Friday, September 12, 2008

What's Behind the Removal of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick: Economic Depression & the Need for a People's Fightback Movement

What's Behind the Removal of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

Economic Depression & The Need for a People's Fightback Movement

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

On Sept. 4, 2008, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pled guilty to two felony charges and resigned from office. The criminal case against Kilpatrick flowed from testimony delivered by him and his former chief-of-staff, Christine Beatty, during a civil suit that went to trial in 2007.

The city was found guilty in the civil trial for the dismissal of two high ranking police officers who claimed they were terminated after investigating alleged wrongdoings by the Mayor, Beatty and others within his Executive Protection Unit. A $8.4 million settlement was approved by the Detroit City Council as damages to the fired cops.

Later in January of 2008, the Detroit Free Press obtained text messages from the Mayor's communication's provider. The messages, according to the corporate press, suggested that Kilpatrick and Beatty had lied under oath during the civil trial.

Soon afterwards the Free Press and other corporate media outlets, placed the testimony of the Mayor and Beatty at the top of the agenda. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy filed criminal charges against both Kilpatrick and Beatty. Consequently, the entire political establishment, the City Council, the state attorney general and the governor, became involved in the issue.

The Mayor has been sentenced to 120 days in the Wayne County Jail, five years probation and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution to the city of Detroit. Detroit City Council President Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr. will assume office on September 18 until a special election can be held early in 2009.

The Real Scandal in Detroit

What the corporate-controlled media has done in regard to the political crisis in Detroit is to make it appear that the major impediment to the improvement of conditions in the city was Mayor Kilpatrick. This could not be further from the truth.

Detroit, southeastern Michigan and the entire state, has been suffering for years as a result of the restructuring of the capitalist economy. The city's growth was fueled by the emergence of the automotive industry during the early and middle twentieth century.

Since the 1970s, as a result of the popular struggles of the African-American people and the working class in general, the owners of capital have strategically relocated outside the region into areas where a higher rate of profit could be accrued through the super exploitaiton of labor.

Detroit has played a major role in the rise of industrial unions which set trends for other working class struggles against the bosses throughout the United States. The efforts of the trade union movement developed alongside, and in conjunction with, the national struggles of the African American population who fought segregation and institutional racism for decades.

In 1967, the African American working class in Detroit rose up in rebellion, creating, up until that time, the most violent civil disturbance in the history of the country. In the aftermath of the 1967 rebellion, which coincided with similar actions in scores of other cities around the country, the African-American people, under largely working class leadership, fought to gain access to employment, housing, education and various political offices and structures.

As a result of the tremendous legacy of resistance, the forces of capital struck back by creating the conditions for the emergence of one of the worst depressed urban landscapes in the United States. Detroit's population was nearly two million at the beginning of the 1950s. There has been a study decline in population in the city over the last five decades.

The census bureau now predicts that there are approximately 800,000 people residing in the city. Vast areas of land are vacant in Detroit as a result of the razing of homes, commercial structures, former industrial facilities and apartments. Many of the former city-owned institutions such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit Receiving Hospital and the Detroit Zoo have been turned over to private interests.

Detroit's first African American Mayor, Coleman A. Young, who governed the city from 1974 to 1993, had built his political reputation through grassroots involvement as a left-wing trade union organizer with the National Negro Labor Councils during the 1940s and early 1950s. Young was brought before the Legislative Committee on Unamerican Activities during the early 1950s and accused of being a communist. He stood up to the right-wing Congressional members, challenging them for their racist remarks and refusing to answer questions related to his membership and ties with the communist left.

Young, who became a State Senator in Lansing during the 1960s, gained even greater respect among working class people in Detroit for his stance on key issues related to civil rights and labor. In 1973, Young, with the support of a broad alliance of political forces within the African American community, along with progressive and liberal whites, became the first Black mayor of Detroit. He immediately set out to rid the city of racist cops and other municipal employees, instituting an affirmative action program that was challenged by law-enforcement and other reactionary political forces.

However, despite the backing of the Young administration by working class elements within the city, compromises were necessary to maintain capitalist investments in Detroit. At the close of the Young administration, the city was suffering from massive job losses, an inadequate and declining public transportation system and the collapse of the municipal infrastructure. The second African American mayor, Dennis W. Archer, did not have the same political background as Young. Archer pursued a more moderate line, and instituted policies that reversed some of the gains under Young as it related to affirmative action and programs that sought to recorrect decades of institutional racism in the city.

When Kilpatrick took office in 2002, he continued the pursuit of the corporate agenda for Detroit. Investments were made in downtown Detroit with the construction of permanent casino hotels, tourists and enterainment attractions and the emergence of high-priced real estate developments including townhouses, lofts, condominiums and gated communities. The city hosted the All-Star Baseball game in 2005 and the Super Bowl Football game in 2006.

However, despite the large-scale investments in the downtown area, the surrounding neighborhoods continued to decline. In recent years, the foreclosure crisis struck Detroit with a devastating impact. In fact the overall economic conditions throughout the entire metropolitan area, including both city and suburbs, has been in constant decline. It has been reported that approximately a half-million jobs have been loss in the state of Michigan since the beginning of the decade.

A recent economic report released by the US Census Bureau indicated that in 2007 incomes fell for the third year in a row. The state poverty rate is officially designated as 14 percent, one percentage point higher than the national level. It is estimated that one in three people living in Detroit are impoverished, making it the poorest large city in the United States.

Two other cities, Flint and Kalamazoo, each had a poverty rate of 35.5 percent, which is higher than what exist in Detroit. Michigan's income level has fallen to 27th in the nation. It had been 19th five years ago in 2003. According to the Detroit News on August 27, "Michigan was the only state that saw both a rise in poverty and a decline in income."

As a result of the surge in the poverty level in Michigan, children have been severely effected. It is estimated that 48.8 percent of children in the city live below the official poverty line estimated at $21,027 for a family of four with two children. Just one year earlier the city's child poverty rate was 43.9 percent, indicating that the situation is declining at a rapid rate. On a statewide level, the proportion of children living in poverty rose to 19.4 percent, above the national level of 18 percent.

The massive downsizing in the automobile industry has contributed immensely to the increasing poverty rate in the state of Michigan. In a Sept. 5, 2008 article published in the Detroit Free Press by Justin Hyde, it says that: "Automakers and parts suppliers shed 38,000 jobs in the past 30 days, and the industry has lost 127,800 jobs over the past year, losses that powered the national unemployment rate higher according to federal data released."

This article continues by pointing out that: "The job cuts in auto manufacturing, combined with 14,000 job cuts from car dealers and auto parts vendors, were the largest contributors to the 6.1% unemployment rate for August, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The rate is the highest since September 2003."

Michigan's current official unemployment rate stood at 8.5% in July, the highest in the nation, with expections for an even greater jump for August.

The Need for a Fightback People's Movement

Although the deepening crisis in capitalism is well illustrated through developments in Detroit and the state of Michigan, working class and oppressed people know that these enormous difficulties can in no way be placed solely at the doorsteps of outgoing Mayor Kilpatrick.

Nonetheless, the spokespersons for the interests of capital are seeking to blame Detroit's political leadership and the city's population for the economic failures of the ruling class. A recent editorial written by Michigan Chronicle publisher, Sam Logan, that was reprinted in the Detroit Free Press, attempted to not only blame the African American masses for the current crisis but to call for the removal of the current leadership from positions of authority in order to replace them with white middle and upper class elements from outside the city.

In a fierce response to Logan's editorial, Andrea Egypt, a leading member of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and a longtime muncipal employee, published a rebuttal in the Michigan Citizen on August 10 which exposed the real agenda behind the advocacy for the mass relocation of African Americans from Detroit.

Egypt said in the editoral entitled: "Sam Logan's Recipe Will Breed a Worse Disaster," that "He (Logan) forgets the key ingredients--that if left out--would not describe accurately the real reasons for the city's decline."

Egypt cited several key elements that underlie the current economic crisis in Detroit. These elements include: "The billions spent to date on targeting Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan in the so-called war on terror. This military spending has stripped federal funding from the City of Detroit."

Egypt continues by pointing to the "trickle-down economic seasonings of the Bush, Cheney administration and Congress that continues to appropriate more war funding until we win, whatever that really means."

In addition, "the criminal banking sub-prime lending crisis that has caused massive foreclosures in Detroit and throughout the metropolitan region, putting working families and property taxpayers out of their homes, which gives them no choice but to leave the City and further erode the tax base."

This letter to the editor published by Egypt in August was followed by another statement issued by the Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions. On Sept. 6, the Coalition, in the form of an open letter to the interim Mayor, Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr. and the Detroit City Council as a whole, challenged City officials to petition Governor Granholm to delcare an economic state of emergency in Detroit and therefore impose a moratorium on foreclosures and evicitons.

The letter reads in part that: "During the past year, while city government has been consumed with the mayoral crisis, thousands of Detroiters have lost their homes due to the foreclosure epidemic that has hit our city. Our neighborhoods are being destroyed. Property values have plummeted. Last Sunday, the New York Times reported that 18% of Detroit's homes are empty, the highest percentage of any city except New Orleans."

This letter to the city's leadership continues by stating that: "The people of Detroit cannot stand to wait one more day for the imposition of an Emergency Moratorium to stop foreclosures.... We are formally requesting that as your first acts of this new period, Mayor Cockrel and Detroit City Council both formally apply to Governor Granholm to Declare a State of Emergency in Detroit, and demand she use her police powers to place a two-year Moratorium on Foreclosures in the city."

According to the Moratorium Now! Coalition's letter, "This action will spur passage of Senate Bill 1306 by the Michigan Legislature, which would place a two-year Moratorium on Foreclosures throughout the state."

The letter concludes by extending a request to support the Sept. 17 mass demonstration on Lansing to demand passage of SB 1306. "We invite you to join us at a demonstration in Lansing...."

Therefore, it is only a mass struggle led by the working class and oppressed that will point the way forward for the people of Detroit and the state of Michigan. A further gentrification and corporatization of the city can only result in more layoffs, home foreclosures and evictions and political repression.

Efforts aimed at ending the wars abroad, which not only result in the mass removal and slaughter of people in the so-called developing countries, but also create the conditions for the furtherance of the super exploitation of working people and the slashing of social programs inside the United States, must be linked up with the struggles to build an adequate fightback movement aimed at ending the continuing cycle of poverty and oppression that is affecting growing numbers of people throughout the country.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. PANW articles have been reprinted in hundreds of publications throughout North America and the world.

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