Murder of Lansing's 75-year-old neighborhood activist Ruth Hallman requires reflection
July 29, 2007
I've been trying to process the murder of an elderly 75-year-old neighborhood activist and leader in Michigan's Capitol City. Ruth Hallman was beaten after her home was broken into during broad daylight and died later at the hospital.
She was leader of a neighborhood association that dealt with what was happening in a residential area just west of the State Capitol complex.a
Even though I never knew her, I understand that over a period of several years she took on the drug dealers who tried to settle in the area. She was also the go-to person for anybody in the neighborhood who needed help.
Our city is living the edges right now economically and its tattered self-image is showing in all sorts of ways. People are moving out to the suburbs trying to escape what they perceive as a less than livable quality of life.
I'm not ready to hitch up the wagon and head for less contentious living. But I do feel that certain issues have bubbled to the service and need to be discussed in the community. For starters:
- Race--the relationship between whites and blacks: from my experience living in the city for more than 30 years, race has never been a problem where I've felt threatened. But, there are a significant number of whites who are leaving or have left for the suburbs who don't feel that way. They perceive Lansing's schools as being filled with children from single-moms who allow their children to run wild.
Lansing's school district is viewed as a dumping ground for a growing underclass and those with low income who can't afford to escape.
There's a growing wall between the races and it's an obstacle that deserves more discussion. People's fears need to be discussed and dealt with. Of course this takes time.
- City leader's perceived apathy about the neighborhoods and the people who live inside them. There's a steady drumbeat out of city hall about how the city's future will be secure once more young, higher income information technology employees move in.
There's a feeling that city hall attention is so focused on that goal that residents are forgotten. This is only a perception, but it's one that has become reality in the minds of plenty of people.
- Too much PR hoopla about the city--there's a feeling that all the leaders have gone to the chamber of commerce spin school. In today's Lansing State Journal, Police Chief Mark Alley was quoted as saying that Lansing was a safe city. It must not be too safe if an elderly woman can be beaten and murdered in her own home.
There needs to be real transparency on the part of city leaders. The city is dealing with some significant human problems, like drugs and prostitution. There's also the schools, fatherlessness and jobs.
- City residents need to assert themselves and feel empowered to get involved in city affairs. They need to be informed and they need to let city leaders know what they want.
- The city's newspaper--the Lansing State Journal--needs to move from it's cookie-cutter Gannett newspaper style of pop journalism. They have a historic responsibility to keep people informed. They have fallen down. They know it and so does everybody else. That doesn't mean they can't improve.
Ruth Hallman has left a real legacy and I want to learn more about her and her life and her involvement in her part of the community. She has set an example that needs to be emulated and copied. I hope and pray that her death was not in vain.