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The Kingpins

L. Brooks Patterson

L. Brooks Patterson

“What we’re going to 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 corn.”

—           Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson to the New Yorker

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson summed up what most Detroiters believe is the view of the city held by the region and the state when, in the current New Yorker, Patterson — described as the “kingpin thriving off Detroit’s decline” in an article headlined “Drop Dead, Detroit” — discusses the city.

Now the rest of the world sees why Michigan remains at the bottom of every quality of life index, stays stuck in the past and suffers constant economic stagnation. One of the state’s chief kingpins revealed the small, old, racist way of being and thinking state leadership exhibits. Patterson and his boys still don’t get that America has invented more civilized ways of being small, old and racist — it’s 2014!

What Patterson is advocating is genocide. Please also notice Patterson said “we.” Not only did he denigrate the history of native people, but he also made a joke of waging some kind of second wave, post-slavery genocide on mostly Black Detroit. “Throwing blankets” is a reference to the blankets tainted with small pox that killed masses of native people. The blankets were given by Europeans settlers and they mark the beginning of the America we know.

Local media, flipping off Patterson’s racist remarks, described his comments as “rash” and his quotes as “ funny and usually clever.” Yet, Detroit elected officials who have done far less — singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” after a bad Cobo Deal — have been asked to resign for far less, while being called far worse. Talk about racist and sexist Michigan. An old fart from Oakland County says the most offensive off-hand comments and he is given the dignity of just putting his foot in his mouth. Black leaders are routinely taken to task for far less.

Welcome to Detroit.

Instead of asking for an apology, Detroit should petition the federal judge and the EM to exclude Oakland County from a regional Detroit Water and Sewerage agreement. An elected representative, with this type of antipathy to the city and its 80 percent Black population, deserves exactly this. Detroit needs to sell its water department. Use the money to pay off some debt and guarantee a revenue stream for the city’s coffers. Let the suburbs negotiate their rates with a private entity.

Patterson’s comments and the media response remind us of why the city is enduring emergency management, why the city is in bankruptcy, and how it feels when your perspective, your ideas for righting the financial crisis, your vote are considered completely inconsequential.

So often this same tired, good-ol’ boy-this-is-all-in-good-fun humor that Patterson has used to critique Detroit is dismissed. It is amazing to live and navigate in a city where the dominant thought — of people in power — is the only acknowledged sentiment in the region. This group alone makes the deals and they set the priorities. Gov. Snyder, the leader of the anti-Detroit sentiment, has decided Belle Isle is important and so is the Detroit Institute of Arts. Therefore, moves have been made to preserve and direct the future of these Detroit institutions because they are valuable to a powerful few.

Detroit is going through one of the greatest asset and resource shifts in the country.

The majority of people in this town have lost their schools, neighborhoods, recreation centers and city services. But the art will be saved and maybe Patterson will throw us some blankets.


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