When I heard the news Friday, July 19, that the City of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy, I was saddened, but not at all surprised. Detroit has been under the jurisdiction of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, for four months. Elected Mayor Dave Bing (and former Pistons basketball player), is effectively out of power, but he has been cooperating with Kevyn Orr during this transition.
Later the same day, President Obama made some heartfelt and personal remarks on race relations in America, in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial over the death of Trayvon Martin. I see a connection of President Obama’s remarks to the racial history of metro Detroit, and how racial tensions were one of the contributing factors to Detroit’s decline over the decades. Metro Detroit is one of the most segregated regions in America, north of Mississippi. In some ways, metro Detroit is a Southern City trapped inside of a Northern State.
The City of Detroit could be compared to a slow-motion car crash, decades in the making. Imagine a circa 1940 or 1950 Chevy cruising down Woodward Avenue, morphing into other vehicle models over time, up through a 2013 Chevy Volt (one of the few vehicles still manufactured in the City of Detroit), just before hitting a financial brick wall. When watching those slow-motion crash test videos, you know what the outcome will be, but not exactly when the moment of impact will occur.
Although I moved away from metro Detroit in 1986, I grew up there and still have many family members living there, most of who work in the auto industry, or have since retired. I travel to Detroit once or twice a year to visit my family. At a young age, I was able to sense the racial and economic trajectory of metro Detroit. I decided that I would eventually leave the area when I grew up. I later moved to the Lansing area, before moving to Vermont.
I will try to describe Detroit’s slow-motion car crash in a nutshell. Given the state of today’s U.S. economy, unemployment, declining middle class and racial tensions, I think there are lessons to be learned from Detroit’s situation. Detroit has been the favorite punching bag of the news media and people in other states for many years. But I see signs of what happened in Detoit decades ago in other parts of the country in recent times, even in Rutland County, Vermont where I have lived for 18 years.