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Democracy vs. Dictatorship

Detroit has become an increasingly inhospitable city. When 150 students walked out of Western and Southwestern high schools last week to protest school closures, a poor education and excess security measures, Detroit Public Schools’ (DPS) emergency manager and administration responded by suspending them. Students who walked out of Frederick Douglass Academy last month protesting lack of English and math classes were also punished.

Why can’t poor and working students protest? How can a community, and a people, who have directly benefitted — the right to vote, equal access — from civil disobedience condemn its children for protesting?

Students have a right to critique their schools and a right to protest the fact that the systems their families are taxed by are failing them. DPS administrators showed the world how mean-spirited and small-minded they could be when they suspended the students.

The administration and principals should have invited these students to a special program that allowed them to ask questions about the future of DPS and administrative policy. Students should be able to say the schools are failing them, without threat of punishment. These are the students who, despite 3.8 grade point averages in the schools, are not doing well in statewide and national measures.

These are the students, many of them to be first generation college students, who will be underprepared, sitting in college classrooms with 300 students confused, isolated and lacking the financial resources to be successful. They have a right to demand accountability. If we had mass student protests in wealthy communities, some would see this more clearly as a learning opportunity. Students would be rewarded for their questions. Colleges would admit them for their display of leadership. In Detroit, poor students are punished and their transcripts marked by suspension.

Last week, the voice of thousands of Michigan residents was squashed when the state Board of Canvassers voterd against certifying more than 200,000 signatures on a petition circulated to put the emergency manager law question on the November ballot.

We are living in an increasingly lawless society with a sham democracy. Civil rights and liberties do not exist, let alone legal remedies. We are living in 2012 Detroit, a dystopian world where headlines in a mostly Black city read: Is it time for a white mayor?

Well, we ask, considering the mass migration of African Americans to the suburbs — according to the most recent census — is Warren ready for a Black mayor? And with the increased immigration, isn’t it time for a Bangladeshi mayor in Hamtramck? An Indian mayor in Farmington Hills?

Under the Consent Agreement, Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Dave Bing made their recommendations for the city’s nine-member board. None of them are residents, although the requisite diversity — Black man, white woman — were recommended. This isn’t true diversity. There aren’t any Detroiters. There aren’t any people who have the background or experience to understand what a resident in a city with raging unemployment and underemployment and few city resources deals with on a day-to-day basis. Yet, this group, all with financial and accounting backgrounds, will direct the city resources — that is, deciding what to cut — indefinitely.

People are responding to this madness. The group responsible for the PA 4 referendum has taken their case to the state Court of Appeals. Western and Southwestern students have formed a freedom school, determined to learn during their suspensions. Detroit residents will undoubtedly continue to create new systems and structures for governance because the existing systems have become too mean, tyrannical and illogical to tolerate.

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