Without water, the fire will burn.
Ever since the civil unrest occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked by the murder of Michael Brown by a police officer who got away with it, there have been anxious questioners wondering where else this type of unrest might catch fire. After all, as more recent events of police brutality have begun to scream out from the nation’s headlines, it is increasingly evident even to the willfully blind that something is terribly wrong. And it’s not the protesters.
Not surprisingly, Detroit is one of those cities some people are referring to when they voice nail-biting concerns about which “urban” city is likely to blow up next. Even though Detroit hasn’t experienced a major uprising since the devastating event of 1967, the memory of that occasion, combined with the inescapable knowledge of the city’s persistent battles against poverty and discrimination, are enough to cause even supporters to look over their shoulder, wondering if maybe there isn’t a ticking time bomb tucked away hidden beneath the shiny veneer of the highly-touted ‘comeback’ led by the boomtown mania surrounding downtown.
As a resident who does try to pay attention to what the neighbors are saying, I’ve heard opinions ranging from somewhat disappointed radicals (and I do not in any way use the word ‘radical’ in a negative sense because many of this city’s strongest champions have been the radicals) who claim that Detroiters are simply too beaten down to rise up anymore, to those who insist that there is a simmering anger beneath the surface suggesting Detroit may indeed be ripe for another rebellion, or riot, or whatever your term of choice happens to be when folks get sick and tired to the point where they just lose it.
Personally, while I hate the image of Detroiters being so beaten down that they can’t stand up for themselves, I’m not one of those who would be disappointed if the city didn’t erupt. On the other hand (I know, I hate that term too), I also happen to believe that unless this city figures out a better way to resolve the water shutoff crisis – or what is about to become a crisis very soon – that therein lies the potential spark for rebellion. It won’t require an organized effort any more than what happened in ’67 was organized. All that needs to happen is for an angry incident to ignite as the result of someone whose water was shut off, followed by an overheated response to that incident, and there you go.
Sure, we could sit here and debate issues such as whether or not water is a human right (water is free, but water sanitation/pipe maintenance/etc. is not), and how many are refusing to pay vs. how many are truly needy, and on and on. And these are valid discussions. Seriously, they are.
And the validity of those discussions won’t matter one bit once this city gets too hot and the water is shut off.
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.