Week 43 of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Almost as soon as Gov. Rick Snyder asked for greater civility in politics, L. Brooks Patterson’s interview in the New Yorker was released. Under the title “Drop Dead, Detroit!” the article is filled with comments that even Patterson’s supporters find embarrassing. Detroit News editorial writer Nolan Finley had to acknowledge, “We all know how he talks. I think his mouth is his worst enemy.” Free Press editor Stephen Henderson, while looking to say what a great leader Patterson is, admitted, “The context of this is horrible.” Editorials and political leaders agree that Patterson was outrageous.
The Free Press published quotes from Patterson, documenting his antipathy for Detroit and his insensitivity to racial or historical reality. As Rochelle Riley commented,
“L. Brooks Patterson has been spewing filth on and off for decades — inappropriate, sexist, hurtful and hateful,” and “mostly about Detroit.”
Mayor Duggan and Council President Brenda Jones demanded an apology.
No one really expects Patterson will apologize. After all, Patterson came to public attention when he defended KKK members who bombed school buses in Pontiac protesting school desegregation in 1972.
In his talk with the New Yorker writer Paige Williams, Patterson says, “I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and the corn.’”
The level of historical insult and celebration of violence in this statement is a deadly combination of arrogance, ignorance and brutality. It invokes the horrific role of the U.S. government in forcibly removing native peoples from their land, and in willfully sentencing children, women and men to death by distributing small pox-infected blankets, and to the starvation that followed from the rotten corn.
It embraces a long line of people who forged the worst in our history: the priests who cut off hands and heads to save the souls of native people, the settlers who drove people off the land that sustained them, the men who captained slave ships, the cavalry officers whose sabers slashed children to death, the national guard commanders that fired on labor organizers and student protestors, the lynch mobs that celebrated while men were strangled and burned, the bombers of buses and churches, the men who beat and tie young boys to fence posts, the bankers who drive people from their homes, and those who torture in the name of security.
We would hope that Oakland County voters do some soul searching and reject this vicious past. But I’m not expecting it. Patterson is in office because of his attitudes. Everyone knows this is how he thinks, and it is fine with the majority of voters.
But that is changing. Patterson is on the wrong side of history. He is on the wrong side of the generation gap. Those kids he has been so busy warning to not come to Detroit are moving in. Some reject the sterile, mono-cultural world of suburbia Patterson and his generation so carefully constructed. Some recognize that Patterson and his generation are a minority in this country. Soon the only places they will hold sway will be in gerrymandered legislatures and the protected boardrooms of corporations and foundations.
Many people know Patterson and his kind do not have any ideas that capture the imaginations of those who are creating more just and sustainable futures.
They, and their way of living, are being rejected.
People recognize that emergency managers and claims of saving Detroit are coming from those with a history of easy lying, horrific violence and who place private gain above public good. But the bones, blood and bodies of our ancestors speak a more profound truth. Such lies can and must be resisted. Another way is possible.