Viewpoint: Detroit Struggles Intensify Over Corporate Racism, Police Terror and Housing Rights

Detroit Demonstration Against the Killing of Damon Grimes
Detroit Demonstration Against the Killing of Damon Grimes

African American majority city protests the publically subsidized white elephant
Death by law-enforcement of Damon Grimes
Moratorium on property tax foreclosures
Correct methodology needed for genuine growth and development

Over the last five years the city of Detroit has been under relentless attack by corporate interests seeking to both drive out the majority African American population and to force them to pay for their own national oppression and economic exploitation.

On September 12, the new Little Caesar’s arena located on Woodward Avenue opened with much fanfare. The project was forced upon the city during the illegal imposition of emergency management and bankruptcy during 2013-2014.

The so-called District Detroit project is technically owned by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), a purported quasi-public entity which has no accountability to the people that live inside the city limits. The total cost of the construction of this arena for the Red Wings and Pistons organizations is being subsidized up to the tune of $750 million of tax payer funds.

Nonetheless, the decision to create this prestige project never went before the people in a public referendum. Instead the deal was crafted behind closed doors involving Illitch Holdings, the owners of the Red Wings, the Tigers and Little Caesar’s, along with a host of other businesses and properties around the downtown area and beyond.

Adding more insult to an already injurious situation, the executives at Olympic Entertainment, a subsidiary of Illitch Holdings, invited the confederate flag-waving Kid Rock to open up the establishment on September 12. In addition to performing six concerts at the arena, Rock has also been given a restaurant in the District Detroit complex right on Woodward Avenue.

In recent weeks Rock responded to charges that he is a racist by insulting his critics. People in Detroit are deeply offended that such a figure would be allowed to serve as the inaugural act at the venue downtown.

Rock has been quoted making disparaging remarks in opposition to ousted NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. When the announcement was made that people in the city intended to march on the arena during the opening night, biker clubs and militia groups pledged to show up in defense of Rock and the arena.

Anti-Racist Demonstrations on Opening Night

The National Action Network Michigan chapter called for a rally and march against the Kid Rock concert. 400-500 people gathered at Grand Circus Park beginning at 5:30pm.

By 6:00, people were marching in the streets toward the District Detroit buildings. When the march reached the arena, some of the activists at the front of the demonstration knelt down in the same manner as Colin Kaepernick when he worked for the San Francisco 49ers.

The crowd circled around in front of the complex and headed back to Grand Circus Park, ending with closing remarks and a prayer. After many of the NAN leaders and members had left, a more youthful and secular crowd of 200 people took to the streets on West Adams saying they wanted to march back to the arena location to confront the business owners and patrons directly.

As the crowd began to march on the sidewalk north on Woodward, some young white men wearing “Make America Great Again” caps were confronted by the protesters. People began chanting “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!”

By the time the demonstration reached the area known as “hockey town” the momentum was accelerating as others began to join the march. When the activists reached the Fisher Freeway Service Drive overpass police officers from the Tactical Squad halted them saying they wanted to avoid a confrontation with the patrons at the arena.

The demonstrators were held at this corner for over ten minutes by police. Nonetheless, the march continued taking this anti-racist manifestation right to the front of the arena passing by the Kid Rock restaurant and other businesses. People began to chant against Kid Rock and the Illitch family.

This march went right up to the entrance which was guarded by private security agents and police officers. All of the patrons had to pass through a metal detector to get inside the arena.

The rally at the entrance lasted for at least another two hours. Most of the patrons who were overwhelmingly white suburbanites tried to look indifferent while a minority of them projected open hostility to the demonstrators.

Several hundred white bikers drove their vehicles north on Woodward Avenue while the NAN-led march was taking place. The bikers set up camp at the rear of the arena in support of Kid Rock and the District Detroit project.

Michigan State Police Kill 15-year-old Damon Grimes

Leading up to the demonstrations on September 12, a series of events occurred which have clearly illustrated the worsening conditions for African Americans and other oppressed peoples in the city. On August 26, African American youth Damon Grimes, 15, was driving an ATV on the city’s east side when he was approached by state trooper Mark Bessner. The officer fired a taser gun out of his moving car striking Grimes causing him to crash into the back of a pick-up truck. Grimes later died at the scene.

The response of the ruling elites to this police killing has been quite instructive. Immediately the officer was placed on paid leave. Later the City of Detroit police department announced that it was conducting its own investigation of the incident. Michigan State police through its spokesperson said that the firing of the taser from a moving law-enforcement vehicle violates its own policies. However, this white police officer, sued twice for misconduct, has not been arrested or indicted for the crimes committed.

A vigil for Grimes was held along Gratiot Avenue on August 29. Dozens of youth driving their ATVs came to the location in defiance of the police. When the police moved in some of the youth jumped on top of the cop cars. Eventually the tense situation was diffused resulting in no arrests.

In response to the killing of Grimes, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Workers World Party Detroit branch, the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA), and other groups, held a demonstration on September 2 at the corner of Woodward and Congress in the heart of downtown during the annual Detroit Jazz Festival.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition demonstration called for the arrest and prosecution of the officer who killed Grimes. This protest also demanded that tasers, promoted as a non-lethal weapon, should be banned once again in the city of Detroit. Other demands included the rejection by the City of Detroit of military hardware from the Pentagon and the condemnation of the pardon granted by President Donald Trump to Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio convicted of violating federal laws.

This reckless killing of Grimes follows a pattern of police use of lethal force against African Americans. The Trump administration through its Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suspended the implementation of federal consent decrees designed to institute reforms within law-enforcement agencies investigated for brutality and various forms of misconduct.

These policy decisions by the Trump White House is sending a clear signal to the police and other racist entities that they have full reign to abuse African Americans and other oppressed groups nationally. There will be no doubt that the systematic killing by law-enforcement will continue at an accelerated pace.

Housing Is a Human Right: Moratorium on All Property Tax Foreclosures

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has continued its struggle against the ethnic cleansing of the city of Detroit facilitated by the corporate imposed white mayor, Mike Duggan, who is implementing the agenda of Wall Street. Just over the last five years, tens of thousands of homes throughout Detroit have been put into property tax foreclosure subjecting households to public auctions and evictions.

This crisis in housing exists as a direct result of the predatory lending policies of the banks during the 1990s and early 2000s. Detroit had been the largest per capita home ownership city in the United States. Many African Americans owned their own homes prior to the last decade.

The city was hit hard by the great recession of 2007-2010 with tens of thousands of mortgage foreclosures. Rather than institute a moratorium on foreclosures, the state and municipal governments allowed the banks to seize homes contributing to the further decline of the city.

Extending its struggle against foreclosures, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition on September 5 staged an action against the Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree at his offices located downtown at 400 Monroe in Greek Town. Moratorium NOW! Coalition has waged a campaign to demand that the city exercise its right to first refusal in order to save all occupied homes from the auction block.

A commitment from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) to accept and forward such a proposal utilizing the Federal Hardest Hit Funds to pay illegally assessed property taxes to the Department of Treasury, was won in a recent meeting with MSHDA. However, it will remain to be seen if this purely rational policy is implemented.

Many in the city feel that the overall objective of the corporate-oriented administration and ruling elite is to drive even more African Americans, Latinos and working class people in general from Detroit in order to turn over larger amounts of land and resources to the billionaires. Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert and Illitch Holdings are the recipients of billions of dollars in tax captures, funds which should rightfully go towards rebuilding the public school system, restoring municipal services and creating jobs for the people.

World Conference of Mayors to Meet in Detroit

During the final week of October, the World Conference of Mayors is scheduled to meet in the city of Detroit at the MGM Casino Hotel. The setting of the conference is designed to promote Detroit as a model for “urban revitalization.”

Such a premise is grossly misleading. The majority African American, working class and poor residents of the city are being totally left out of the so-called “rebirth of Detroit. In fact the public revenues generated through the process of taxation are being funneled to the capitalist corporations.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition is organizing for an alternative summit. This gathering can fully expose the role of the banks, multi-national corporations, the business media and political comprador elites in perpetuating the super-exploitation of the people.

Major decisions related to economic issues and the rights to governance are being made by bankers, corporate magnates and their political operatives in the city administration and the City Council. Even though Detroit emerged from the illegal bankruptcy which robbed $7 billion from the retiree pension funds and other public institutions in late 2014, the affairs of the municipality are actually governed by a state-appointed Financial Review Commission.

Mike Duggan and the City Council work exclusively on behalf of corporate interests. Duggan’s response to criticism of the Kid Rock concert at the opening of the arena was to suggest that if people did not like this entertainer to not attend his concerts.

Nevertheless, this is by no means the major issue facing the people. The question is why should people in Detroit pay for an arena and other so-called “developments” when they are not benefitting at all? Duggan has refused to release the Hardest Hit Funds to help people remain in their homes.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been turned over to the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) for the purpose of property seizure, auctions and demolitions. Such is the high degree of corruption within the DLBA that a federal grand jury has been impaneled which could hand down indictments for bid rigging and obstruction of justice.

Real development in Detroit would focus on the rehabilitation of neighborhoods, the guaranteeing of jobs, housing, water services, heating and quality education for all. Those who have contributed to the underdevelopment of the city should be held accountable through criminal prosecution and the payment of reparations.

The funds utilized for the construction and operations of District Detroit should be halted and redirected to the communities most impacted by racism, national oppression and economic exploitation. Sports stadiums, arenas, bars, expensive restaurants and shops have never fostered genuine growth and development.

These approaches to municipal affairs represent the decline of the capitalist system. People must continue to build a movement that can guarantee the economic transition from capitalism and imperialism to socialism, the only solution to the crises of human society in the 21st century.

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Wednesday September 13, 2017

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