The clock is ticking, and Detroit’s new Emergency Manager is listening.
Why? Because June 23 is the 50th anniversary of the date when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his first ‘I Have a Dream’ speech right here in Detroit. You think Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr wants to be the target of attention by the nation’s civil rights leaders and activists on that historic date as the hired black man helping a white governor steal the vote from the residents of the nation’s largest predominantly African American city? A right that was paid for in blood by Dr. King and so many thousands of others, both black and white?
Yeah. Me neither. No, I’m not suggesting this entire mess will be resolved by that time. But don’t think Orr isn’t feeling the pressure to watch his step on this new plantation of Michigan.
Listen to Dr. King when he spoke in Detroit:
“Almost one hundred and one years ago, on September the 22nd, 1862, to be exact, a great and noble American, Abraham Lincoln, signed an executive order, which was to take effect on January the first, 1863. This executive order was called the Emancipation Proclamation and it served to free the Negro from the bondage of physical slavery. But one hundred years later, the Negro in the United States of America still isn’t free.
But now more than ever before, America is forced to grapple with this problem, for the shape of the world today does not afford us the luxury of an anemic democracy. The price that this nation must pay for the continued oppression and exploitation of the Negro or any other minority group is the price of its own destruction. For the hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it is too late.”
Listen, I know some folks may resent putting the issue in such stark racial terms, but I don’t know any other way to put it. All the cities Gov. Rick Snyder has targeted with his Emergency Manager law combined represent more than 50 percent of the entire State’s African American population. Detroit is the blackest big city in America. It doesn’t require a major stretch to see what’s going on here.
On March 28, Orr began his occupation of Detroit under the new-but-not-really Emergency Manager law of Michigan (Public Act 436) passed last December during the lame duck session of the State Legislature without any public hearing or community input. As I have mentioned before, PA 436 is a mirror image of PA 4, the law that Michigan voters voted to repeal during the November elections. As I have also mentioned, this should be a matter of grave concern not just to Detroiters or Michigan residents but to anyone who thinks the concept of democracy is valuable in America. If Gov. Rick Snyder is allowed to steal democracy here then the value of everyone’s vote is at risk, not just ours.
This is essentially what the Rev. Al Sharpton said several days after PA 436 went into effect when he and a group of about 50 or so Detroiters marched over to the Federal courthouse to file a federal lawsuit against Gov. Snyder challenging PA 436 on the grounds that it is in direct violation of the U.S. constitution.
From the Detroit Free Press:
A federal lawsuit filed by opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law zeroes in on the powers Public Act 436 gives to the state, and those it takes away from residents who vote local elected officials into office.
The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday, just two days into Kevyn Orr’s tenure as the state-appointed emergency manager in charge of stabilizing Detroit, a city on the brink of bankruptcy, rests on questions that have troubled critics for years: Does the emergency manager law violate the voting rights of residents by tossing out their ability to elect local leaders? And is it being applied to cities across Michigan unfairly when it comes to race?
Wayne State University law professor Robert Sedler, who specializes in constitutional law, said Thursday that the lawsuit raises “a serious question of whether this violates equal protection” because the Constitution says laws and rights must be applied evenly to all citizens.
Sharpton cautioned reporters not to mistake what they were witnessing on that day as the promised protest march. This was not a march, he said. This was a walk to the courthouse. When the march arrives there will be thousands, and those familiar with Sharpton’s organizational skills are well aware that he is fully capable of delivering on that promise, and that was even before he had his own MSNBC show which has dramatically heightened his profile.
Sharpton didn’t give a date for when the protests would begin or when the thousands would begin to arrive. But I would bet it just might be sometime in June.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.