By BAR executive editor Glen Ford
September 25, 2013
“The exercise of arbitrary power allows the ‘Stephens’ of the Black Misleadership Class to feel more a part of the oligarchy they serve.”
“Judge Rhodes will decide whether the imposition of an unelected dictatorship in Detroit represents a ‘Constitutional crisis’ or not.”
Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) dictatorship runs the city the way Samuel L. Jackson’s “Stephen” character ran the white man’s plantation in Django. Without warning, and just to let the niggras know who’s boss, Chief Compliance Officer Gary Brown shut off the electricity to much of the public infrastructure in the downtown area on Friday, September 11th – of all days! – stranding numerous frightened people in elevators in 90-degree-plus heat, resulting in a least one injury. Asked why he had given no warning to the thousands affected before pulling the switch, Brown smiled like a bad cop who had just beat the hell out of a street kid (he’s a former deputy chief of police).
“We did start calling our customers prior to taking them down and asking them to turn off air conditioners, but they weren’t responding as fast as we would like them to so we had to send them a strong message by turning the power off.” Who’s The Man? Me and my boss are The Man!
Brown handles the day-to-day overseer duties for EFM Kevyn Orr, the bankruptcy lawyer whose mission is to strip Detroit of its assets and privatize its services for the benefit of Wall Street banks. The power shut-off was a voluntary initiative by Brown in response to problems with the power grid on an unseasonably warm day. Brown’s gratuitous display of disregard for the people and the public servants of the Black metropolis served two purposes: 1) It dramatized deficiencies in the city’s infrastructure at a time when a judge is deciding whether Detroit should be allowed to handle its own affairs, thus enhancing the prospects for privatization of services, and 2) the exercise of arbitrary power allows the “Stephens” of the Black Misleadership Class (he’s also a former City Council president pro-tem) to feel more a part of the oligarchy they are pleased to serve.
“The appointed Bantustan administrators behave as they do because their antics are sanctioned by White Power.”
Under the New American Apartheid, Detroit has been reduced to a South Africa-style Bantustan, administered by hired Black goons in the interests of multinational capital. Just as American slavery cannot be fully comprehended without an understanding of the roles played by the “Stephens,” so the evisceration of “home rule” in Black urban America requires the active collaboration of the Orrs and Browns. In the struggle for self-determination, they are the enemies within who eagerly throw themselves into the buffer zone between the people and their tormentors – for a fee, and the privilege of lording it over the Bantustan. (Brown resigned from his $75,000 a year City Council position to sign on as Orr’s lieutenant for $225,000 – and, of course, an inside track in the corporate looting that will accompany Detroit’s fiscal dissolution.)
The appointed Bantustan administrators behave as they do because their antics are sanctioned by White Power – not just by the predators of Wall Street, who are keenly aware that racism allows them to use Detroit as the model for the next stage of “austerity” mega-thefts, but by white society in general. How else to explain why Boston’s “wildly popular” five-term mayor, Tom Menino, could casually declare that, if he were running Detroit, he’d “blow up the place and start all over.” You could be seized by Homeland Security for mouthing the words “blow up” in connection with any mostly white city in America, but 85 percent Black Detroit is fair game. The worst elements among the strivers of Black America know exactly how to please Bwana. (That’s also why President Obama cannot help but insult Black people, even at the March on Washington anniversary; it’s for white people’s consumption.)
Let My People Go, Please Massa
It was like a scene from a bygone world. Nearly 50 citizens lined up to appeal to Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to safeguard their democratic and paid-for pension rights. Rhodes will decide whether the imposition of an unelected dictatorship in Detroit represents a “Constitutional crisis” that should be addressed before the process of cutting pensions and selling off assets should begin. Certainly, the cancellation of white people’s voting rights, to be followed by confiscation of their personal and collective property, would merit Constitutional scrutiny on a priority basis. But, for African Americans, it is an open question.
“This [Emergency Financial Manager] law has been applied in cities and school districts where the majority population is African American, and I find this to be racist in both its aims, and its application,” Bill Hickey, a 50-year resident of the city, told the judge. Indeed, more than half of Michigan’s Black population has been disenfranchised, a shocking state of affairs that is generally treated as a non-event – or, maybe, in the popular consciousness, it is the world as it should be.
Judge Rhodes responded sympathetically to the pleas of pensioners who feared destitution in their old age. However, people’s advocates worry that Rhodes will reason that the best way to allay pensioners’ anxieties is to forge ahead with bankruptcy – in effect, using one set of victims’ fears as an excuse to crush the rights of all Detroiters. Rhodes sees himself as a practitioner of “compassionate” bankruptcy – much like “humanitarian” military intervention.
“The cancellation of white people’s voting rights would merit Constitutional scrutiny on a priority basis.”
On October 2, he’ll hold a hearing on the NAACP’s bid to proceed with its challenge to the Constitutionality of Wall Street’s rule-by-proxy through Kevyn Orr. The thrust of Rhodes’ decisions to date has been to smack down, as disruptive, any legal obstacle in the sprint to bankruptcy – full steam ahead.
Bankruptcy Judge Rhodes’ agenda has so far been in sync with bankruptcy lawyer Orr’s strategy: to keep the battle for Detroit in the realm of corporate law rather than the arena of civil, human and Constitutional rights.
Last November, a large majority of Detroiters and 53 percent of Michigan voters rejected the Emergency Manager legislation, but Republican governor Rick Snyder rammed it through the legislature, anyway. A new survey shows 75 percent of Detroit residents don’t want any cuts in public employee’s pensions, and 78 percent oppose selling any of the precious works at the Detroit Institute of Art. The people of Detroit did not choose bankruptcy – which is an option, not a mandate – and cannot legally be imposed against the city’s will unless the voters have been disenfranchised to more effectively enshrine the rule of capital.
A brother who they used to call Detroit “Red” coined a formula for this predicament: The ballot or the bullet. The applicability of his words in the current situation shows that we have regressed further than we have overcome.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.