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Not safe at home: Flint reels from a spasm of gun violence

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Gun violence has claimed 11 lives in Flint in the past two weeks.

As police work to solve the murders, the community is left to find its own answers.

Jimmy Hicks operates a landscaping business with his sons. On Wednesday, he was mowing a customer’s lawn on Flint’s northside, just a block from where a 71-year-old woman and a one-year-old boy were murdered earlier this week. 

“We passed by there a few minutes ago and seen the bullet holes," says Hicks. "It’s sad."

Hicks admits he doesn’t feel safe anymore traveling around to different neighborhoods in Flint.

“It’s getting worse," Hicks says. "We were talking about it the other day. It’s just not one part of Flint, it’s all over. The north side, south side, east, west side.”

The surge in murders has taken place across the city, from neighborhoods to the heart of downtown. 

Flint is certainly no stranger to violent crime. The city often ranks at the top of FBI’s violent crime statistics.  But the surge in murders this month has left many people grasping for answers.

It's also stretched Flint’s beleaguered police department to its limit.

“If you look around the detectives in this room, you don’t see a lot of bright eyed, bushy tailed folks. That’s because most of us haven’t slept in a long time," says Capt. Collin Birnie. "We work the cases as vigorously as we can. We’re all beat. But we’re still moving forward."

This week, the city council approved a plan to hire more five more police officers. But even with a few more officers, Flint’s police force will remain understaffed.  

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Flint police detectives are still searching for leads in the murders of one-year-old Genesis Tyler and 71-year-old Rita Langworthy.

The Michigan State Police is stepping up its presence in the city, with more troopers on patrol on the streets and additional flights by a state police helicopter. 

Police have made arrests in half the recent murders and have suspects in most of the rest. But detectives are still searching for leads in the murders of one-year-old Genesis Tyler and 71-year-old Rita Langworthy. 

“I’m just a little saddened that the community isn’t stepping up as much as they should be at this point," says Julie Lopez, Genesee County director of Crime Stoppers of Michigan. "If the double homicide of a one-year-old and a 71-year-old isn’t making you speak up, what is? This is extremely sad that the community isn't saying what they know.”

Police say there does not appear to be any connection between any of the murders this month. 

But that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for a common thread. 

Larry Doby’s well-kept home is surrounded by boarded-up, burned-out and abandoned homes. He lives just a few blocks from the double homicide.

He blames the city’s problems – from unemployment to bad water – for creating an atmosphere of anger, leading to this month’s spasm of gun violence. 

“I truly believe that’s the cause of people and their madness," says Doby. "They are just upset … and want to shoot stuff … and do bad things.”

The city of Flint has already recorded more murders this year than in all of last year.      

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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