Detroit’s East Market – Legend


My father told me about living in Detroit. His side of the family is almost all Italian (Sicilian, more specifically). There was a saying that “You always know someone in the Mafia”, even if you weren’t aware of it. Detroit is notorious for high crime rates, or at least it was when my father was younger. He himself knew that his uncle was friends with people in the Mafia, which made many family members very uncomfortable. My father assumed that this meant he didn’t have to pay for protection (to the Mafia) for his liquor store, which many other store owners had to do. 

My dad knew a story about a newcomer to Detroit – someone who moved there without knowing what the situation was like. He sells their house and buys a new one in Detroit, with hopes of making it in the motor industry. Unfortunately, his perfect view of the city is shattered upon arrival, where robberies are rampant and terrible shootouts happen every day. The newcomer is terrified and keeps moving to new neighborhoods, asking for police help each time. The police prove more than useless and it becomes clear that they have little to no control over the city. Eventually the man, who has been robbed and mugged multiple times, is ready to give up on his dream. Just then, he stumbles into a new neighborhood. People are selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers out in the open. The newcomer is baffled – how are they able to do this and feel safe? He figures this area is more affluent and can fund their police better. But when he asks about the police, he gets laughed at. “The Mafia protects us,” respond the vendors. Apparently, this was the area in the city most tightly under the Mafia’s control. Crime was almost completely eliminated. My father referred to this place as the Eastern Market – one of the first farmer’s markets. He visited himself and testified to its truth – it was safer than most other places in Detroit at the time.


My dad heard this story from his parents, who warned him about going in certain neighborhoods because of high crime rates. My dad knew it to be true himself after visiting the area. The story reminds them that oftentimes there’s a whole lot going on that you don’t see – his uncle was a good example of this. A different relative was put in prison for obstruction of justice related to Detroit crime. He worked for the police. My father took dangerous places very seriously, especially after working at a Detoir emergency hospital where he saw gunshot patients and stabbed patients constantly.


There’s an inherent warning in this story, and a forced acceptance of the way things are. The story’s purpose is to help children (maybe more mature children) understand the city they live in, and come to terms with the fact that someone they know might be involved in crime. They must also come to terms with the fact that the police are not, in fact, safe people to talk to. They can easily be bribed and were not effective at all in eliminating crime. Finally, the story helps the children remember that the Eastern Market is one of the safer areas in Detroit.