Don’t brush over L. Brooks Patterson’s bigoted past

Don’t brush over L. Brooks Patterson’s bigoted past | Opinion


Carol Cain did us a backhanded favor with her column praising Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. She has opened a window into how white supremacy is normalized.

I am proud to be in the loathe-Patterson camp that Cain refers to. I joined back in the early 1970s. That’s when Patterson gained prominence supporting the bitter opposition to Judge Damon Keith’s federal court order to integrate the Pontiac Public Schools. (Notoriously, the KKK bombed 10 of Pontiac’s school buses the night before the integration was to start.)

Upholding the tradition of Albert Cobo, Orville Hubbard and others, Patterson has been playing to the fears and prejudices of white people ever since.

In 2014, Patterson referenced a “prediction” about Detroit, which Cain ignored in her column. Patterson said: “I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.’ ”

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She also missed, or dismissed, his statement to the same New Yorker writer about the city: “Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit basher,” he said. “The truth hurts, you know? Tough s***.”

It seems that, in Cain’s world, such “foot-in-mouth” statements are fine because they prove what a charming “no filter” kind of guy Patterson is. She says he’s set in his ways, like others who are 80 years old. “They are who they are,” she writes.

How twisted is that? Doesn’t “no filter” mean that he is saying out loud the actual bigoted thing he believes?  And call me an optimist, but I refuse to accept the idea that the only future for young bigots is to become old bigots.

Should we give Patterson the benefit of the doubt because his actions are out of sync with his unfiltered words? No. In deeds, Patterson has also been consistently anti-Detroit. His long campaign to take away control of Detroit assets such as Cobo Hall and its water and sewage system are examples. So is his militant opposition to regional transit.

Throughout his career, L. Brooks Patterson has been empowered by the reverence, deference and selective amnesia of scores of journalists, editorial writers and politicians. Cain’s apologia that poor Brooks is misunderstood is just the latest instance.

That’s how systems work. People are complicit in different ways. Some Catholic priests are pedophiles. For decades, many non-pedophiles enabled them. In the Jim Crow system, some whites owned restaurants that wouldn’t serve blacks. Some just cheered them on.

So it is with Cain and Patterson. She says he’s not a bigot and that she wouldn’t have him on her public affairs show if he were — implying that she’s not a bigot. Has Carol Cain ever written a column in which she did label someone a bigot, especially someone in a position of power? Not to my knowledge and yes, I have looked.

And if she hasn’t demonstrated that she knows who is a bigot, how could she know who isn’t?  Or does she know but isn’t willing to say so in public, thus joining a conspiracy of silence and denial?

It took decades for an alliance of pedophile victims and courageous Catholics to begin successfully challenging that entrenched system. So it must be in confronting white supremacy. The perpetrators and their enablers compel us to decide what values we truly hold.

Frank Joyce is a longtime Detroit-based activist and writer. In 2018, he received the Bishop Coleman H. McGehee Jr. Champion of Justice Award from the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR). He is currently writing a book about how to end white supremacy.