

(Abandoned homes; sign on school wall; abandoned classroom; abandoned buildings; group on street corner; trash on street; houses; abandoned houses)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) It may be hard to fathom, but this city was once the heartbeat of the American economy. Detroit, Michigan.

(People in line at Salvation Army truck; abandoned houses; walk way and abandoned building; abandoned houses)

Unidentified Man #1: (Voiceover) If we saw a nation similarly situated with a piss-poor school system like the Detroit public school system, where crime is running amok, if we saw that in another nation we’d be giving them foreign aid.

(Tattered American flag; student being searched; students in hallway; police officers; children by abandoned building)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) While things seem bad across the country, Detroit may be the ultimate reflection of America’s pain. If you really want to get a sense of what people are up against here, just spend some time with Cordette Grantling. She lives in the heart of the city and ekes Video: Meet the woman who rescues Detroit's kids out a living cleaning a medical office in the suburbs.

(Children playing in water; abandoned buildings; Cordette Grantling, Torrieon, Deonte; Grantling going into building; Grantling cleaning)

Ms. CORDETTE GRANTLING: It’s a good job. I’m thankful to have a job.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) For 15 years she says she survived off of temp work in the auto business. As it all began to dry up, she took assorted jobs. And now, due to the recession, she says her hours have been cut back, making it even tougher.

(Grantling mopping floor; Grantling cleaning building)

Ms. GRANTLING: By me working part-time, I only get like $203 every two weeks.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) That meager income isn’t enough to support her three kids, two boys and a baby girl. She says she doesn’t collect welfare, but she does benefit from food stamps and Social Security payments for one of her boys. All three children were abandoned as infants by their parents.  Cordette took them in. She’s been rescuing children for 25 years.

(Grantling at home with children; Grantling with children)

HANSEN: Hey, you guys, come here a minute.

Ms. GRANTLING: This is Torrieon.

HANSEN: This is Diandra?

Torrieon...

Ms. GRANTLING: This is the baby boy.

HANSEN: My, man. How you doing? You all right?

Ms. GRANTLING: He’s three years old.

HANSEN: Yeah? You three?

Ms. GRANTLING: You know, and this is Deonte.

HANSEN: Deonte, how you doing, man? You all right?

Ms. GRANTLING: Deonte is 11. I had him...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) As you’ll soon see, Cordette’s story may represent both the heartbreak and the hope that is Detroit. This city’s future rests in part on how much someone like Cordette can accomplish.

(Hansen, Grantling, Deonte and Torrieon; Grantling feeding children; Grantling helping child up stairs)

HANSEN: Why do you do it?

Ms. GRANTLING: Because my mother left me. It’s a hurting feeling. It still hurts right today, but the grace of God keeps me strong.

Unidentified Man #2: I know that I have a God that delivers.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She knows she’s been strong before and can be strong again for her children’s sake. Detroit was strong before, too, about as strong as any city could be. Video: Detroit parent keeps kids on the right track

(Grantling and Torrieon at church; Detroit)

Unidentified Man #3: (Newsreel footage) The River Rouge plant of the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan, the largest industrial unit in the world.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Back when the auto industry was in its prime, carmakers employed hundreds of thousands of workers directly. And indirectly, the whole country benefited. Millions found jobs in steel factories and auto-related businesses. It all helped forge a huge American middle class. The city of Detroit was alive, had heroes...

Sports Announcer #1: (Voiceover) Joe Louis, the world’s heavyweight champion.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...championship teams...

Sports Announcer #2: (Voiceover) The Detroit American Leaguers are the new world champs.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...and some of the best music around. But in the 1960s Detroit was already beginning to lose its luster. Race riots in 1967 tore the city apart. Then in the 1980s another blow as foreign automakers muscled in.

(Car factory assembly line; factory workers; people waiting at bus stop; people in Detroit; vehicles on roadway; sporting event sign; boxing match; baseball game; music video in car factory; building on fire; riot scenes in Detroit; car lot)

Unidentified Reporter #1: (Voiceover) Three out of 10 American auto workers are without a job right now.

(New autos coming down ramp)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Challenges that hurt the city and the nation. I grew up in the Detroit suburbs. My dad was a sales executive in an auto-related business.

(Cars; photo of Hansen with siblings; Hansen family photo)

HANSEN: (News clip) A lot of the guns used in violet crimes, though, are not sold...

(Voiceover) In 1984, I returned to Detroit, working as a local reporter and stayed for a decade.

(Clips of Hansen reporting)

HANSEN: (News clip) He has admitted to police that he stole the .38 revolver out of this crack house on Gilcrest...

(Voiceover) And as bad as things already were, there was hope things could somehow turn around, until last year when the auto industry imploded.

(Clip of Hansen reporting; Hansen talking with man sitting on car; Ford building; Dodge-Chrysler building; GM building)

Mr. BRIAN WILLIAMS: (News clip) On our broadcast tonight, bankrupt. General Motors files for protection from its creditors.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The crisis hit the middle class and for the first time the suburbs.

(House; family sitting at dinner table)

Mr. TOM DOUGLAS: (Praying) Lord, we love you, we praise you, we thank you.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) For thousands who lost jobs, security vanished in an instant. Today, from the air, parts of Detroit look like a war zone, factories abandoned, houses burned out and lots vacant. The population, once two million, now is less than half that. This was once the main train station. These remnants of what were once homes. And while there are still some better-off areas, even some mansions are boarded up here. What happened to Detroit seems surreal, especially for those who grew up here like musician Kid Rock.

(Tom Douglas and family at dinner table; abandoned factories in Detroit; abandoned houses; vacant lots in Detroit; broken windows; Detroit train station; abandoned homes; demolish sign; houses; house boarded up; abandoned houses; Kid Rock)

KID ROCK: You can buy a house for $1500.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Fifteen hundred dollars.

(For sale sign)

KID ROCK: Yeah, but who wants to live in that neighborhood?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) There are more than 400 liquor stores in Detroit. But if you want to buy food, good luck. In the entire 140 square miles of the city, there are no Krogers, no Safeways, only eight supermarkets, and they’re discount stores. The bad economy certainly hasn’t helped Detroit’s crime rate, one of the highest in the nation, or the schools, among the worst in the nation. The city government is broke and broken, leaving many in the community, like Cordette Grantling, frustrated and fed up.

(Liquor store; liquor store signs; aerial view of Detroit; Aldi supermarket;

Save a lot food store; man being arrested; man in handcuffs; crime scene; students in classroom; security check at school; bridge; Detroit; Grantling and children)

Ms. GRANTLING: So much corruption and so much wrongdoing is going on and you don’t trust nobody anymore.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Tonight, through Cordette’s eyes, you’ll see just what it takes to survive here. In some ways, her struggle to save abandoned children is a lot like the struggle to resuscitate this all but abandoned city, a struggle that is perhaps just a more extreme example of what’s happening all across America. And it’s not just Cordette. You’re about to meet others in Detroit, in law enforcement, in education and in the community, who are battling the odds to save the city. The situation is so extreme, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, says it demands radical action. His plan: bulldoze as many as ten thousand buildings and homes and literally shrink the city’s borders.

(Grantling; Grantling with children; aerial view of Detroit; Grantling getting child out of car; student and teacher; police officers; Hansen and Robert Bobb; people working in garden; Hansen and Taja Seville; aerial view of Detroit; Hansen and Mayor Dave Bing; Detroit)

Mayor DAVE BING: (Voiceover) So those neighborhoods... Video: Detroit mayor: 'Toughest sell of my life'

(Aerial view of abandoned homes)

Mayor BING: ...you go in and tear those places down.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Just one provocative possibility you’ll hear about in a city that is virtually on life support.

(Aerial view of abandoned Detroit neighborhood)

Mayor BING: (Voiceover) The day of reckoning is here and we got to do something different.

(Detroit; water)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Coming up, into the wild. Not for hunting, but for dinner.

(Red light; Glemie Beasley hunting; man with raccoon)

HANSEN: So one raccoon will feed four people? Is it good eating?

(Voiceover) Are things really this bad? When America Now, City of Heartbreak and Hope, continues.

Ms. GRANTLING: This is beautiful compared to what it was.

HANSEN: To be honest, it still looks like hell.

Ms. GRANTLING: Yeah, but it was worse.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) When the economy of a city like Detroit spirals downward, it takes a toll on the neighborhoods. Cordette Grantling says the block where she lives now is a lot better than the one where she used to live.

(Hansen and Grantling; broken windows; abandoned building; Grantling with children; abandoned neighborhood)

Ms. GRANTLING: All the houses are falling apart.

(Voiceover) This one was burnt up. Just because they had to move out, they threw a fire bomb in it.

(Burned house)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Not exactly an environment to raise children in, which is one reason she moved.

(Liter; burned house)

Ms. GRANTLING: I work hard to keep my kids straight and on the right path, you know. I show them how I’m a working parent. Everything I do is to show them respect and honor.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And that’s what she teaches her kids from the time they get up.

(Torrieon)

Ms. GRANTLING: Put your—put your sweater on. It’s cold.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Her days are long. After breakfast, she takes Deonte to school, then returns home to prepare for the rest of the day.

(Deonte getting into car; Deonte going to school; Grantling cooking)

Ms. GRANTLING: I have to get Deonte out of school at 3:15. I have to be ready for work right behind that, so I have to cook dinner early.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She takes her kids with her just about everywhere.

(Grantling with Torrieon and baby girl; Torrieon opening door)

Ms. GRANTLING: Thank you, big boy.

(Voiceover) I don’t have a sitter or anything.

(Grantling going in door; Grantling with Torrieon and baby girl at bank)

TORRIEON: Can I get up...

Ms. GRANTLING: No, you can’t get up there. Yeah, just me and these beautiful babies.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) This day, she deposits her paycheck.

(Grantling at bank)

Ms. GRANTLING: It goes very quick. This paycheck was only 182.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And on this day, when she picks up Deonte, she also picks up three bags of donated clothing.

(Grantling picking up bags of donated clothes at school)

Ms. GRANTLING: We got coats and clothes for children that are in need in the community.

Come on, so I can talk to you, tell you what I want done.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In the afternoon she leaves for her cleaning job. A neighbor keeps an eye on the kids.

(Grantling, Deonte and Torrieon; Grantling)

Ms. GRANTLING: There’s some juice in that refrigerator, but don’t get crazy, OK?

DEONTE: OK.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Cordette reminds Deonte to be responsible.

(Grantling and Deonte in kitchen)

Ms. GRANTLING: That’s about it. I got to go. And you know, nobody comes up here.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Not far from where Cordette lives, a former reporter I know, Luther Keith...

(Luther Keith getting out of vehicle)

Mr. LUTHER KEITH: Hey, old man, you need some help?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...now a community organizer, takes me to see his old neighborhood and Video: In Detroit, 'the best is all gone' introduces me to an old-timer.

(Keith; Hansen; Keith hugging Joe Davis)

Mr. KEITH: This is Joe Davis.

HANSEN: Hey, Mr. Davis. Chris Hansen.

Mr. KEITH: This is Chris Hansen.

Mr. JOE DAVIS: My hand’s wet.

HANSEN: Don’t worry about it.

(Voiceover) Like many of his generation, Mr. Davis says he moved to Detroit from the South, factory job with Ford.

(Davis talking with Hansen and Keith)

HANSEN: How has this neighborhood changed?

Mr. DAVIS: Oh, man, changed a whole lot. And it just—this hurts me to look at it.

HANSEN: Why do you stay?

Mr. DAVIS: I don’t want to stay. My wife is keeping me here. My wife.

HANSEN: What’s the saddest thing you see when you look around the city?

Mr. DAVIS: How people stand up things.

HANSEN: And what’s the best thing about this city for you?

Mr. DAVIS: I don’t know. What about it, Duke? What the best?

DUKE: The best is all gone.

HANSEN: The best is all gone, you say.

DUKE: The best is all gone.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) For their generation an auto job guaranteed good pay and benefits for Video: A family scrambles to keep its home life, and you didn’t need a college degree. And that’s what Tom Douglas was counting on. Thanks to his desk job at Ford, he bought this house in the suburbs.

(Hansen looking at house; Tom Douglas; Douglas and wife in porch swing;

Douglas home)

Mr. TOM DOUGLAS: Ford was very good to me and my family.

HANSEN: Nineteen years?

Mr. DOUGLAS: Yes. Yes. It opened doors that I had never imagined.

(Voiceover) Life was good.

(Douglas and wife on porch swing)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Michigan’s auto workers, at the peak in 1978, numbered nearly half a million, but then one plant after another shut down. By 2009, the work force dwindled to less than 100,000. The middle class, and especially middle-class African-Americans, have been hit hard. Tom Douglas was one of the casualties.

(Auto workers on assembly line; empty car factory lots; workers on assembly line; Douglas)

Mr. DOUGLAS: (Voiceover) I never thought I would be on the...

(Douglas)

Mr. DOUGLAS: ...brink of being uninsured, jobless, collecting unemployment.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Now, the Douglas family is trying to save their home and turning to others for help, like the food bank at their son’s school, which sends home a backpack full of free food every week. Cordette understands what it’s like to struggle to feed her family. Like many in Detroit, she relies on food stamps. She considers herself fortunate because she has a car, and she can drive to the discount supermarket closest to her. She buys mostly canned goods.

(Douglas family playing basketball; boy getting backpack; Douglas family; Grantling at home with children; Grantling cooking; Grantling driving car; Grantling at supermarket)

TORRIEON: Get that.

Ms. GRANTLING: We don’t have a fresh produce supplier around. It’s noodles.

TORRIEON: Noodles!

Ms. GRANTLING: People love their noodles. I pay with it with a food stamp card.

Unidentified Woman #2: It’s going to be 58.36.

Ms. GRANTLING: OK.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Nutrition is a critical problem. Not only do many families depend on schools to feed their kids, at least one man here is offering a unique choice for dinner in difficult times. By day, Glemie Beasley is a blues musician. But at night he traps raccoons in Detroit, and hunts them outside the city limits. He skins them in his backyard.

(School lunch room; sign; Glemie Beasley with hunting dogs; Beasley singing;

Beasley hunting; Beasley holding raccoon skin)

HANSEN: One raccoon will feed four people?

Mr. GLEMIE BEASLEY: Yeah, mm-hmm.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He prepares the meat, freezes it, cooks it for himself.

(Raccoons; freezer; Beasley and Hansen)

HANSEN: Is it good eating?

Ms. BEASLEY: Oh, yeah.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And even sells it to others. His customer base is small, he says, but in these hard times, growing.

(Fresh Coons sale sign; man plating food)

Unidentified Woman #3: We have for dinner, we have pears.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Detroit’s desperation has inspired more practical forms of innovation.

(Vegetable truck)

Woman #3: We have green and red tomatoes, white...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) A group of churches sends this truck into the neighborhoods with fruits and vegetables. And on a bigger scale, some of Detroit’s vacant lots are being converted into, of all things, urban farms.  That’s where Cordette gets some of her produce. Taja Seville came up with the concept.

(People in vegetable truck; people sitting on front porch; garden; people working in garden; Seville)

HANSEN: It’s odd to see crops off Linwood Avenue. I mean, it’s really strange.

Ms. TAJA SEVILLE: Yeah. No, it is. I mean, but it’s cool. I’ve had people coming up to me crying and just saying thank you for putting these gardens in because we don’t know how we would have fed our family.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) They have 800 gardens in Detroit alone, she says, funded by corporate sponsors. The food is free, and anyone can take it.

(People working in garden)

Ms. SEVILLE: Listen, we want to get rid of hunger in our generation.

(Voiceover) And we believe it will happen.

(Garden)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But besides limited access to food, there’s another reality to worry about in a city like Detroit.

(Police vehicle; officers making arrest; Grantling and family at table)

Ms. GRANTLING: Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this blessed food.

(Voiceover) My children cannot come outside by their self. I try to explain to them, it’s not that you don’t have no freedom, but I’m trying to keep you safe.

(Grantling and family at table; Grantling, Deonte and girl walking)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Coming up, Detroit drowning in crime.

(Police officers; ambulance)

Chief WARREN EVANS: Grab that one!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) We hit the streets.

(Police officers)

Chief EVANS: Right here. I got it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Can the new chief clean up this town?

(Warren Evans)

Chief EVANS: What’s going on, fellas?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.

Ms. GRANTLING: Lord God, I just thank you for being my father today.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) It’s a Saturday morning and on one of Detroit’s countless vacant lots, Cordette Grantling joins a weekly prayer group.

(Grantling with prayer group)

Ms. GRANTLING: I thank you for blessing me today to be allowed to be a mother today, Lord Jesus.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She says she’s grateful that her kids are safe. Detroit has had a serious crime problem for decades, but now Cordette says it can feel like the wild west.

(Grantling’s children at home; abandoned houses; Grantling walking)

Ms. GRANTLING: We used to be able to play in back yards, swing, swim. None of that.

(Voiceover) If I’m not there you can’t do it, because I don’t know what might happen.

(Grantling’s children)

Ms. GRANTLING: You could be sexually molested. You could be turned on to drugs. Who knows? And I’m not going to take that chance.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She’s already been down that path with Andre. He’s the first child she took in 25 years ago, when he was abandoned by his mother, who Cordette says was addicted to crack. Cordette struggled to keep him out of trouble, but he found his share of it anyway.

(Grantling sitting on car; Andre; children playing)

Ms. GRANTLING: (Voiceover) The streets...

(Andre)

Ms. GRANTLING: ...swallowed him up real fast. He thought that he knew everything.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Like so many young men here, Andre dropped out of school, became a teen father and landed in jail.

(Andre; arrest photo of Andre)

ANDRE: Credit card fraud, started beating up on people, taking their money.

Ms. GRANTLING: You will reap what you sow doing that.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But now he’s back living with Cordette and trying to stay out of harm’s way.

(Grantling and Andre)

Unidentified Police Officer #1: Who do you think popped him?

Unidentified Man #4: I don’t know.

Police Officer #1: Who do you think popped him?

Man #4: I don’t know, man!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) This is what happens just about every day in Detroit.

(Crime scene)

Man #4: No!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) A young man shot to death, his family distraught.

(Crime scene)

Man #4: That’s my cousin, man. That’s my cousin, man.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) At the murder scene, a face you probably wouldn’t see in most big cities, the police chief. Warren Evans, who has a law degree, used to be the country sheriff.

(Crime scene; ambulance; Warren Evans)

Chief EVANS: Not much else we can do here, inspector.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He took over the police department last year.

(Evans at crime scene)

HANSEN: If you could send one single message to criminals in this city, what would it be?

Chief EVANS: The paradigm’s going to change. We can no longer be the city that tolerates behaviors that nobody else tolerates and then wonder why we’re the city that has more homicides than others.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) There were more than 1300 shootings in Detroit last year and 364 murders, the vast majority of the victims African-American. Per capita, Detroit’s murder rate is seven times that of New York City.

(Crime scene; ambulance; police officers; Evans at crime scene)

Chief EVANS: I know kids who are 19 and 20 years old have been shot three and four times.

HANSEN: Three and four times?

Chief EVANS: Absolutely, because they do gang warfare, Chris.

(On patrol) You got it?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Chief Evans has made getting guns off the streets a priority. Every night cops encounter young men who are armed. This night, they catch one and recover his gun.

(Crime scene; police officers)

Unidentified Police Officer #2: Unload it for me.

Chief EVANS: It’s a little piece of junk, but they kill a lot of people, don’t they?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Part of his strategy, stop minor violations now to prevent bigger crimes later.

(Evans; police officers)

Chief EVANS: Just relax.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But he’s shorthanded.

(Evans with group of officers)

Chief EVANS: Good evening.

Police Officers: (In unison) Good evening.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Twenty years ago Detroit had more than 4,500 police officers. Today, fewer than 3,000.

(Evans with group of officers)

Chief EVANS: I can’t hire anybody else. You know the city’s broke.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But with the city in a fiscal crisis, he says he’s learning to do more with less.

(Evans talking to police officers)

Chief EVANS: And homicides have gone down for the last four months, and the reason that is, is because we’re starting to get out in front of the shootings.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He’s reduced desk jobs to put more officers in the field.

And he’s pushing everyone to do better...

(Police officers)

Chief EVANS: If my old butt can get out here and grab a gun, you all can grab 10! You’re doing a wonderful job, and I appreciate it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...including himself. Two nights a week Chief Evans goes on patrol.

(Evans talking to officers; Evans; man in handcuffs)

Chief EVANS: What’s going on, fellas?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And when he sees a gathering in an abandoned garage, his team moves in.

(Evans)

Chief EVANS: Grab that one! What were you guys doing in there?

Now, how many of you guys went to school today?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) It seems some had been drinking and gambling.

(Evans with group of young men)

Chief EVANS: ...(unintelligible)...did you pay for? Twenty-four? You really showing the kids how to live, huh?

(Evans with group of young men)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The chief sends them on their way.

(Evans with group of young men)

Chief EVANS: You think you guys could find your houses...

Unidentified Man #5: Hell, yeah.

Chief EVANS: ...and not loiter, hang around out here?

Man #5: I promise you I can.

Chief EVANS: OK, scoot.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) It would be easy to say, hey, they’re just throwing dice, and keep going and look for something more serious.

(Evans with group of young men; Evans)

Chief EVANS: Yeah, but...

HANSEN: Why is it important to make your presence known here?

Chief EVANS: No good was going to come from that. There’s a 26, 27-year-old guy over there, another guy admittedly is drinking. Here’s a 13 and 14-year-old over here. I mean, the mixture just isn’t good or right.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Another mixture he worries about, suburban kids coming into the city to buy drugs.

(Car headlights; cars on road at night)

Unidentified Police Officer #3: You are outnumbered!

Unidentified Man #6: Come on.

Unidentified Police Officer #4: Step out.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) That’s what they suspect this group is up to.

(Officers making arrest)

Unidentified Police Officer #5: When you’re down in Detroit, contributing to our crime problem then you’re going to run back to...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Police Officer #6: You all going to come back here and get robbed or killed.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Chief Evans lets them off with a warning, too.

(Evans talking to young men)

Chief EVANS: We’ll let you guys go home and take a deep breath and let me not see you under these circumstances anymore.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Situations like that are exactly what Cordette prays her kids will avoid, especially Andre, who’s moved into the basement. He says he’s trying to be a role model for his younger siblings and trying to stay out of jail.

(Evans talking to young men; Grantling at home with Children; Andre; Andre going down stairs to basement)

HANSEN: Now, without your mother here, where would you be today?

ANDRE: Actually, either dead or in jail.

HANSEN: Either dead or in jail? And you’re certain of that?

ANDRE: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But what opportunity is there in Detroit for a young man like Andre, a high school dropout with a criminal record? Cordette is pushing him to go for his GED. As for her younger kids, she knows that staying in school is their only hope.

(Andre; Torrieon eating cereal; Grantling and Deonte in car)

Ms. GRANTLING: (Voiceover) They can’t do nothing...

(Grantling filling out form)

Ms. GRANTLING: ...without education. They have to have it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Coming up, kids head to school, not to study on computers but to steal them. And what about the adults?

(Students in hallway; school building; computers; surveillance of kids stealing computers; tattered American flag)

HANSEN: You found embezzlement, fraud. Are you an administrator or are you a law enforcement official?

(Voiceover) When America Now, City of Heartbreak and Hope continues.

Ms. GRANTLING: What’s that?

TORRIEON: A dog.

Ms. GRANTLING: And what’s that?

TORRIEON: A cow.

Ms. GRANTLING: Woo-hoo! Give me five.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) On any given evening Cordette Grantling works with her children at home. Her little ones coloring, 11-year-old Deonte doing homework. He’s in fifth grade, but reading at only a second grade level.  Still, she’s hopeful.

(Grantling with children at home; little girl and Torrieon coloring; Deonte doing homework)

HANSEN: And when you dream about their future, what do you see?

Ms. GRANTLING: I see doctors. I see lawyers. I want to push them to do something positive.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But the chances for success in Detroit’s schools are slim at best. Nearly three quarters of students here drop out. And many who do graduate still aren’t up to par. Detroit recently achieved a dubious distinction, the lowest scores ever on a leading national math test. And the schools are in fiscal crisis. This year started with a $200 million deficit.  The impact is clear. Imagine trying to learn in a classroom that looks like this.

(Children going to school; students going through metal detector; students in hallway; students; students at computers; newspaper article; students crossing street; crossing guard; students; damaged floor in classroom)

HANSEN: I mean, the floor is basically rotted out.

Mr. ROBERT BOBB: This floor is rotted out.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Things are so bad the governor appointed an emergency manager, Robert Bobb.

(Hansen and Bobb)

Mr. BOBB: It’s a...

HANSEN: It’s a beat up building.

Mr. BOBB: It is a beat up building.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He gave us a tour of Mumford High, once one of the city’s best.

(Tattered American flag; Mumford High building)

Mr. BOBB: This is also a science lab, where we did not have running water.

HANSEN: How could you have a science lab without running water?

Mr. BOBB: That’s one of the tragedies of the Detroit public schools.

Unidentified Reporter #2: (Voiceover) A dispute that begins between two groups in the halls of Denby High School...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) School violence is another tragedy.

(Crime scene at school; students going through metal detectors)

Unidentified Reporter #3: (Voiceover) The Detroit police bomb squad and federal Alcohol, Tobacco...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In March, a 13-year-old brought a homemade bomb to school. During the summer session, two masked gunmen ran through this gas station to a bus stop near a school. They shot seven people, including five students. Robert Bobb went to see the victims.

(School; students; footage of two students with guns and people running)

HANSEN: I’m guessing that visiting a student who was shot outside of a public school was not listed as one of the conditions in your contract.

Mr. BOBB: No, it wasn’t, but these were my kids.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Adding to the mess there’s brazen theft. So far this school year, thieves like these, seen on surveillance video, have stolen nearly $800,000 worth of computers. And corruption has been rampant for years.

(Surveillance video of people stealing computers; court in session)

Unidentified Woman #4: (In court) Case number 0923004.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) This woman was a teacher’s aide.

(Woman in court)

Unidentified Man #7: (In court) Your honor, I want the court to be aware that this is a violation of public trust.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But she was part of a ring that embezzled more than $50,000 from the schools. She pleaded guilty to fraud.

(Court in session)

Unidentified Woman #5: (In court) I’m sorry that it happened.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Her sentence, probation. It’s just one of more than 260 cases involving all sorts of wrongdoing that Robert Bobb’s investigators have taken on in an effort to crack down.

(Court in session; list of Detroit Public Schools investigations; empty classroom)

TEXT:

Detroit Public Schools

Investigations

Theft

Payroll Fraud

Unauthorized Employment

Wasted Expenditures

Ethical Violations

Vendor Fraud

Mismanagement

Abuse of Power

General Criminal Activity

Contractor Fraud

Vehicle Misuse

Insurance Fraud

HANSEN: So you found embezzlement, fraud, no-show jobs, double-dipping. Are you an administrator or are you a law enforcement official?

Mr. BOBB: Well, we are doing what’s necessary to get money directly to the classroom, where real teaching and learning should be taking place for our kids.

Unidentified Man #8: Without no education they are nothing!

Unidentified Man #9: Nothing!

HANSEN: (Voiceover) One of his hardest tasks, persuading parents to trust a failed system. In the past decade, Detroit’s public schools have lost half their student population to attrition and charter schools.

(Bobb talking with people)

Mr. BOBB: It goes just like this.

This is your son here?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Bobb has taken his pitch to the streets with help from the likes of Bill Cosby.

(Bill Cosby)

Mr. BILL COSBY: You were not afraid? Why?

Unidentified Child: Because I like school.

Mr. COSBY: Listen.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Detroit’s schools need all the help they can get, says Robert Bobb. And they are getting help from people like Pam Good. She’s a suburban mom who created a nonprofit program that tutors 5,000 Detroit students a year, including Deonte, Cordette’s fifth grader who, remember, is reading at only a second grade level.

(Bobb and group of men; Hansen with Pam Good; Deonte at school)

Unidentified Woman #6: (Making “S” sound)

DEONTE: (Making “S” sound)

Woman #6: All right. Can you echo it after me?

DEONTE: Itch.

Woman #6: Like...

DEONTE: Itch.

Woman #6: Awesome.

Ms. PAM GOOD: He comes with a lot of struggles. At the same time, we felt that we could help him. And it’s absolutely what’s happening.

HANSEN: Do you mind if I sit in for a minute?

(Voiceover) Her volunteers include teens from Brother Rice, the suburban Catholic high school I went to.

(Hansen in classroom; volunteers working with students; photo of Hansen in football uniform)

Unidentified Man #10: When there’s a period there, take a pause when you’re reading. All right.

Unidentified Student: In 1945, my grandfather became a pilot with the Air Force.

Ms. GOOD: (Voiceover) These children matter.

(Volunteer working with student)

Ms. GOOD: It isn’t too late. They get it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And Cordette gets that to keep kids on the right track, parents have to do their part.

(Grantling with children)

Ms. GRANTLING: You coming to the next LSCO meeting?

HANSEN: (Voiceover) She’s president of the community organization at Deonte’s school.

(Jamieson school)

Ms. GRANTLING: Excuse me, sweetheart. Can I talk to you for a minute?

You had a fight with somebody?

Unidentified Man #11: Yes.

Ms. GRANTLING: OK, but is it worth you going to jail?

Man #11: No.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) When she sees trouble brewing outside the school, like this young man with a stick apparently looking to settle a score, she steps in.

(Grantling talking with young man)

Ms. GRANTLING: Everybody running in the building saying you are out here going crazy. Watch out for somebody that’s up here with a bat and all that.  So just calm down so you don’t get in trouble, OK? Because it ain’t worth for all that.

HANSEN: Can it be turned around?

Mr. BOBB: Yes.

HANSEN: Will it be turned around?

Mr. BOBB: Absolutely.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Robert Bobb is beefing up security, and his investigators have snagged some of those thieves, figuring out where they were breaking in and catching them in the act with police on hand to make arrests. Bobb is shutting down dozens of the worst schools and pushing to build new ones.

(Surveillance video of thieves breaking into school and stealing; thieves being caught in act)

Mr. BOBB: Here’s the new principal...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He’s also putting some new people in charge. At Mumford High he brought in Mario Morrow.

(Bobb talking with people; Mario Morrow)

HANSEN: Now, you and I go back a little ways.

Mr. MARIO MORROW: Right. Michigan State.

HANSEN: At Michigan State.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Morrow, a longtime educator, left a public relations job with the state to come here.

(Morrow, Bobb and Hansen)

HANSEN: You ready?

Mr. MORROW: I’m ready and I’m willing. We’re working hard. Everybody in the community is excited. We’re going to turn this around.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But only two months into the job Morrow quit, telling a local reporter he felt he was beating his head against the wall. No one said it would be easy. Nothing in Detroit is. Like that $200 million school budget deficit. Robert Bobb promised to bring it down. But in spite of his best efforts, it now looks like it’s going up to $300 million. If schools don’t improve significantly, what’s going to happen in this?

(Hansen, Morrow and Bobb; Samuel C. Mumford High School; windows; Bob and Hansen in school hallway; group of people; school hallway; missing tiles on wall)

Mr. BOBB: Serious decline. I just don’t think failure is an option for the city of Detroit.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Coming up, barren, blighted and now bulldozed. Are you going to have to just write some of those neighborhoods off?

(Aerial view of abandoned neighborhoods and factories in Detroit; bulldozer bringing down house; empty lots in Detroit)

Mayor BING: The answer is yes.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Downsizing Detroit. The cold, hard truth when DATELINE continues.

(Abandoned house; house being bulldozed; abandoned factories in Detroit)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Cordette Grantling says faith is what helps her make it through the day. She attends church twice a week, and often manages to make a small donation.

(Title graphic; Grantling at church; Bible; Grantling at church; Grantling making donation at church)

Ms. GRANTLING: God bless you. We love you.

Unidentified Man #12: All right, look at here. Thank you.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) But she says her faith has been tested by seemingly endless corruption in local government, one case after another, for years.

(Grantling driving; water; newspaper articles)

Ms. GRANTLING: (Voiceover) They’re robbing us and they disrespecting us...

(Newspaper articles)

Ms. GRANTLING: ...because we voted them in for a purpose and that’s to lead and help the people.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In 2002, a young new mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, took over.

(Kwame Kilpatrick)

Mr. KWAME KILPATRICK: And I pledge to you today that I will spend every waking hour...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And promised to root out corruption. But in 2008, he left office in disgrace, ousted in a sex scandal. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and went to jail. Now out on parole, he’s still under investigation, this time as part of a bribery probe by the FBI.

(Kilpatrick; police photo of Kilpatrick; Kilpatrick)

Mr. SAM RIDDLE: Kwame Kilpatrick got off track, Detroit’s paying for it now. Video: The regrets of a Detroit political insider

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Sam Riddle is a veteran Detroit insider. He may epitomize the unique political culture of this city.

(Hansen and Sam Riddle)

Mr. RIDDLE: The reality is that the culture of corruption thrives still as we sit here in Detroit.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Riddle may find it easy to point fingers, but ironically he’s under indictment himself. Federal prosecutors allege that he helped his former boss, city councilwoman Monica Conyers, collect bribes.

(Hansen and Riddle in abandoned neighborhood; Monica Conyers; Monica)

HANSEN: You’re accused of being Monica Conyers’ bagman.

Mr. RIDDLE: And to that I say, so what.

HANSEN: So what?

Mr. RIDDLE: So what. My position is this, and that is that I am innocent.

I’m willing to go before a jury, which I will do, and assert that innocence.

God bless America. Love you guys.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In fact, he did go before a jury earlier this year. But the jury deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial. Riddle’s former boss, Monica Conyers, is the wife of Democratic Congressman John Conyers. She pleaded guilty to bribery and has been sentenced to three years in prison.  And Riddle doesn’t deny that he benefited from an usual deal facilitated by Monica Conyers. A local businessman, who she said might need a favor, paid Riddle $20,000. He says he did very little for the money, but had to hand over half the cash to Conyers.

(Riddle; photo of John and Monica Conyers; Monica; Hansen and Riddle; Monica;

Riddle; Monica)

Mr. RIDDLE: The councilwoman demanded, if you will, a finder’s fee from me.

HANSEN: Finder’s fee sounds like kickback.

Mr. RIDDLE: Well, it can sound like kickback all day long. I’m giving you reality, a Detroit reality that may not be a very pretty picture to some. All I’m telling you is what occurred.

HANSEN: Sam Riddle—you know Sam?

Mayor BING: Yes.

HANSEN: Told me that that’s just the way things work in Detroit.

Mayor BING: I don’t accept that. If that’s the way things worked in the past, then we need it to be the past. Our future will not tolerate that.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Mayor Dave Bing is determined to transform the way people think and behave in Detroit.

(Hansen and Mayor Bing)

HANSEN: So that’s your old Pistons jersey?

Mayor BING: (Voiceover) That’s the old Pistons jersey. That’s it.

(Pistons jersey)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Bing is a basketball legend from the 1960s and ‘70s.  After retiring from the NBA, he found more success building a company that supplied steel to the auto industry.

(Video of Mayor Bing playing for Detroit Pistons; Hansen and Mayor Bing; The Bing Group building)

Mayor BING: (Taking oath of office) So help me, God.

Unidentified Judge: Congratulations.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He became mayor in a special election in May 2009. He was re-elected in November.

(Mayor Bing being sworn in; Bing campaign party)

Mayor BING: This is a great city. It can be a great city again.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) First priority, he says, tackling the deficit, which is more than $325 million.

(Commuter rail; buildings in Detroit)

Mayor BING: (Voiceover) Expenses are still way, way too high.

(Detroit)

Mayor BING: You know, it’s a tough situation.

HANSEN: Could this city actually go broke?

Mayor BING: Absolutely, yes.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) To drive home his message, Bing gave his salary, all but $1 of it, to the police department. And when he forced city employees to take a 10 percent pay cut, he reduced his dollar to 90 cents.

(Hansen and Mayor Bing; police officers; Bing)

Mayor BING: We are in this together. And we’re either going to swim or sink together.

HANSEN: How does the situation here in Detroit affect the rest of the country?

Mayor BING: I think it’s huge. What happens in Detroit, number one, affects all of southeastern Michigan and all of Michigan. And also, the country. I mean, we put the world on wheels. We put the Motown sound around the world.  Everybody remembers that. And those days are gone.

Unidentified Man #13: Mr. Dave Bing.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) To really breathe life into Detroit, Mayor Bing says it’ll take a huge amount of help from Washington, beyond the billions already handed to the auto industry.

(Mayor Bing; Detroit)

HANSEN: President Obama has not been here since you’ve taken office.

Mayor BING: No. We have talked. I am sure he will come here. I think he’s got a full plate himself right now.

HANSEN: Do you think you can take him in a game of one-on-one?

Mayor BING: Oh, sure. He may—he may say no, but yeah, I think so.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) The federal government is helping Detroit with aid to education, housing and jobs. But Mayor Bing says it’ll take a lot more to revitalize this community after so many decades of decay.

(Students going to school; Jamieson Elementary School; houses; boys playing basketball; abandoned houses)

HANSEN: I grew up here, I worked here, I’ve kept a close eye on this place.  And it seems to me that every time Detroit takes two steps forward, it takes one step back.

Mayor BING: Well, I intend to take three steps forward and maybe one step back, and that’s if—that’s going to be an improvement.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And one step he’s talking about taking is an extreme one, actually shrinking the city. There are entire neighborhoods that are like ghost towns. Are you going to have to just write some of those off and say, look, nobody’s going to live there anymore?

(Detroit; aerial view of Detroit neighborhoods)

Mayor BING: (Voiceover) The answer is, yes. You have to.

(Aerial views of abandoned Detroit neighborhoods)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) That’s pretty drastic.

(Aerial views of abandoned Detroit neighborhoods)

Mayor BING: (Voiceover) But that’s the reality.

(Aerial views of abandoned Detroit neighborhoods)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Coming up, a rock star to the rescue?

(Kid Rock)

KID ROCK: I give a lot of love to this city, I get a lot of love back.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He’s brewing up his own plan for change.

(Hansen and Kid Rock)

HANSEN: Cheers.

KID ROCK: Cheers.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) When America Now, City of Heartbreak and Hope, continues.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) In spite of all the challenges, Cordette Grantling’s spirit is unbroken.

(Title graphic; Grantling)

Ms. GRANTLING: If you have a roof over your head and some food to put in your stomach and clothes and shoes to put on your back and your feet, you can make it. You can make it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) All of Detroit is praying for a miracle at this church.  Putting their hope in hybrid cars, technology that might just help Detroit rise again.

(Church congregation)

KID ROCK: The thing that makes it such a great city is the people in and around Detroit. And you’d just like to take that spirit and somehow just...

HANSEN: Harness it.

KID ROCK: Yeah, just give it a, you know, a makeover and see it thrive.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Kid Rock grew up outside the city but was drawn here as teenager, inspired by the music and culture. You can see it in his video “Roll On.”

(Clip of Kid Rock music video “Roll On”)

KID ROCK: (Voiceover) I was just really trying to capture the people and the spirit and the togetherness and the—just try to show it in kind of a real, very real light.

(Clip of Kid Rock music video “Roll On”)

KID ROCK: Not trying to show it as everything’s great. Not trying to show it as everything’s bad. But just trying to say this is our city. We should be proud of it.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He says he feels an obligation to give back to the city that’s given so much to him.

(Hansen and Kid Rock)

KID ROCK: I give a lot of love to this city, I get a lot of love back. I mean, if I was living in LA, I’d just be another fruitcake out there, you know.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) This past summer at the stadium where the Tigers play baseball, he gave a series of concerts offering affordable tickets and drawing tens of thousands of fans into the heart of Detroit. He also has a new business venture.

(Kid Rock concert; Hansen and Kid Rock at bar)

HANSEN: So this is the Badass Beer?

KID ROCK: Cheers.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He insisted on brewing the beer in Michigan, he says, to create local jobs.

(Hansen and Kid Rock drinking beer)

KID ROCK: It might actually work, too. People might actually drink it.

HANSEN: Can this city turn itself around?

KID ROCK: I don’t know. I hope so. I’ll be here. I’ll be here trying.

(Voiceover) I think there’s a lot of good people here trying.

(Clip from Kid Rock music video “Roll On”)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Like Tom Douglas, even though he’s lost his job at Ford and his family may lose their home in the suburbs. Do you think you’ll make it?

(Douglas driving; Douglas with family)

Mr. DOUGLAS: I have faith.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) He’s regrouping, back in college studying engineering, with kids half his age.

(Douglas in classroom; Douglas talking with student)

HANSEN: So how did you do?

Unidentified Woman #7: I have no idea.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And in a desolate area near downtown, there’s a restaurateur who’s opened a French bistro, an improbable success. The movie industry is an unexpected one. Thanks to a generous state tax break, Hollywood has been shooting scores of films in the Detroit area. Like “The Vanishing on Seventh Street,” starring Hayden Christensen of “Star Wars” fame.

(French bistro; film being shot in Detroit; Hayden Christensen)

Mr. HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN: It’s a privilege, you know. And they’ve opened up all the doors for us, and the city’s been great.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) A bright spot. A sign that maybe, just maybe, this community will see better days. Mayor Bing thinks it will and he’s pushing a bold plan. All that vacant and abandoned property adds up to at least 40 square miles. That’s about the size of the city of Buffalo. Bing wants to tear down abandoned houses, clear out entire neighborhoods that the city can no longer support and literally downsize.

(Detroit; building; vacant and abandoned property in Detroit)

Mayor BING: (Voiceover) The same services that you have to provide for a thriving inner city neighborhood, you can’t continue to do that for a neighborhood that has one or two homes there. You can’t afford to do it. So people are going to have to be upset with me, but I’ve got to do what I need to do.

(Vacant and abandoned property in Detroit)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) And how do you move folks out of their house?

(Vacant and abandoned property in Detroit)

HANSEN: Do you say, ‘Hey, you got to go. We’re going to find you another nice house over here’?

Mayor BING: That’s what you got to do. I mean, that’s going to be the toughest sell of my life. You have...

HANSEN: That’s pretty drastic.

Mayor BING: But that’s the reality.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Bing says don’t count Detroit out, at least not yet.

(Detroit)

Mayor BING: (Voiceover) I’m not dreaming...

(Detroit)

Mayor BING: ...not smoking anything. I really think and believe that this city will come back.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Cordette Grantling hopes so, for the sake of her children...

(Grantling with children)

DEONTE: (Reading) Children, I am glad...

HANSEN: (Voiceover) ...like Deonte, her fifth grader, whose tutors now say is reading at grade level.

(Deonte)

Woman #6: Yeah, all right.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Cordette dreams of the day he gets his high school diploma.

(Deonte)

Mr. GRANTLING: Woo! I’ll be the proudest mother there is.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Recently she’s been in court seeking guardianship of the younger ones. For Torrieon, it’s now official.

(Grantling in court)

Ms. GRANTLING: I am full guardian over him. I am his mother now.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) You’ve taken in six.

(Grantling)

Ms. GRANTLING: (Voiceover) Mm-hmm.

(Grantling)

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Are you done?

(Grantling)

Ms. GRANTLING: No. I don’t feel that I’m done. I feel some more is coming.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) Her son Andre now realizes she’s been his guardian angel.

(Andre)

HANSEN: What do you say to her?

ANDRE: If it wasn’t because of you, I would not be here.

HANSEN: And you mean that?

Ms. GRANTLING: You going to be all right. I told you, you got to—just got to step up and be that man you supposed to be.

HANSEN: (Voiceover) For now, she’s living day to day, getting her kids fed and out the door each morning, and through it all, setting an example, not only for her kids but for Detroit and for all of us.

(Grantling feeding her kids; Grantling getting kids off to school; Grantling combing girl’s hair)

Ms. GRANTLING: (Voiceover) They say we the worst city there is. We’re not the worst city. It’s what people are working with. We have hope in this city. We just need the help.

(Children sledding)

HANSEN: Cordette needs it now more than ever. She recently lost her job, she says, because of a health problem. Some encouraging news, phase one of Mayor Dave Bing’s ambitious demolition plan has begun. On a personal note, I still consider myself a Detroiter and always will. So it’s been especially hard to witness what’s happened to the city. Having spent time with people trying to save Detroit, I see some reason for optimism. But realistically, as Mayor Bing told me, it could take 10 or even 20 years.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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