|“Black Power” – symbolized in the Joe Louis statue in Detroit – knocked out The Motor City|
The cats out of the bag. The New York Times, Mother Jones and The Nation are all beginning to understand the implications of what happens to cities in America that represent Actual Black-Run America (ABRA), with each news organization publishing editorials and lengthy articles lamenting (and condemning) the emergency management takeover of cities like Benton Harbor (89 percent Black); Inkster (73 percent Black); and Pontiac (52 percent Black); Michael Moore’s hometown of Flint, (53 percent Black); and, inevitably, Detroit (which The Nation claims it is 89 percent Black).
No one, least of all the state, wants that to happen. In Michigan, emergency managers can break union contracts, fire city officials and sell off city assets. That has already begun in four other cities, all of them largely black, that the state has taken over in the last few years. Black officials and union leaders have charged that Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican elected in 2010, has an ideological and racial agenda, and taking over Detroit, which is 83 percent black, would only magnify the tension.Chrysler’s gleaming Jefferson North plant on the east side of town does churn out Jeep Cherokees and Dodge Durangos, and President Obama noted in a speech last week that it has been adding new shifts. But it is not enough. Just blocks from the plant is some of America’s worst urban devastation, acre upon acre of vacant land, abandoned houses, burned-out stores. A city that held nearly two million people in the 1950s is now down to 714,000, more than a third of whom live in poverty.There are glimmers of hope on the city’s southwest side, where newcomers from Mexico and other countries have revived several avenues with restaurants, groceries and other stores. “More diversity, more immigrants — that’s the key for the future,” said Jordi Carbonell, born in Barcelona, who runs Café con Leche, a coffeehouse crowded with young patrons and laptops.But rebuilding the city with coffee cups will take too long, and Detroit is running out of time. Crime is going up, buses are breaking and left unrepaired, and the exodus continues. Even if City Hall can stave off a takeover with union givebacks, layoffs and pension cuts, it will only be for a short time.The solution may be in the suburbs that have siphoned off Detroit’s money and jobs and talent for decades. A true emergency manager, as many people here have suggested, would have the power to begin merging the tax base of the city with that of suburban counties in hopes of saving the region. Bailouts can come in many different forms.
The suburbs are fine. The citizens there have been working to “bailout” the failures of Black people in Detroit via high taxation (Welfare, Section 8, and EBT cards) for far too long. The money wasted in Detroit should be going to strengthen their communities, not to the Black hole that is former “Arsenal of Democracy.”
Fitting that the concept of democracy blows up in that city.
The implications went beyond Benton Harbor. “Since the beginning of your administration, communities facing or under emergency management have doubled,” Michigan Forward and the NAACP wrote to the governor, citing a “failure of transparency and accountability” in the process of determining which jurisdictions need an emergency manager. The financial review team assigned to Detroit, for instance, had recently met in Lansing, nearly 100 miles away—“a clear example of exclusion and voter disenfranchisement,” according to the authors. On February 6 an Ingham County circuit judge ruled that the Detroit team’s meetings must be held in public.Of Detroit’s 713,777 residents, 89 percent are African-American. The city of Inkster (population 25,369), which recently got an EM, has a black population of 73 percent. Having EMs in both cities would mean that more than half the state’s black population would fall into the hands of unelected officials.* * *Everyone agrees that something must be done to “fix” Michigan’s struggling urban centers and school districts, although news of a $457 million surplus in early February prompted the state budget director to declare, “Things have turned.” But at what cost? In 2011 Governor Snyder stripped roughly $1 billion from statewide K-12 school funding and drastically reduced revenue sharing to municipalities. Combined with poor and sometimes corrupt leadership and frequently dysfunctional governments, these elements have brought Michigan cities to the brink of bankruptcy. Residents of the hardest-hit places have fled if they are able.The state’s first emergency managers—previously known as emergency financial managers—were appointed between 2000 and 2002 by Republican Governor John Engler in the cities of Hamtramck, Flint and Highland Park to prevent them from declaring bankruptcy. Although all eventually left when their job was done—the last in 2009—all three cities are back in the red. In January the Highland Park School District was assigned an EM. (That city—population 11,776—is 93.5 percent African-American.) Others followed, in Ecorse, Benton Harbor and Pontiac, as well as Detroit public schools.
“We haven’t seen anything this severe anywhere else in the country,” says Charles Monaco, a spokesman for the Progressive States Network, a New York-based advocacy group. “There’s been nothing in other states where a budget measure overturns the democratic vote.” Williams says emergency managers are able to enact draconian policies that would cost most city officials their jobs: “They couldn’t get elected if they tried.”Benton Harbor, Ecorse, and Flint are also currently under emergency management. In Flint, the emergency manager has promised to restructure collective bargaining agreements with the city’s police and firefighters unions. Benton Harbor’s emergency manager banned elected officials from appearing at city meetings without his consent. Detroit, which is facing a more than $150 million budget shortfall, could be next: Mayor Dave Bing has proposed laying off 1,000 city workers and wrung concessions from public-sector unions in hopes of preventing Gov. Snyder from appointing an emergency manager.
The movie is also a vile insult to Detroit. The character of the city’s black mayor, played by Willard Pugh, borders on racist: He’s so inarticulate, panicky and given to running away that you half expect him to say, “Feets, do yo’ stuff.”
The words of Frank Owen from the article “Detroit, Death City,” found in the August 2004 issue of Playboy (they really do have great articles) is apt to close this piece:
If Detroit were a character in a novel, it wouldn’t be believable. What madness could possess a civilization to construct such a grand and magnificent place and then, within half a century, to obliterate so thoroughly what it had created? What talking about the state of Detroit, one is tempted to compare it to a natural disaster – some earthquake that laid waste to the landscape. Except there’s nothing natural about what has happened to Detroit in the past 30-plus years. Humans built this city, and humans – an unholy and unconscious alliance of fat-cat businessmen and street-corner criminals – destroyed it. (p. 61-62)
Same goes for Milwaukee and Baltimore. Same goes for Philadelphia.
Detroit is believable when you understand that the lessons of the city’s demise are being played out all across America.
Once you go Black, you never go back. Well, unless you live in Michigan, where the concept of democracy ends when financial martial law is declared.
History is about to begin again.