devils_night_01Devil’s Night, the name of the night before Halloween, refers to the vandalism and arson of abandoned property during the time before and after Halloween. Usually conducted by teens, Devil’s Night started many years ago as ‘Mischief Night’ with mild-mannered pranks such as toilet papering or games like ding-dong-ditch. These pranks however evolved into serious acts of vandalism and arson in the 1970s and have continued occurring on the days surrounding the Halloween holiday ever since.

Devil’s Night is believed to have been started in Detroit and then quickly spread to other cities along the Rust Belt of the US. With rising unemployment rates, foreclosures, and economic downturns many buildings in the metro areas were abandoned and left unattended. These former homes became targets for vandals and in the 1970s-1980s arson cases in the 3 days and nights surrounding Halloween rose exponentially. The arson rates in Detroit for example numbered between 500 and 800 fires in a typical year. These numbers began to decrease in the 1990s however due to multiple factors which included government initiatives such as curfews and the overall increase in community and police action. Neighbors also organized community watch programs and posted signs on abandoned buildings with messages which read “THIS BUILDING IS BEING WATCHED” with hopes of deterring vandals.

While the destructive nature of Devil’s Night has decreased in recent years, there is always a fear of resurgence. With the economic recession, climbing unemployment rates and thousands of foreclosed and abandoned buildings in cities like Detroit Devils Night may make a strong comeback. Community members and officials are doing their part to prevent this but only so much can be done. In 2010 over 50,000 residents volunteered to help patrol their communities and protect their neighborhoods from arsonists in Detroit and known arsonists were tracked down by the police. With community support and police intervention cities like Detroit will hopefully be able to look forward to Halloween instead of fearing it.

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