“Do the Right Thing”, Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed film about racial tensions leading to a riot in Brooklyn is a poetic description of tensions brewing again in Detroit. In his movie, the heat of the summer drenched the neighborhood in frustration as racial prejudices simmered and then snapped in a triggering event that led to a rioting climax.
Detroit is a city, region, and state that seems destined to repeat its failures of the past. Embroiled in its latest crisis, the answer seems once again that a white majority will impose its will on a black, oppressed minority. How fairly that the white majority’s will is imposed will be critical to the measure of civil reaction, but nonetheless, unless found to be unconstitutional, it’s voting majority will be imposed. Rather than work to build revenues through a viable plan, the state has hired an emergency manager whose responsibility will be to impose austerity on the city.
Detroit’s fiscal problem of too few citizens covering pension and infrastructure costs of a bygone era that had 250% of its current population will be met by a state that has drawn a battle line with Proposal 2. The short term solution, given this paradigm, will be to impose some austerity. In Greece and in London, this solution has created riots. In London, the first riots occurred just because meetings were occurring to discuss what austerity measures would be imposed later. Could the sweltering summer of 2013 be the breaking point for Detroit?
Voicing this issue will no doubt raise the ire of Detroiters that may be concerned that merely mentioning the word riot could inspire would be rioters to carry on Detroit’s tradition. However, if the slightest possibility exists that racial tensions are now such that civil unrest could be a result of future measures to be imposed, then reasoning in relative safety of pre-action discourse is a safety valve on the issue. Raising the question should be viewed dispassionately as part of the solution to the potential problem that is brewing.
The white majority, now living in the suburbs, left Detroit. The city now must pay for pensions and infrastructure that were incurred to support suburbians, their parents and their grandparents, before they left for the suburbs. Now after having used Detroit’s infrastructure, and after having left the legacy costs to a much smaller, entrapped, vastly black population of Detroit Proper to pay for them, the white majority is going to impose austerity on this entrapped population to pay for those past services and infrastructure.
This scenario, however correct or flawed in its interpretation, is what will be the match that lights the tender box of continuing institutional racism in Michigan. History has shown that a small youth gang disturbance, or a police scene at a party is all that is needed to leave scores dead and hundreds injured when such rife brews undetectable at the surface.
In Spike Lee’s movie, a wise elderly town drunk with a good and decent heart that the neighborhood calls “the mayor” tries to stop the riot that begins to build through reasoning with the people on the street. But by the time a riot erupts, reasoning is an obsolete tool of political leadership. Kevin Orr must do what he must do now that the state has imposed its will. The time for reason, community involvement, understanding, and hope for a future after austerity is now. The time for a viable plan for Detroit’s citizens to rise from this bottom is now. The time to add such a plan that brings real hope is now!