Detroit’s hardship has garnered much attention: the privatization; the racism; thewater shutoffs; the debt; the neglect; the “new form of local government.” As Maureen Taylor of Michigan Welfare Rights Organization makes clear, the profit being made off poverty in Detroit “is beyond horrible.” Michigan’s right-wing governor and state legislature take blame, and rightfully so. But it’s more than a particular regime that brought all these trials to Detroit and 10 other Michigan cities: Flint, Inkster, River Rouge, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Lincoln Park, Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac and Allen Park. A structure of law that blankets the entire nation is involved.
Detroit and the other city governments have been effectively dissolved. Voting for mayor or city council yields no power. The elected governments are symbolic – toothless. In Detroit, all governing power resides in one man – Kevyn Orr – the state-appointed “emergency manager.” He performs all functions of local government – unilaterally.
And though egregious, Detroit’s dismemberment is but a symptom of a legal doctrine – an idea – that has worked to trivialize the American municipality, for well over a century.