The Siege of Detroit: A War of Black Urban Removal

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Black Agenda Report

The Siege of Detroit: A War of Black Urban Removal

The “pause” in the draconian Detroit water shut-off is just a lull in “an escalating trajectory of systematically inflicted mass punishment and pain designed to make life in the city unbearable for a huge proportion of the population.”

'Water Is A Right' (Photo:  Light Brigading)

Like the rapist who insists his victim “wanted it,” Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr claims city retirees were expressing “strong support for the city’s plan to adjust its debts” when they voted to accept a 4.5 percent cut in their meager pensions. Corporate media echoed the state appointee’s interpretation of the court-ordered ballot, in which about half the 32,000 eligible workers and retirees participated. In reality, Detroit’s pensioners were violated in broad daylight, stripped of retirement protections and forced to choose whether to die in poverty or an even more extreme destitution.

Earlier this year, as part of the Shock and Awe of state-imposed bankruptcy, Orr threatened to cut pensions by 26 percent, in defiance of Michigan state constitutional protections. He was backed by federal bankruptcy court judge Steven Rhodes, who has brushed aside every objection from lesser, non-corporate beings. Rather than risk the loss of one-quarter of an already meager $20,000 a year pension, 73 percent of retirees and workers accepted the lesser cut, plus an end to cost-of-living increases. This was not an election, but the cruelest coercion – a rape of the elderly, who were forced not only to acquiesce to their own further impoverishment, but to give up the right to challenge the process in court.

Corporate media routinely ascribe such obscene assaults to “the city,” as in “the city’s plan to adjust its debts.” But the City of Detroit has no such plans; it has no power, and its citizens have no meaningful vote – except, of course, when given an ultimatum to endorse cuts to their own pensions. Detroit’s elected officials cannot pass laws, and collect a salary at the pleasure of dictator Kevyn Orr, who is answerable only to the ruling class, as directly represented by the Fortune 500 clients of the law firm that spawned him, Jones Day. (Orr’s nominal boss, Gov. Rick Snyder, answers to the same people.) The state-imposed emergency manager is authorized to usurp the powers of the city – to act as a dictator – but he is not the city in any but the most technical, legalistic sense. For Orr to refer to himself as “the city” is a sick hubris – a hustler lawyer invoking the royal “We”. However, when the media describe Orr’s decrees as actions by “the city” – knowing full well how Orr is despised in Detroit government and the city at large – they are liars, pure and simple; co-conspirators in the corporate crime.

“The media are liars, pure and simple; co-conspirators in the corporate crime.”The people of Detroit have no rights that corporations and their servants in government are bound to respect. Indeed, the emergency manager laws have been used to disenfranchise the residents of every largely Black city and school district in the state, encompassing more than half the Black population of Michigan. (The people of Michigan rejected the legislation in a referendum, but Republican lawmakers simply passed a near-identical measure, as if nothing had happened.)

The 82 percent Black metropolis is under siege, in the Medieval sense of the term. Just as ancient armies deprived towns under siege of food and water, to starve and thirst them into submission, so Kevin Orr has caused the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to cut off tens of thousands of residents, in an escalating trajectory of systematically inflicted mass punishment and pain designed to make life in the city unbearable for a huge proportion of the population.

This is a war against a Black city, and a blueprint for future aggressions aimed at shrinking “chocolate cities” across the nation. What Katrina accomplished through the sudden advent of flood, the corporate strategists in Michigan intend to achieve by emergency dictatorship, privatization and blatantly racist official barbarism.

Orr announced a 15-day “pause” in water cut-offs – similar to a temporary “truce” in siege warfare – as much to give cover to bankruptcy judge Rhodes who, while no less bestial than the managing dictator, seems more sensitive to public perceptions. United Nations experts condemned the shut-offs as constituting "a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights." Thousands demonstrated against the cut-offs in downtown Detroit, and others carried out direct actions, blocking the vehicles of disconnect crews. Two lawsuits have been filed to halt the water-torture. One, by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, the Peoples Water Board, the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network, Moratorium Now, and a host of individuals, challenges Orr’s actions as a violation of residents’ constitutional and contractual rights. A class action suit, launched by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, says the cut-offs are racially motivated. The private companies that have been empowered to act for Detroit’s Water and Sewage Department “are basically Caucasian companies," said attorney Alice Jennings. "The folks who are being cut off are almost one hundred percent African-American."

And that is, of course, the whole point. The finance capitalists that run this country would like to disenfranchise the entire population so that money could exercise its exclusive “freedom of political speech” and action, unimpeded. In order to generate the least resistance, the model for urban corporate rule must be created in Black America, just as privatization of public education was modeled in the inner cities. White folks won’t care, and Black folks don’t matter – certainly, it doesn't matter to President Obama, who has signed off on the every element of the siege of Detroit (and has been far more effective than George Bush in privatizing the public schools, as well).

Most importantly, finance capital – Wall Street, the people who employ Kevyn Orr and his Jones Day law firm – demands the shrinkage of Black urban populations as a prerequisite for full-scale investment in the cities.Urban assets are devalued by the mere presence of large numbers of Black people, for the simple reason that most white people continue to refuse to share space with African Americans. Therefore, the “chocolate cities” must go, as a condition for urban “renaissance.” (See Black Agenda Radio, July 21, “Banksters Demand Black Removal as a Condition of Investment.”)

This is a fight against urban Black expulsion and deportation. If there is more than a whiff of the Third Reich in the connotation, it is absolutely appropriate.

Glen Ford

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

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