By Eddie B. Allen Jr.
The final days of October tend to make me nervous for a reason you’d never imagine. As I see the orange t-shirts and smiling faces of seniors, block club members and concerned neighborhood residents of all stripes gathering to patrol Detroit streets for Angels’ Night, I wonder if it isn’t time to let sleeping dogs lie.
A brilliant counter-strategy to the unholy “Devil’s Night” tradition of idiots, treasonous to their community, starting arsons on October 30, Angels’ Night has had undeniable success. From the days in the early 1990s when Detroit made national news for blazes that soared skyward, block after block, usually among vacant structures, Devil’s Night fires have dropped to nearly insignificant levels. The propaganda machine started by Mayor Dennis Archer, who first deputized these dedicated angels of the evening, put past offenders on notice that there’d be heck (because angels don’t swear) to pay for violating curfews or worse transgressions.
Twenty years later, the air detectable among able-bodied Angels’ Night volunteers who draw media attention is more festive than fearless. That’s not the demeanor of folks who anticipate chasing down teenagers carrying gasoline cans or reporting loiterers suspiciously congregated near abandoned house.
It strikes me as dangerous now, with Devil’s Night fires reportedly down to fewer than 100 each of the past four years, compared with 800-plus in 1984, to remind troublemakers of a dead tradition. That’s not to say your average felon is watching the news to get tips on how to conduct his affairs, but the consistent neighborhood presence and visibility of Angels’ Night patrols is a reminder, or an announcement for those too young to remember, that bad things happened around the time of this yearly gathering. This only revives memories of a horrible holiday and might eventually prove too tempting for new knuckleheads, or descendants of former Devil’s Night knuckleheads, to resist.
How about extending Angels’ Night beyond October? Giving the effort new meaning and direction would be powerful, not only to the concept, but to the community itself. As I type this blog on October. 29, the 11:00 a.m. news is flashing Mayor Mike Duggan at a podium surrounded by people in Angels’ Night orange, boasting that 2014 drew 8,000 volunteers and the city needs bigger numbers this year.
Imagine 8,000 volunteers keeping watch over Detroit on a regular, old Saturday night, once a week, or once a month.
What a heavenly thought.