Why Detroit Needs Justice and CPR

Against the Current, No. 88, September/ October 2000

Charles Simmons

IF ANYONE DOUBTS that the modern American City has become the center of all forms of oppression, consider the list of injustices that Detroit residents confront everyday in a city governed by African Americans.

Although Brush Park residents were granted funds for renovation some five years ago, the city has taken the money from the senior citizens and transferred it to the big developers and city attorneys to help evict the seniors.

Some of the elderly have been forced to live in a horse stable for several years with no electricity, no heat, and no water — they use fire hoses for bathing. Their historic designation is up for grabs, their homes have been torched and bulldozed, and at least one person has been killed in the process of fighting for their rights.

Will our elected officials lead a protest demonstration on behalf of those newly homeless? Or will they give more tax breaks to the ones who donated the campaign money?

A few blocks away in the Northwest Goldberg district, the property of residents is being snatched right and left by an array of developers including Henry Ford Hospital and the New Center. Some of the bosses running the New Center were formerly policymakers in the City Planning department where they learned these dirty tricks.

These Crips and Bloods in suits include those in the state transportation department who are seeking to widen the freeways in various parts of the city and take more residential property while the neighbors aren’t looking. This is reminiscent of how the city fathers stole the property in Black Bottom after World War II, which decimated a thriving community along Hastings Street — all in the name of improving transportation.

What we need first are a thousand more buses that work and have a real schedule, and workers who make a living wage without being forced to work such long hours that they risk their health. And which elected official is speaking for the endangered residents?

Across town at the riverfront, General Motors and casino interests are galloping along snatching everything and anything that doesn’t move. Worried residents there are collecting signatures to save their space from the hungry Las Vegas crowd, and we’d better help them right away or no one will be left to fight.

Dumping on Michigan

Turning to the environment, Greenpeace activist Damu Smith recently told a local audience invited by the Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice that the National Chamber of Commerce has identified the environmental justice movement as the most dangerous challenge of the century.

While Michigan used to be in the leadership for environmental policy, now it is at the bottom of the list. Smith says the Engler-Archer (Governor and Mayor respectively –ed.) team is leading the way in the battle against clean air and water, claiming that “Toxic Sludge Is Good for Us,” and that you can’t have good health and jobs at the same time. Environmentalists and health professionals say that both are essential and possible.

After three years, the residents of the Wabash/Vermont/Marquette area are still waiting for the clean up of an illegal dumpsite that takes up more than half a block. Kids now play in the piles burdened with lead paint, asbestos and various chemical deposits left by a cleaning processing plant and other industries years ago.

And the situation in Southwest Detroit is unspeakable. It is the cancer alley of the north and ought to have citizens protesting everyday about those outrageous and unhealthy conditions. Will the elected officials take the lead?

While the city council and mayor’s office was stepping all over the freedom of expression and the constitution in the face of the OAS (Organization of American States) Windsor-Detroit demonstrations, those who fought against the McCarthy tactics of the 1950s such as Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and Mary McCleod Bethune were turning in their graves.

Those giants contributed to the founding of national and international organizations which sought to protect the little folk of the world from various forms of oppression, including militarism and police brutality, which are now rampant in Detroit under the banner of the Renaissance City. Some of us know better.

Stealing Our Rights

It was a favorite saying of the late comedian Will Rodgers that “no citizen is safe as long as the legislature is in session.” A brief study of the developments taking place under the banner of globalization will reveal that the big corporations are stealing the constitutional rights and economic livelihood from the rich and poor nations alike, in a manner that neither the Crips and Bloods nor Jesse James could imagine.

Every member of the Detroit City Council, the mayor’s office and the state legislature ought to have marched with the protesters instead of falling into the trap of the Wall Street and State Department swindlers who are stepping up their funding for any anti-globalization protests.

In Washington D.C., the U.S. army is said to have provided 700 intelligence personnel to back up the police force confronting our modern civil rights and human rights activists. How many did they provide for Detroit, and at what cost to the tax payers? Is that why Detroit was willing to spend millions of dollars to oppose our human rights?

Our elected officials ought to have demanded that the OAS investigate human rights conditions in Detroit and the state as a result of the cutbacks in social services for our low-income families.

The City Council or the Mayor should have called for the United Nations to investigate the American police forces, which have become the equivalent of military occupation forces in enemy territory. No wonder, since they are trained by the same folks who brought us the School of the Assassins which keeps dictatorships alive throughout Latin America.

If anyone in the city government has the gall to have a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. hanging in their office and still remains silent, they ought to have the decency to take it down at once, and replace it with a dollar sign or a casino chip, perhaps their final act of honesty.

Everybody who believes in justice better get organized immediately, study the problems independently of the mainstream media, and fight like hell to take back the city before we are all bathing in horse stables.

ATC 88, September-October 2000