Honor among thieves and other myths that are killing Detroit - New York News

Honor among thieves and other myths that are killing Detroit

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Derrick Miller Derrick Miller

By M.L. Elrick
Fox 2 Investigative Reporter

DETROIT (WJBK) -- A reporter's only friend is the truth.

So it may come as no surprise that I see nothing wrong with Derrick Miller's decision to testify against his former best friend and boss, Kwame Kilpatrick.

I don't even care much whether Miller is singing to save his skin or, as he testified Monday, to make amends.

As long as he's telling the truth.

See, I believe that if you want to know what really goes on in a whorehouse, you don't ask the virgin playing piano in the parlor.

And in the Kilpatrick administration, almost no one knew more about what was going on in the rooms upstairs than Miller.

His friendship with Hizzoner dates back to the mid-1980s, when they were classmates and basketball teammates at Cass Tech. From 2002 to 2007, Miller and Christine Beatty were then-Mayor Kilpatrick's top aides. He called them Ms. Inside and Mr. Outside.

Beatty ran the city and Miller was Kilpatrick's emissary to governmental and business officials. Now, he says he was also the mayor's bagman.

Five years after leaving his high-ranking city job, Miller has become arguably the government's star witness as they try to put Kilpatrick away for up to 20 years for allegedly turning city hall into a bawdy house where he, his father Bernard and his best friend Bobby Ferguson pimped city contracts.

While the trio occasionally wear big, floppy hats, they deny pimping anything.

BETRAYAL AND THREE CRUCIAL QUESTIONS

There's no doubt in my mind Miller would be a defense witness if a federal grand jury hadn't indicted him along with his former pals. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in return for their pledge to recommend a sentence that will get him out of prison long before he's eligible for Social Security.

As someone who considered Miller a friend -- as much as a reporter and a city official can be friends -- it pains me to hear him admit to taking payoffs and getting a secret cut on city deals.

I hate thinking that greed could do this to a low-key family man who rose from being an East Side nobody to being one of the most important men in city government, pulling down a tasty $140,000 a year -- all before his 33rd birthday.

It scares me that someone who I believed was one of the good guys could fool me so badly and turn out to be so damn shady.

It makes me wonder: "Who can we really trust?"

And it reaffirms my long-held belief that, when it comes to questions of sex and money, it's best to assume that folks are lying.

Miller's turn on the witness stand raises questions that transcend even this seemingly interminable trial. And I believe Detroit's survival may depend on our answers to the following questions:

-- Should loyalty to a friend override doing what's right?

-- Is it ever acceptable to snitch to save your own skin?

-- Is there honor among thieves?

A FRIEND IN NEED

There are few qualities more noble than loyalty. If you have one friend you can count on, you're richer than someone with dozens of friends who are only around for the good times.

But someone worthy of your loyalty would never expect -- let alone ask -- you to condone something that is wrong.

Far too often, people who do bad things try, when all else fails, to invoke loyalty to get a pass.

But friends don't ask friends to compromise their principles -- or jeopardize their job -- to cover for them.

Besides, a real friend asks for your guidance and counsel BEFORE doing something they think may be sketchy. If a real friend gets in too deep, they ask for your help making things right BEFORE they get caught. A real friend may ask for your help, but they don't want to drag you down with them.

A real friend asks you to help make things right, not to help make a clean getaway.

And, as a real friend, your obligation is to forgive your friend and support them when they are ready to make amends, not alibis.

CODE OF SILENCE

The dynamic changes a bit when you're involved in the wrongdoing.

Detroit is one of many places where people look down on so-called snitches -- folks who agree to tell what they know in return for lesser consequences.

A few years ago Charles Beckham, who some believe went to prison to protect Mayor Coleman Young, told me he advised a member of the Kilpatrick administration not to cooperate with the federal probe of city hall. It's worth a couple years of your life to be able to move freely in the community as a "stand-up" guy, he argued.

Expediency is never a good basis on which to make a decision. In fact, it's the quick buck or the seemingly easy option that often gets people in trouble to begin with.

And there are few things more pathetic than coming clean only to avoid facing the punishment you deserve.

But what's the use of keeping your peace only to gain the acceptance of people who feel there's nothing wrong with doing wrong?

I also like to believe that people in a rush to get something they want, but may not have earned, are capable of introspection when forced to face their deeds.

It's like the time you concocted a story to justify your actions. You convinced yourself it would pass muster if you were ever caught. Still, you never expected to get caught.

Then you were caught.

It was only as you began to spool out your story, and your own voice filled your ears, that you realized how ridiculous your alibi was and how crazy it was to think anyone would buy it.

Miller may fall into this category.

He caused raised eyebrows last week when he didn't seize on Kilpatrick attorney Jim Thomas' suggestion that he was seeking a lighter sentence so he could get back to his wife and son sooner because they were his top priority.

Miller eventually agreed that they were a top priority, but said he had other top priorities.

It was an uncomfortable moment -- and potentially one that could make him appear unsympathetic to a jury in which 8 of the 12 jurors are women.

When prosecutors gave him a chance to elaborate on Monday, Miller said his family was a top priority, along with faith, enlightenment, happiness and atonement.

He said testifying was a way of "atoning for my mistakes, trying to put the past in the past, trying to move on with my life."

I hope, for his sake, that's true.

THE SILLY QUESTION

So what about that whole honor among thieves thing?

This is the easy one.

Unless your last name is Valjean, there's nothing honorable about being a thief.    

In other words, rat bastards of the world, feel free to spill on the other rat bastards of the world.

Because, whether you keep your mouth shut or not, you're still a rat bastard.

Follow M.L. Elrick's coverage of the Kilpatrick & Co. trial daily on FOX 2 and at www.myfoxdetroit.com. Contact him at ml.elrick@foxtv.com or via Twitter (@elrick) or Facebook. And catch him every Friday morning around 7:15 a.m. on Drew & Mike on WRIF, 101.1 FM. He is co-author of "The Kwame Sutra: Musings on Lust, Life and Leadership from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick," available at www.kwamesutra.com. A portion of sales benefit the Eagle Sports Club and Soar Tutoring. Learn more at www.eaglesports.com.

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