Dustin Dwyer

Reporter/Producer

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.

In 2010, Dustin left journalism to be a stay-at-home dad. Now that his daughter Irene is turning two, he's happy to be back at Michigan Radio, where there are far fewer temper-tantrums. 

Ways To Connect

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

It’s not a new story:

A young black man dies after an encounter with police. A community takes to the streets to demand answers. Their protest turns violent, and the national media takes notice. When calm is restored, there are promises. This time will be different. This time things will change.

That was the scene 11 years ago in Benton Harbor, a scene not unlike today in Ferguson, Missouri.

flickr/uneditedmedia

Before Mike Brown, before Kajieme Powell. Before Eric Garner. Before John Crawford. Before Ezell Ford. Before Sean Bell. Before Ramarley Graham. Before Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Malice Green and Keenan Ellsberry. Before Derek Copp. Before even Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, or any of the other names you might have heard.

Before any of these people were shot, or beaten or choked by police, citizens have questioned the use of force by police officers in America. 

We know that the ability to use force when necessary is central to the role of a public police officer. But who keeps track of when and why police officers use force?

It turns out, it's incredibly difficult for average citizens to find out. Police departments don't report how often they use force. Most of what we learn comes from the extreme cases that make the news

For a more representative picture, we have to rely on the work of outside researchers. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

A little before 9 a.m. Monday, it’s time to clean up the morning work in the KinderCamp classroom at MLK Leadership Academy in Grand Rapids.

The free, week-long program is happening at four schools in low-income neighborhoods around Grand Rapids.

At MLK, nine children showed up on the first day.  The idea of KinderCamp is to ease kids into the experience of entering kindergarten.

Sitting on a blue carpet, kindergarten teacher Tina Watson leads a discussion with her KinderCampers.

"Can you say, expectations?" she asks them.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Rosslyn Bliss leads the way across a boardwalk on a five-acre piece of land on the north side of Grand Rapids to a one-story light-brown building. This building is an emergency shelter for kids who’ve been removed from their home by the state. 

"We serve ... medically fragile children, we serve children with developmental disabilities, whatever they're struggling with, whatever child comes to our door, whatever their current state is, we take care of them," says Bliss. 

This campus is run by D.A. Blodgett - St. John's in Grand Rapids.

This building is exclusively for kids who’ve been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect and have nowhere else to go.

Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

A recent research brief from the Brookings Institution takes a look at the startling rise of concentrated poverty in America over the past decade or so. 

The brief finds that the number of neighborhoods in the U.S. where at least 40% of residents are considered poor has risen by more than 70% since 2000. That is to say, poverty has become more concentrated in certain areas. That's significant because the Brookings researchers say people living in areas of concentrated poverty face a "double burden" – their own poverty, and the poverty of those around them:

The challenges of poor neighborhoods – including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities – make it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations. These factors affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

The problem of concentrated poverty has been spreading to places you might not expect: the suburbs. Brookings finds that the number of neighborhoods with at least 40% of people living in poverty has grown by 150% in the suburbs since 2000. That's about triple the rate of growth in urban areas during the same time. 

And there's one metropolitan area in Michigan where the rise of suburban poverty stands out: Grand Rapids. 

courtesy of Dan Varner

Dan Varner went to law school, dreaming he could change the world. When he got out, he got a job at a firm that handled class-action discrimination lawsuits. 

"Got what I thought was a great job at a great firm," he says. "And became one of many unhappy attorneys."

He was unhappy because he realized the work wasn’t having any impact. So he got another job. He worked as a public defender for people accused of committing federal crimes.

"And I had this sense of this parade of largely black young men coming through my office," Varner says of his experience there. He says these men were "accused of committing crimes that most of them had committed, and who were going away to prison, for whom I couldn’t do much – A – and then B – for whom the education system had failed ... So at that point, I really began this journey back upstream."

He stopped being a lawyer, and ended up in education.

KT KING (flickr.com/xtrah)

What will it take to fix Michigan's charter school laws?   

The rules governing charter schools in Michigan were first put into place a little over two decades ago. Since then, there have been revisions – the biggest of which happened a few years ago when the state lifted the cap on the number of charter schools that can open in Michigan

But after the Detroit Free Press published a blistering investigation into the state's charter schools, the law may be headed for more revisions. 

And some are starting to make the case for a complete overhaul – not just of charters, but of Michigan's entire education system. 

"Let's start over," says Dan Varner, head of Excellent Schools Detroit, and a member of the state Board of Education. "I think it’s time for a complete reset of the way we deliver public education in Michigan."

Downtown Detroit
flickr/sbeebe

Today is a big day in the bankruptcy proceedings for the city of Detroit.

Votes are due from creditors on whether to approve the city's restructuring plan. The Detroit Free Press reports the results of those votes should be made public in about 10 days. 

In the meantime, you can expect plenty of think-pieces reflecting on the anniversary of the bankruptcy filing, and what it all means. 

Aaron Foley, of Gawker Media, officially fired the starting pistol yesterday, with a piece that began: 

Get ready, folks! It's time for another progress report on America's most forlorn and depressed city, now even deeper in the throes of bankruptcy than ever before.

July 18 marks the day Detroit filed for bankruptcy, which means you'll likely be inundated with one-year anniversaries on the topic in the next week. The Freep's going to do it. The News is going to do it. Rumor has it you're going to read about it in The New York Times Sunday magazine this weekend. So we decided to get our analysis out a little early.

Foley's take is worth a read, if for no other reason than that he actually lives in Detroit, which is often not the case with other journalists writing about the city (ahem).

scan from urbanoasis.org

We know racial segregation exists in our communities. We know this segregation is rooted in history. And yet, sometimes we allow ourselves to believe that segregation is somehow a natural thing, that it happened all on its own. But segregation in the United States did not happen happen that way. The racial divisions we see in our neighborhoods today are the result of deliberate actions taken in the past. 

Those actions, rooted in racism, were carried out by both individuals and institutions. We don't have to guess at their origins. We have the documentation.

screen grab from DAASDetroit YouTube channel

Because Detroit is still in bankruptcy. Because there could be a deal to get out, but nothing is guaranteed. Because even if there is a deal, life is still hard for too many Detroiters. Because infant mortality. Because schools.

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