Posted on December 7, 2011

Black-Led Detroit Bridles at Control by Whites Under Emergency Manager Law

Chris Christoff, Bloomberg, December 7, 2011

The law that threatens Detroit with direct state rule may be repealed through a petition drive powered by unions and residents opposed to white control of a city that’s 82 percent black.

“It’s nothing but a takeover bill,” said Brandon Jessup, chairman of the Stand Up for Democracy coalition seeking 161,300 signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. “This is definitely a race issue. It’s affecting people of color not only in this generation but future generations.”

Detroit has the highest concentration of blacks among U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. It will exhaust its cash by April and may run up a deficit topping $200 million by June.

Last week, Governor Rick Snyder, a white Republican, ordered a review that may lead to appointment of an emergency manager, rekindling rancor in a city scarred by race riots in 1967. Detroit lost one-quarter of its population since 2000–much of it to largely white suburbs.

Four Michigan cities are controlled by emergency managers. All have populations that are mostly black. If Detroit joins them, 49.7 percent of the state’s black residents would live under city governments in which they have little say.


“I view an emergency manager as a situation I want to avoid,” the governor said yesterday in an interview at the Capitol in Lansing. “I’m really supportive of the mayor and council coming up with solutions that will structurally solve these problems.”


Councilwoman JoAnn Watson compared the city’s resistance to Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of a bus, an act that began the Montgomery boycott in 1955 and a civil-rights watershed.

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said an emergency manager would be “a master, as someone to control the plantation,” according to the Detroit Free Press.


Detroit’s white flight began in the 1950s as auto companies and suppliers closed and suburban housing opened up, he said. A 1967 riot brought 43 deaths and required the intervention of the National Guard and regular Army troops.


Detroit is familiar with takeovers. In 1999, the state assumed power over the city’s schools under then-Governor John Engler, igniting charges of racism from Detroiters who disrupted a state Senate committee. {snip}

The schools reverted to an elected local board in 2005, and were placed under an emergency manager in 2009 by Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. Both Engler and Granholm are white.