Rage against the machine
The mayor held a meeting to hear from residents. They gave him an earful.
Published: September 19, 2012
Cummings repeated his question. Bing moved forward to speak. "We as a community need to do that collectively," he said. "Who is doing the shooting? Who is doing the killing? It's people in your neighborhoods." This sounded like a blame-the-victim answer, and the audience howled bitterly. Bing tried to bring order. "It's very difficult to respond when everybody's yelling and screaming," he said again, hopelessly trailing off.
This wasn't a gathering of frustrated residents voicing their concerns. It was a public flogging by a red-faced mob. The object of their outrage was cornered, their hostility was personal, and they were determined to make him suffer while they had him there.
Sandra Hines, a 58-year-old community activist, stood and whipped the crowd up by launching a brutal volley of accusations, charges and insults at the mayor.
"I listened to you on the radio and you made a statement about the city's been in this shape for 30 to 40 years, and why didn't people step forward in the 30 or 40 years," she thundered. "You've been here for 30 or 40 years, why didn't you step forward? You stepped forward when your business failed and you was looking for a job. You weren't concerned about Detroit, you weren't even living in Detroit, and you talk about what we've done? We've paid taxes, mayor, we provide the money. It's not our fault as citizens that people like you guys that we put in take the money and jack it and we don't get nothing from it!" Her rant brought the entire crowd to its feet in applause.
One angry resident after another walked to the microphone. Not one of them had a kind thing to say about the thin, elderly man on the stage, who looked annoyed, yet shaken, as he sat there. His department heads sat slumped, faces sunken, as if withering under the weight of the crowd's wrath.
At times, Bing seemed drained, and offered vague platitudes. "As you talk about blight in the neighborhood, there are plans to eliminate blight," he assured one resident, who was demonstrably not assured.
Mostly, the crowd simply shouted complaints — about Belle Isle, about a state takeover, about abandoned homes and cuts to the police force. "I do not know what you can take away from us next," Valerie Glenn stated. "Our children are not being educated, we have no security, we have no streetlights, we have no food in this city. I don't know what is going on, but I am very concerned."
"I love this city and you are destroying it," said Cecily McClelland. "Why don't you do us a favor and leave?"
Lewis finally heard enough. "That was the last question, and that closes our public portion of the meeting." He announced that the mayor would make his closing comments. But the crowd wouldn't stop yelling.
Then the mayor rose to his feet, his staff stood up, and they all walked into the back room, out the door, into their cars and drove off. And that was it. He'd been there less than an hour.
Outside, the cops and the residents and block club captains milled around after the meeting's abrupt end. Now they turned their focus to hounding the mayor's staff as they headed into the parking lot. Hill, the retired city employee who'd come to berate Bing, chased down Brad Dick, director of the city's recreation department. "Do you live in the city?' she yelled after Dick, who maintained a brisk walk back to his car without looking back at her. "Do you live in the city?"
Her taunt reflected one of the fault lines that defined the residents' outrage — the powerful versus those who feel powerless, downtown versus the rest of town, festering resentments over race and geography and income. Them versus us.
Though the mayor didn't stay long, and though none of his answers pacified the crowd, most of the residents got what they came for — a chance to berate those in charge and a collective release of long-simmering frustration and fear.
"Detroiters have been beat down for the last six or seven years," Hill said. "How many times do you have to get hit before you say, 'Ouch?' So we're saying, 'Ouch.' We have to make some noise and let him know. Shame on us if we just sit back and watch."
Detroitblogger John is John Carlisle. He scours the Motor City for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.
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