Originally published in The Michigan Citizen

For the last 40 years, the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the United States as a whole have struggled to come to grips with the week of anger and violence that ravaged the city on those hot summer days and nights in July 1967. Was it riot or rebellion? Why did it happen? Who is to blame? What has changed and what hasn’t?

These questions and many others have been asked and answered for decades now, but somehow the questions remain. The answers begat more questions. The frustration and fury of that time linger for many, mostly lying dormant, but rearing their ugly heads from time to time.

The complicated issues of race and poverty still plague this most freedom-loving and prosperous of nations. The United States was founded on the genocide of the continent’s indigenous people, built on the backs of slave labor, but has grown to unprecedented heights on the strength of its cultural diversity.

The city of Detroit once flourished as a melting pot of different ethnicities and social classes, a once mighty industrial center that attracted people from all walks of life each working to realize his or her own vision of the American dream. But as Malcolm X remarked a few years before the smoke and flames erupted in the Motor City and in urban centers across the country, the quest for that dream proved a nightmare for many.

Forty years later legal segregation is over, but economic segregation and social segregation continue. Many of the gains generated by those who marched, petitioned, rebelled and died have been setback by people who fear that leveling the playing field for the oppressed creates an unfair disadvantage for citizens of privilege.

Forty years later, the hostility between Black communities and police departments is still “the major problem in law enforcement”. The war on Black Power groups and civil rights organizers turned into a war on drugs that many perceive as a war on Black people.

Forty years later, we see Detroit school board officials and school police officers marginalizing and brutalizing children who just want a decent education, but forty years later those school officials and police officers are Black.

Forty years later, there are discrepancies and disagreements about just how many students are getting that education and obtaining their high school diplomas. Whether we use the lower percentage or the higher, the true answer is, “not enough”.

Forty years later, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization symbolically buries a word spawned from hatred, yet the power to maintain the poverty and racism persists.

Forty years later, parts of Detroit are still rising from the ashes, vigorously shaking off the dirt and dust, struggling to step into a new tomorrow. Other parts of the city have prospered, soaring to new stratospheres.

Many battles have been won, many have been lost, but the war is not over. A steady and sustained resistence against poverty, police oppression and racism continues. But the central questions remain, and the anger lies just beneath the surface … for now.

The Michigan Citizen Editorial: Forty years later

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