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Detroit can’t afford expensive consultants who risk racial conflict

Mark Fancher

Mark Fancher

OPINION

By Mark P. Fancher
Special to the Michigan Citizen

One year ago, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr signed a $621,578 contract on behalf of the city of Detroit with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (TMI) to consult with Detroit police about community policing, traffic control, command accountability and other matters.

After the contract expired, the ACLU of Michigan heard TMI had suggested to residents of certain Detroit neighborhoods that the root of much of the crime in their communities was dirty gas stations.

TMI’s position was indifference toward the dirty conditions at these businesses led to indifference toward crimes such as carjacking or drug dealing that might occur at or near business premises. This idea is referred to as the “broken windows theory” and many have debated its value. But the real problem in this case is TMI introduced ethnicity into the discussion, and then proposed tactics that could inflame racial tensions.

TMI Vice-President Michael Allegretti told the ACLU of Michigan: “If it was learned through research that a particular ethnic group or social group owned a majority of service stations in Detroit, we viewed this as an opportunity to meet with such a group(s) to discuss ways in which they could collectively enhance the quality of life in Detroit.” He added: “…the Chaldean community has organized itself into the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, recognizing that as a (bloc), it can exercise increased influence.”  He went on to say: “Business interest groups — including I believe this one — regularly meet with the (Detroit Police Department), so I fail to see how developing a strategy to influence such a group is anything less than logical.”

To influence gas station owners, Allegretti recommended giving them 30 days to clean up their businesses, and if they failed to meet that deadline, picketing their homes and/or communities. Fortunately, this strategy was not adopted because, given the widely acknowledged long-standing tensions between African and Chaldean communities in Detroit, nothing but disaster could result from busloads of Black picketers descending on Chaldean neighborhoods. More significant is Detroit is unable to afford to squander hundreds of thousands of dollars on consulting services that might lead to social disruption. It is important for contracts of this kind to be considered with the caution, scrutiny and oversight that occurs as part of the conventional democratic process, and which in this case was apparently not provided by the emergency manager.

Because the emergency manager has no “supervisor,” the ACLU of Michigan was left to bring its concerns to the attention of the governor. Detroit Police Chief James Craig was also asked to ensure those in the community who were advised by TMI understand how to address crime problems without risking social disruption or racial division. According to a media report, Detroit police have nevertheless recently conducted “Operation Cherry Blossom” which raids businesses where crimes are common. If the idea of pressuring business owners came from TMI, we hope police have rejected any aspects of the concept that might have an ethnic or racial focus.

Mark P. Fancher is the staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project.

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