Friday, August 11, 2017

The Detroit Riots of 1967 and its Meaning on the Fiftieth Anniversary

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Detroit — “Half of the eight mayoral hopefuls on Detroit’s primary ballot next week have been convicted of felony crimes involving drugs, assault or weapons, a Detroit News analysis shows. Three were charged with gun crimes and two for assault with intent to commit murder. Some of the offenses date back decades, the earliest to 1977. The most recent was in 2008.” Detroit News, August, 4, 2017

As the SNL Church Lady would say, “Well, isn’t that special.” Then again for Detroit, where the typical lead story for the local evening news show is a gristly homicide or two du jour, this Detroit News piece is just another “dog bites man” story that should hardly raise a concern. “What,” you say, “the next mayor might be a convicted felon?” Who cares? … is the correct answer. Not much is left in Detroit to steal, and what difference at this point does the mayor, crooked or otherwise, make with the prolonged unfolding of this nightmare of a place that long ago stopped being a city in any normal sense? Besides, you have to “accentuate the positive,” as the old tune goes; to find four political aspirants in Detroit who are not convicted criminals, I suppose, is a victory of sorts. 

It’s not as if a felon in the Detroit mayor’s office isn’t without precedent, quite a recent one, in fact. His Honor, Kwame Malik Kilpatrick, (pictured above) who plundered his home town from 2002 to 2008, resigned as mayor in 2008. This big lovable lunk was convicted on felony counts, including perjury and obstruction of justice. Sentenced to four months in jail after pleading guilty, he was released on probation after serving 99 days. In May 2010, he was sentenced to 18 months to 5 years in state prison for violating his probation and sent back.  

Leave it to a hack political consultant and and NAACP activist, aka race careerist, to attempt to decorate this pig with lipstick. Greg Bowens, a former press secretary to Dennis Archer, an inconsequential Detroit Mayor of yesteryear, “said there are candidates with past hardships in every election cycle. It’s not something unique to Detroit or the political arena in general, he said. ‘Black marks on your record show you have lived a little and have overcome some challenges,’” said Bowens. (my italics)

With “black marks” our consultant may have committed a serious micro-aggression, but for obvious reasons, he gets a pass. But wait a second; are these black marks really supposed to mean that “you have lived a little”? Yes. We are operating in an alternative PC universe, and so we have, it seems, a new, improved definition of “convicted felon.”  “Overcoming some challenges” is a very nice touch as well. It sounds infinitely better than “a long rap sheet.” While you might be tempted to think that by “past hardships” Mr. Bowen should be referring to the harm suffered by the victims of our four candidate-felons, don’t forget, this is Detroit where everyone is celebrated as a victim of some sort.  

Let’s take a look at one of the mayoral aspirants because, well, it’s good to know what counts as “living a little” for an up and coming Detroiter and possible next Mayor. 

Again, from the Detroit News. “First-time contender Donna Marie Pitts, 58, has multiple felony convictions dating back to 1977, according to court records in Wayne and Oakland counties….   In 1977, Pitts was convicted of receiving and concealing a stolen 1977 Oldsmobile. She was sentenced to a year of probation. A decade later, she was charged with two counts of assault with intent to murder and two firearm offenses in connection with two separate shooting incidents on March 24, 1987, Detroit Recorder’s Court records say.” (italics added) The list of the “challenges” Ms. Pitts has somehow managed to “overcome” goes on a bit longer, but I think this is enough for you to get the picture. 

“Intent to murder.” Now this certainly gives generous scope in a unique Detroit sort of way for understanding how far “living at little” can take you, if you are so inclined – trying to make a certain someone you don’t like into a certain non-someone, that is, someone who is “not living, period.” “Murder” is, perhaps, too strong a word. Once again, we are flirting with micro-aggressions. Somewhere around the year 1950, Detroit had a peak population of approximately two million people. It now tops out at around 700,000, its diminution, perhaps, due in part to the flight of a lot of folks hoping to avoid the intentions of the “live a little” sorts like Ms. Pitts in between their bouts of auto theft and armed robbery.

How did we arrive here? How is it that career criminals are allowed to compete for public office and have their predations insanely glossed over by an assigned spokesperson as some sort of a valuable “learning experience?” More importantly, how is it that in the course of about sixty-five or seventy years one of the great American cities is now a  squalid, crumbling shell of its former self, a shrunken slum run by sleazy kleptocrats, sucking its basic resources for survival from the Feds and those Michigan tax payers fortunate enough not to live there? Much of the rest of the state would be happy to deed this mess over to Canada and move it across the river. Without Detroit, Michigan’s crime statistics would resemble those of Sweden, pre-Islamic invasion. But, of course, the Canadians wouldn’t dream of it.

One explanation is the 1967 riots, a defining moment presaging the coming collapse. I observed the lawless chaos first hand in downtown Detroit fifty years ago last month, one of my most indelible early adult memories. On a lovely, sunny July afternoon I was with three college friends in a car in downtown Detroit, Livernois avenue. We were coming back from a baseball game at Tiger Stadium, a doubleheader with the Yankees.

Heading into the downtown, we had no clue about what had been happening there for the last twelve or fourteen hours. We were just passing through. At first, everything seemed normal for downtown in the Motor City. However, strange things then began to happen. For no apparent reason, traffic came to a halt. We were sitting at a light that kept changing from green to red, then back to green. No movement. My friend driving the car was the first to notice, and initial disbelief at what we were seeing gave way to horror; cars on fire; the sidewalks with mobs in motion, not single individuals. A Detroit cop standing in the street helplessly watched scores of people streaming out of shops and stores (they were closed; it was Sunday) with their windows broken out, loaded down with TVs, liquor bottles, clothing and other loot. The looks on the faces of the looters were unforgettable – happy people no longer bound by silly laws; they were “helping themselves” to free stuff, enjoying the Sunday romp. This was a good thing for us, I guess, since they left us alone in the car.

It, of course, turned out to be something other than a romp. That day in Detroit began one of the worse riots in American history. Detroit police and the Michigan State Police were unable to contain the mobs who were looting stores, torching buildings and in some cases sniping at fire fighters. Governor George Romney pleaded with Lyndon Johnson for federal assistance. As we finally drove out of the city after hours of congested traffic, we witnessed on the incoming roads the Michigan National Guard ordered by Governor Romney, bumper-to-bumper in their military transports. Shortly later, the 82nd and 102st Airborn Divisions arrived, courtesy of LBJ. Five days later the riot officially ended with 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. Only the 1863 New York City draft riots during the American Civil War and the 1992 Los Angles riots were greater.

This was the beginning of the end for Detroit as a great city. A lot of the stores and businesses that were destroyed in the riots belonged to Jews and other non-black ethnic people. They were not rebuilt in Detroit. The owners moved away. In 1974 Coleman Young was elected mayor reigning for the next twenty years, Detroit’s first black mayor. Young didn’t bother to hide his animus toward white people, and most of the city’s remaining whites moved out beyond Eight Mile Road, the boundary that separated an almost completely black and increasingly poor and violent Detroit from the white Detroit suburbs. 

Young functioned for Detroit as a Robert Mugabe prototype, a crypto-communist lusting for racial revenge. Put in charge of a rich and vast social-cultural-political asset that took hundreds of years to create, he managed in just twenty years to turn it into a crime-ridden, third-world hell hole that became a world-wide symbol of political corruption, urban blight and destitution. (See: “Take him to Detroit”) The productive, tax paying, property-maintaining Detroiters left, in moved the drug-dealing gangs who laid waste to the neighborhoods – robbery, assault, arson and murder part of the daily routines. Vast tracts of the city became uninhabitable, and ultimately uninhabited, blocks and blocks of abandoned homes. Young infected the dwindling residents with his poisonous racial resentment rendering them indifferent to his accountability for the rampant waste and corruption that engulfed the city, content to play the role of victim, blaming white, racist America for the city’s poverty and misery.   

Detroit became a massively subsidized, highly dysfunctional urban jungle from which most anyone who could would escape. A collapse of such epic and tragic proportions, of course, requires at least some explanation. The one too hard to resist? White racism. Over the last fifty years this explanation has moved from the status of a hypothesis that could be examined, questioned, tested and modified into a rigid, official orthodoxy that defines what race in America is all about. As with all orthodoxies held in place and enforced by the central organs of power, punishment falls inexorably and severely on the doubters and non-conformists. To raise the slightest doubt that any and every manifestation of racial inequality or differential in status is not the result of racism is itself a racist gesture, and being labeled a “racist” in contemporary America does not help one succeed in those basics like employment, education and social recognition.

With this explanation firmly embraced fifty years ago, prodigious amounts of attention, energy and resources were applied for remediation. Whites needed to step up, attone, and make things right. By reducing racism and providing more opportunity for black Americans, Detroit and other urban centers would become better places. Fifty years later, a fair question would seem to be: How did it all work out?

Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, its architect, Vladimir Lenin, supposedly had said, “the worse the better,” meaning, the more wretched the social conditions, the better the chances for a successful revolution. The identity politics of the cultural Marxist left turned this Leninism on its head; “the better, the worse.” By almost all objective measures, the barriers of racial prejudice and discrimination have significantly fallen over the last decades. Jim Crow and its vestiges of racial segregation are long gone. Fifty years ago the equalizing of black and white America became “mission central” with the legislatures, federal, state and local, creating and the courts enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the areas of housing, employment, government contracting and education. Massive federal aid came to the heavily black-populated cities. Affirmative Action and EEOC, came into being with strict compliance requirements for universities and employers to make room for members of “underrepresented” groups. Schools and universities across the south desegregated in a rapid dismantling of the “separate but equal” legacy of Plessy v Ferguson. Schools and universities across the country focused their pedagogy on the evils of racism, the history of slavery and segregation and the moral imperative of equality. Blacks moved into prominent positions in every region of American culture and life, including the American presidency, Secretary of State and Attorney General. Utterance of the “n-word” for whites became a career-killer.

With all of this in the rear view mirror, Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, like Detroit a half a century earlier, were burned down by their black residents, the rioting blamed on the excesses of white, racist policemen. The goal of ending racism in spite of all of the legal and political forces moving toward it, the cultural support of the media and the entertainment industry, and the educational-academic establishment firmly in place, turned out to be a colossal fool’s errand. Cities across America – St. Louis, Newark, Birmingham, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore – are now Detroit-like with high levels of criminality, poverty, illiteracy, and corruption. Black rates of incarceration are staggering. Racial tensions and resentment are rising daily.

The orthodoxy, however, remains impregnable. White racism is now, supposedly, even more insidious, pervasive and ineradicable than ever before imagined. “Racism has become much too generic to be useful in explaining racial disparities, and it must be uncovered and exposed in its innumerable recondite forms such as “systemic racism,” “institutional racism”, “covert racism,” “economic racism,” “environmental racism,” etc. To combat racism in 21st-century America is like being drawn into a frustrating, never ending game of “whack-a-mole.” Beat down one and a different one pops up elsewhere. In effect, racism is ubiquitous, as President Obama told an interlocutor, it is in our DNA, a long time before it will be “cured.” This, of course, is vintage Obama on race. There is no “cure.” Racism and white responsibility for it are forever in the future – time to stop resisting “white privilege” education and get with the program.

In the 2016 Presidential election, racism was central message of the campaign, specifically Trump’s racism. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the contest was Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” denunciation of Trump supporters as “racists,” people in her words, “irredeemable …. not part of America.” Would any thoughtful person, even the most pessimistic, reflecting on the future of American race relations in late 1967 have imagined that a half a century later, a Presidential candidate of a major party would be routinely characterized by the entire main stream media and the opposition party as another Hitler, a 21st-century, pogrom-planning fascist, broadly supported by voters (62 million people) motivated entirely by racial prejudice and hatred?

Over the last fifty years “racism” has been transformed into the left’s most potent and versatile political weapon, and in no conceivable way will they ever relinquish it. Why would they? As an instrument of moral blackmail it always works to their advantage. No one can or ever will be able to prove he is not a “racist.” In fact, denial merely reinforces confirmation. Just the threat of the accusation brings surrender. “I am not a racist. How can I show you?” Surrender it has been, and how has it worked for the betterment of black Americans? Look at Detroit and Donna Marie Pitts. There is your answer.

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