by Jane Briggs-Bunting
Crime is a way of life in urban communities, and Detroit is always right up there as one of the baddest of the bads when the FBI releases its annual violent crime statistics.
In the first month of this year, Detroit initially recorded 38 homicides–more than one a day and a sobering statistic.
When a Grosse Pointe Park woman was found strangled in her Mercedes SUV in a Detroit alley on January 25, she was initially listed as one of the 38.
The case became a national and local media sensation since Jane Bashara was white, and Grosse Pointe Park, a suburban enclave, not quite as tony as Grosse Pointe but close, hadn’t had a homicide in more than 20 years. Most of the sad victims of homicides in Detroit are African American.
Suspicion immediately swirled, as its usually does, around those closest to the victim, in this case the woman’s husband, Bob Bashara. The media pack staked out the family’s home, and breathless teasers were broadcast in advance of evening news shows. Interviews of the husband and his attorney made the morning national news shows. The local police have named the husband the only “person of interest.”
A former employee of Bashara’s turned himself into police alleging telling them he was involved in the murder. Details are murky on his story since the police aren’t commenting, but those anonymous sources media love report that his story keeps changing. He was eventually released without being charged, though a court appointed attorney was assigned to him. That means he is either a material witness or needs someone to make a deal for him with the county prosecutor.
To date, there have been no arrests, but the hyperventilating coverage continues.
Police are now saying she was likely murdered in her home or garage and her body moved to her car and the car abandoned in that Detroit alley. Scratch one homicide from Detroit’s tally. Detroit police, with a legion of experience in homicides, are assisting the GPP cops along with the forensics experts from the Michigan State Police.
That conclusion was quickly reached. A tow truck driver found the body. The only surprise: the car wasn’t stripped, but then no self-respecting car stripper is going to mess with a car, even if it is a Mercedes, with a body clearly visible inside.
But Jane Bashara’s murder raises some issues about media coverage of crime, particularly in cities like Detroit. Thirty-seven other people died in Detroit in January, but it’s the death of a white suburban woman that generated this overwhelming coverage. Is the media simply racist or is it, as Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley wrote: “Detroit has allowed slaughter to become so common it’s no longer newsworthy.”
His provocative column, “If life’s cheap, murder’s not news” is a poignant, and, in my view, accurate commentary.