Thinking for ourselves
Week16 of the Occupation
From Trayvon Martin to Monica Lewis Patrick
By Shea Howell
July 16, 2013
Much of the country mourns the death of Trayvon Martin as the man who killed him was released from prison. One of the most thoughtful responses to this tragedy came from UCLA Professor Robin D. G. Kelley who wrote about the systemic nature of violence in our country and the ideology of white supremacy that requires it.
“If we do not come to terms with this history, we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked, or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right-wing fringe. We will miss the routine character of such murders: according data compiled by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black person is killed by the state or by state-sanctioned violence every 28 hours. And we will miss how this history of routine violence has become a central component of the U.S. drone warfare and targeted killing. What are signature strikes if not routine, justified killings of young men who might be Al-caeda members or may one day commit acts of terrorism? It is little more than a form of high-tech racial profiling.”
Professor Kelley goes on to explain that until we come to grips with the depth of the crisis we face, we will continue to suffer from it. He says, “As long as we continue to uphold and defend a system designed to protect white privilege, property and personhood, and render black and brown people predators, criminals, illegals, and terrorists, we will continue to attend funerals and rallies; watch in stunned silence as another police officer or vigilante is acquitted after taking another young life; allow our government to kill civilians in our name; and inherit a society in which our prisons and jails become the largest, most diverse institutions in the country.”
Professor Kelley’s insights have been on my mind as I read the distorted portrayal of our city. Of late, I have been particularly concerned with the linking of the financial crisis to the term “dysfunctional city council.” This phrase is invoked as an explanation for all the ills facing Detroit. It is also invoked to suggest that Detroiters cannot govern ourselves, because we do nothing but elect dysfunctional clowns.
While we have had our fair share of characters in public office, as has every city and hamlet in the nation, we have also historically had one of the most progressive legislative bodies anywhere.
Coming out of the struggles for civil rights and black power, the Detroit City Council led the country in integrating police and other public services. It established a system of parks and recreation centers, funded arts, cultural events, library expansions, and educational innovation. It led in human rights, bringing international attention to anti apartheid struggles in South Africa, standing against the use of nuclear weapons, and against US military intervention into Central America. Additionally, it honored those who challenged the dominant ideology of white supremacy, including Angela Davis and Nelson Mandela.
All of these acts of vision and bravery were dismissed as the product of “pinkos,” “anarchists,” and unrealistic idealists, charges that are continued today by columnist who would rather use name calling than analysis.
But it was not until corporate money-media began to shape council elections, that people took seats with no accountability to the citizens.
All of this is about to change with newly developed council districts.
Those of us who care out the future of the city should approach this August primary with the real history of the Council in mind. We are fortunate that there are people running who understand and honor this history. Most notable among them is Monica Lewis Patrick, for an at-large council seat. Anyone who has participated in progressive events around the city has seen her standing up for justice. She brings the combination of experience, intellect, and passion to public life that is essential for us now.