Activists, scholars discuss disinvestment, emergency management in Detroit

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 1:29am

A group of activists and scholars from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University discussed the connection between emergency management and policing the poor Wednesday afternoon. The event was part of a series called “Policing Black Power — From Watts to Detroit,” which examines how state institutions have exploited Black communities with an emphasis on Detroit. 

One of the panelists, Claire McClinton, was part of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the Communist Labor Party. She is from Flint, Mich., and both of her parents worked at General Motors Co. 

She said Detroit’s emergency managers — officials who were allowed to take over during financial emergencies — acted like dictators.

McClinton said business interests have turned to privatizing public assets for profit, using tactics like installing emergency managers.

“As production is converted into technology, the capitalists and their friends had to turn to other forms of subsistence, and one of those things that they do to try to rectify this technology revolution that pushes them into an impossible situation because the exploitation of the workers is how the money is made, so now that you have robots taking over production, how do you extract surplus value?” McClinton said. 

Joshua Akers, an urban studies professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, developed a web mapping tool that helps to prevent property speculation. He said Black communities are targeted by landlords and tricked into deals that result in eviction. 

Akers said there are high levels of displacement in single-family rental homes in neighborhoods outside of downtown Detroit. 

“These are particularly pernicious, speculative and predatory landlords targeting low-income residents and often taking all of their savings, or the money they borrowed in scrapes, and placing them in contracts that are guaranteed to end in an eviction and in houses that are unhealthy and unsafe,” Akers said.

Attorney Jerome Goldberg was one of the activists that put corporate banks on trial during the 2013 Detroit bankruptcy, which was caused by poor management of debt. He said these banks tricked low-income residents into taking out loans knowing that they couldn’t pay them back. 

“This was the greatest elimination of Black wealth in the history of the U.S.,” Goldberg said. “53 percent of Black wealth was eliminated from 2005 to 2010 because most Black wealth was concentrated in people’s homes. The gap between Black wealth and white wealth increased from seven times to 19 times in that five-year period.”

David Goldberg, an African American studies professor at Wayne State University, connected the Detroit bankruptcy to the Flint water crisis. Flint switched its water source to enter a contract with the Karegnondi Water Authority, privatizing the water system and allowing them to get their bond deal for the construction of the pipeline. 

Kevyn Orr, the former emergency manager of Detroit, then made the water crisis part of the case for the bankruptcy by seeking a buyer for the water system in Detroit in order to pay back bondholders. 

“What happened in Flint, how people’s lives were taken and their futures were taken, was in many ways a relationship between (emergency managers) to set up a greater vision of long-term debt to make the case for bankruptcy in Detroit,” Goldberg said.

Maureen Taylor is an activist who has served as the state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the treasurer of the National Welfare Rights Union. She said it was important to counteract harm caused by large corporations and business interests.

“At some point, we have to stop being the reactionary group and we might as well start some kind of a fight on our own,” Taylor said. “If it’s not clear today that this form of capitalism just does not work, then I guess we’ve got to have another day, another week, another year, another decade, another century trying to catch up what righteousness looks like.”

Daily News Contributor Caroline Wang can be reached at wangca@umich.edu


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