Black Voters Need Justice, Not Training Wheels

By Kim Hunter

At this writing, we are a few days from yet another dog and pony show involving an unelected “official” that has supplanted the elected leaders of Detroit. It’s all connected to what I call the “bankrupture.”

Retired Judge Steven Rhodes, who oversaw Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, has been tapped by Governor Rick Snyder to continue the failures of previous unelected Detroit Public Schools overlords. In what would be an unbelievable movie plot point, the previous Emergency Manager, Darnell Earley had to step down and lawyer up because of his roll in the poisoning of Flint families.

Though, instead of being named Emergency Manager, Rhodes has demurred to the title of “Transitional Manager.” Perhaps this is because Rhodes has accepted the position of running the state’s largest school system even though he’s admitted knowing nothing about education.

Whatever the case, Rhodes is scheduled to speak at a public forum May 10 at Martin Luther King High School at 5:00 p.m. This is a public meeting actually required by law. What is not required is that he actually adheres to any demands from Detroit families and voters during the meeting.

It is more likely he will adhere to the suggestions of his “Transition Team” which, instead of including Detroit families with DPS students, was originally stacked with 11 white corporate leaders and one lone progressive, an African American union leader. The initial makeup of Rhodes team, indeed his very acceptance of the “Transitional Manager” role, shows a complete lack of faith in Detroit’s primarily African American voting populace. Only after it was made public did Rhodes “realize” the almost all-white, non-Detroiter, corporate make up of his team was a “mistake,” that you need more than one African American progressive voice to represent all of Detroit’s families.

Governor Snyder, and Rhodes, are acting as training wheels for voters unjustly castigated as being unfit to vote and therefore having their constitutional rights violated in the utmost. The Governor and Rhodes are practicing an almost surreptitious racism-with-a-smile that effectively says to black voters: we’re going to “help” you by denying your rights until we think you’re ready to have them back. It is whitesplaining writ large on the body politic.

The double tragedy of all of this is that, not only have our basic rights been violated, but also the records of previous unelected Emergency Managers consist of total failure. That includes highly questionable contracts, misrepresented test scores and a complete and utter failure to do what they were appointed to do: fix the DPS finances. In fact, the Detroit system had a surplus before being taken over by the state and being driven into deficit. Add to all this, the lack of accountability and transparency which may have aided the alleged kickback schemes currently rocking DPS, the decrepit unfit buildings and the robbing of students of their right to an education.

These are crimes, some of which may not be as pointed or as obvious as the Flint poisoning, but, nonetheless, are directly connected to the racism and lawlessness of denying African Americans the right to vote.

Though the state caused DPS’ financial troubles, Judge Rhodes was probably brought in to lobby GOP elected officials in Lansing to not let the system fall prey to the bankruptcy they instigated. He will put as fine a face on that lobbying effort and his public meeting of no consequence to the public as any highly educated, legally trained person can.

But, just as he ruled against Detroit families deprived of water because the banks demanded it, we can expect him to kowtow to the powers that be at the expense of people struggling for justice. We will continue to fight the water shutoffs. We will continue to fight for the right of young people to have a decent education in buildings that are safe in a system that is overseen not by illegally appointed “officials” but by those duly elected by voters.