Thursday, March 28, 2013

Detroit Demonstration Against Dictatorial Corporate Rule Shuts Down City Hall

EM protesters leave Detroit City Hall, say unrest will continue

12:36 pm

Security did not allow the group of more than 100 people access to the 11th floor, where Orr has an office near Mayor Dave Bing. That essentially shut down City Hall operations for nearly two hours as protesters sat on the floor, sang civil rights and religious hymns and chanted.

The protest came after the group announced the filing of a federal lawsuit Thursday morning challenging the constitutionality of Michigan's emergency manager law, which went into effect the same day.

Pastor Joyce Haddon of High Praise Cathedral says she wanted Orr to know both sides and that he needs to "talk to us."

"I'm frightened," she said. "Who is in charge? Come down and talk to the people. Are you scared? What are you afraid of?

"Talk to us. Talk to me. Talk to the people. If he won't talk to the people, I don't trust him."

Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said Orr offered to speak with the Rev. Charles Williams, who led the protest as local chapter president of the National Action Network. But Williams told The News: "Mr. Orr doesn't exist to me."

Williams said too many people who have died for the right to vote to give it up willingly under an emergency manager. He called on Bing to "man up" to work with activists to protest emergency management for Detroit.

"We did not elect Mr. Orr. We elected Dave Bing," Williams said Thursday afternoon. "We don't want emergency management in Detroit. We look at it as an attack of voting rights.

"It's going down with a fight in Detroit. The mayor and the city council have to respond to the citizens. (Bing) will hear our cry, and we will win in the end."

Earlier Thursday, civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and others rallied on the steps of the federal courthouse in Detroit after filing a lawsuit challenging the emergency manager law.

About 150 people marched down Lafayette Boulevard to let their opposition known on the emergency manager law. They made chants of "No Justice, No Peace," "Who's city? Our city," and "Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like."

"There will be a threat to everyone in this nation" if the emergency manager law stands, Sharpton said. "This is a local issue, but a national struggle. If you can get away with it (in) Detroit, you can do it all over the nation.

"We are going to fight until this is overturned, because in effect what you're saying is when the mayor and city council is elected they can negate the election by imposing an emergency manager."

The law, Public Act 436, gives broader powers to emergency managers in six Michigan cities and three school districts.

Sharpton, who called Thursday's action a walk to the courthouse, promised protesters by the thousands will come out to oppose the law.

"You haven't seen a march yet, you will," said Sharpton, noting that he's mobilized thousands against other civil rights issues, including the Trayvon Martin murder in Sanford, Fla., and the Jena Six case in Louisiana.

Attorney Herb Sanders said the federal court filing opposing the law is based on a "litany of grounds."

The lawsuit, which is seeking an injunction to stop the law from being in effect, claims the law infringes on citizens' voting rights and violates collective bargaining rights and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It also alleges unequal enactment of the law in minority communities.

"Never in our country have we seen such deprivation of democracy," Sanders said. "We are not going to stand for it. The lawsuit is the first injection of the medication of this cancer. We're not going to allow it to spread. There are other forms of treatment also. (There will be) civil disobedience, protests and whatever it takes to win back our city."

Asked if the EM law is a race issue, Sharpton said: "It's the black cities that were given emergency managers. It's a race and a class issue."

Sharpton, the national head of the National Action Network, said Thursday he's standing with Williams in the court action that he says thwarts voting rights.

"This is an issue that has national ramifications, so I want to be here personally to stand with the chapter," Sharpton said earlier Thursday outside the AFSCME headquarter on Lafayette Boulevard in Detroit.

Gov. Rick Snyder, in Detroit himself Thursday, reacted to the lawsuit.

"That's just part of democracy and the process," Snyder said. "When you have actions like this, people are going to file lawsuits. But our track record is pretty good in winning these lawsuits."

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Catherine Phillips, an AFSCME representative.

AFSCME attorney Richard Mack said city leaders have the ability to handle its financial house without having to take away voting rights of residents.

"If we can trade democracy for a long-term debt, not even a short-term debt, (then) what else is democracy up for sale for?" Mack said. "These problems can be dealt with competent leadership (and) getting assistance. We don't have to take away the right to vote. We don't have to take away democracy."

Michigan lawmakers have seen a number of emergency manager laws as groups have taken the fight from the courtroom to the Capitol and back again. Public Act 4 was overturned in August shortly after being replaced with a weaker emergency financial manager law, Public Act 72. In December, Snyder signed Public Act 436, effective Thursday.

Under the current law, emergency managers have immediate authority to amend budgets, reject or modify existing contracts, approve new contracts and consolidate or eliminate departments. EMs also can order a millage election, fill vacancies and initiate legal action.

The jurisdictions under emergency managers include the cities of Detroit, Flint, Benton Harbor, Allen Park, Ecorse and Pontiac, as well as the Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights school districts.

Robert Sedler, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, noted that the Legislature-enacted Home Rule City Act provides for self-governance. But the state's emergency manager law authorizes an EM to override city council and the mayor, he said, which means voters in cities under emergency management don't have the same power of self-governance as voters in a city that aren't.

"That weakens the right of self-governance, which is an extension of the right to vote protected by the constitution," said Sedler, who is not involved in the legal action. "The state needs a strong justification for this discrimination between cities under emergency financial managers and cities that aren't."

Jim Lynch contributed.

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