Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Out goes his hand and I cough, he once stole from me, now I wanna cut it off"
Public Enemy, "Nighttrain", 1991

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced today to do a minimum of 14 months and a maximum of 5 years in state prison, as ordered by Judge David Groner (http://tinyurl.com/27pptgx). The ex-mayor, 39, was the youngest elected mayor of Detroit when he took office in 2002. His youth, flamboyant charisma, snazzy attire, stud earring, and musical tastes led him to be called 'the hip-hop mayor' by many, an unofficial title that he embraced for his first term in office. Kilpatrick cultivated the image of a conscientious, spiritually-grounded family man who was all about spearheading Generation X's leadership role in turning changing the fortunes of a long-embattled city.

However, beginning with his reelection bid in 2005, things began to unravel for the married father of three. Local television and newspaper outlets began citing strange expenditures during his tenure, such as a luxury SUV truck that was officially purchased by the police department but apparently for the use of Kilpatrick's wife Carlita. Other news items around that time period included a series of lavish purchases made with city credit-cards (ostensibly to entice potential investors and developers), and the sustainability of an entourage of police escorts that rivaled the Presidential secret service. After coming in second place during 2005's August primary, Kilpatrick managed to beat his opponent Freman Hendrix in that November's final election.

Subsequently, Kilpatrick's tenure continued to have problems. A police officer claimed to have been verbally chewed-out by Kilpatrick's chief of staff, Christine Beatty, following her being pulled over for a traffic violation. Kilpatrick's original choice for police chief, Jerry Oliver (who was once detained at the Detroit Metro Airport for attempting to bring a gun in his luggage), resigned. His replacement, Ella Bully-Cummings, presided over a department that was under ongoing federal supervision, ongoing community complaints about slow response to emergency calls, as well as complaints of alleged misconduct by officers.

Most portentiously damaging was the whistleblower lawsuit filed by former Detroit police officers Gary Brown and Harold Nelthrope. The lawsuit contended that the pair, who were internal-affairs officers, were unfairly fired when their investigation into alleged police overtime-misuse inadvertently led them to evidence of an extramarital affair between the mayor and Beatty. The alleged overtime misuse concerned members of Kilpatrick's mayoral security officers, and the investigation also attempted to discern whether a 'stag party' had taken place at the mayoral residence, the Manoogian Mansion. This long-rumored but never officially-proven party is also core to the murder case of exotic dancer Tamara Greene, who allegedly danced at this party, was assaulted by Kilpatrick's wife on-site, and ultimately was shot dead in a drive-by attack months later: http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/5062699/detail.html (the city still faces a civil-lawsuit by family members of Greene.)

The civil lawsuit by the ex-cops was handled in a federal court. Sworn testimony was given by Kilpatrick and Beatty, among others. Ultimately, the jury found the city liable in a decision in October of 2007. Kilpatrick publicly balked and vowed to appeal. Several weeks later, however, he apparently changed his mind, and signed documents agreeing to a settlement of $8.4 million for the plaintiffs on behalf of the city. Little, if any, reasons were given for the abrupt turnaround.

However, in early January of 2008, those reasons were laid bare. Text-messages on city-owned cell-phone/pager devices were discovered by the plaintiff's counsel (Mike Stefani), and privately revealed to Kilpatrick and his legal staff, thus leading to the abruptly brokered settlement. Acquired via the Freedom of Information Act, the text messages revealed a litany of quasi-private conversations between Kilpatrick and various other members of his administration: chief among them were the numerous messages between mayor Kilpatrick and Beatty, which directly talked about the firing of Brown and Nelthrope, a charge that was disputed by Kilpatrick and Beatty during their court testimony. The affair between Kilpatrick and Beatty was also revealed: the pair would often send each other amorous, sometimes explicit, messages, and discussed the ways in which they would have secret rendezvous, frequently using city money to buy gifts for each other and rent hotel rooms.

“To sell, to lie, to try, stand up and deny, they are getting everybody high/ high on a cable, cash under the table, currency is how they’re able, to buy the cops and props..”
Boogie Down Productions, “Jack of Spades”, 1989

The revelations about the text-messages and the secret settlement deal hit the city and the Metro area like a hurricane. The scandal became the default watercooler topic for most of the year. The saga had all the trappings of a fictional legal potboiler, only this was soberingly real. Kilpatrick initially balked at claiming ownership of the text-messages: His first addressing of the scandal took place at a Detroit church where cameras broadcast live statements from both mayor Kilpatrick and his wife Carlita. The mayor only admitted to non-specific mistakes, but also vowed to never quit on the city.

At the State of the City speech that followed circa March, 2008, Kilpatrick gave what was otherwise a straightforward speech about progress in addressing Detroit's quality of life (the audience, with the exception of city council members, was hand-picked by the mayor's staff); but toward the end of his hour-long speech, he launched into a tirade against his detractors, alleging internal game-playing within city council and racial bias in the press concerning ongoing coverage of the scandal. Outside of the on-site audience, the rant did not play well with many who were watching; in particular, his mentioning of the N-word (within the context of citing himself as the target of racial taunts) was criticized. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3WBeXBjjZA

An obscure Michigan law gives the sitting governor the power to remove a city official from office if said official's behavior is considered destructive. Rarely used in the state's history, it nonetheless became a point of contention with those unsatisfied with Kilpatrick's conduct. From the scandal's January onset, various people were opining that the governor should step in and remove Kilpatrick. Initially, governor Jennifer Granholm refused to take the bait, citing the law's rare usage, and stating that Kilpatrick's legal matters should be allowed to play out without interference from the Governor's office in Lansing.

A few months later, Kilpatrick had a bizarre run-in with Sheriff's deputies who were attempting to serve a Kilpatrick family member with court papers. This incident found the mayor initially facing assault charges on top of the perjury charges he was already facing. A few weeks later, Governor Granholm finally relented to a formal request from members of Detroit City Council and initiated a non-judicial hearing presided by herself that would determine whether Kilpatrick's behavior was egregious enough to warrant removal by the governor's office.

Several days of grand-jury style testimony took place-- but before mayor Kilpatrick could be summoned to speak on his behalf, he decided to take a plea agreement with the Wayne County Prosecutor's office. Subsequently, he pled guilty in 36th District Court, was stripped of his law license, and was sentenced to 4 months in prison, as well as a $1 million in restitution to the city. The evening after making the formal plea declaration, Kilpatrick made a 'final' public speech that was televised, again dodging any direct addressing of his behavior other than "mistakes were made". He also seemed to infer that Governor Granholm's inquiry was politically motivated (she was already term-limited and ineligible for reelection), and admonished that his current circumstances "set me up for a comeback."
"I might stumble, but still won't lose; now I'm dressed in the county blues; 'cause I'm the type of brother that's built to last, we had some in the present, some in the past..."
Ice Cube/N.W.A., "Gangsta, Gangsta" (radio version), 1989

Onlookers saw Kilpatrick's political career crash-and-burn while seeing another African-American's political career reach the ultimate height: While in prison, Kilpatrick missed being a delegate to formally nominate Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for US President. He was also in prison for the election and inauguration of Obama. He was released a few months into 2009, and immediately left Michigan for a suburb of Dallas, Texas, where he had a new job as a software salesperson for the Covisint Corporation (owned by Detroit businessman Pete Karmanos). Purportedly, Texas has a state law that prohibits garnishment of wages except for child support cases.
“They'll look you straight into your face/ and tell you that your money's going to a good place/ Like Social Security or Welfare/ But if you go to the Bahamas you'll see them all there..”
Boogie Down Productions, “Who are the Pimps?”, 1992

Despite facing a daunting restitution, Kilpatrick wasted no time in securing a luxurious setting for his new life. His home was in a gated community, and valued at around $1,000,000. Soon, however, Kilpatrick would be claiming that his living expenses only left him with $6 to pay on his restitution. This signed affidavit seemed to prompt the Wayne County Prosecutors' office to be more aggressive in finding out Kilpatrick's exact financial status, leading to a series of court appearances capped off by Tuesday's sentencing.

During these hearings, Kilpatrick seemed to have threadbare knowledge of his current financial status: he claimed to not know whether his wife was employed or not. He claimed that she exclusively handled the family's finances, now. Counsel for the prosecution discovered that following Kilpatrick's release in 2009, several prominent Detroit-area businesspeople (including the aforementioned Karmanos) gave Kilpatrick and/or his wife financial gifts and/or 'loans' totaling in the hundreds of thousands. Also discovered were payments to Kilpatrick's criminal-defense counsel from his political funds, which are considered unethical.
“Show me the work & put it on the scale/ I always hate to see a black man in jail/ If I could tip the scales & talk to Lady Justice/ the cops will be on trial the government be busted”
Pete Rock, “’Til I Retire”, 2008

On several Detroit newspaper websites, a new mugshot of Kilpatrick is now displayed. Removed are his suit, replaced by pale-yellow prison attire. The length of his sentencing demands that he not be remanded to the Wayne County Jail (in Detroit) as his previous stint, but to a state correctional prison, such as the one in largely rural Jackson.
Predictably, the decision has polarized some residents of the metro area. Some feel like the sentencing was fair, given Kilpatrick's seeming "Why me?" stance and defiant adherence to a wealthy lifestyle even in the face of costing city taxpayers millions in the whistleblower settlement. Others-- typically, though not exclusively black Detroiters-- feel that the sentencing was unfair. One Detroit state legislator claimed that the decision reveals that the court system "is without mercy"; a Kilpatrick spokesperson likened the decision to South Africa's now-defunct Apartheid regime.

The case isn't quite yet over. Kilpatrick has the right to appeal, and will likely do so. He is also still considered a person of interest in an ongoing federal investigation into corruption by Metro-area officials-- just today Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle will be reporting to authorities after pleading guilty to bribery and other charges. Kilpatrick's father Bernard, a longtime political consultant, is also under investigation, but to date no federal charges have been filed against he or his son. Meanwhile, Kilpatrick's mother, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, faces re-election this year, and competing for the Democratic nomination with state legislator Hansen Clarke and local televangelist Glenn Plummer. Whenever Kilpatrick leaves prison, he will also have to face paying the remaining tab on his restitution (over $800,000). How he will do so remains to be seen, given that he was fired from Covisint the day of Judge Groner's decision.

In the interest of full disclosure, this author voted for Mr. Kilpatrick twice, because I thought he had better ideas and vision than his opponents. I am not thrilled at seeing an African-American father and husband taken away from his family in handcuffs to spend time in prison. This should not please anyone. I am not pleased at seeing a talented, intelligent man fall so precipitously from grace. However, I am also not pleased at the egregiously transparent attempts by this man to cover-up his questionable choices with more questionable choices, while currying favor of his African-American constituency within the context of Christian forgiveness.

I am not in the camp of fringe, bigoted people who hate urban Detroit on principle and who felt the judge should 'throw the book' at Mr. Kilpatrick. But I stop short of looking at Mr. Kilpatrick as simply a victim. If he is a victim, he must include himself among the obstacles in his path. I hope that urban Detroiters, particularly African-Americans, seek to come together regarding the more pressing issues currently affecting our community, such as the school-education crisis and curbing violent crime.

To conspiracy-theorize and add Mr. Kilpatrick to a list of blameless black martyrs siezed upon by a semi-anonymous cabal of racist conspirators damages our political capital: giving the impression that urban, black Detroiters are generally undemanding of their leadership, politically schizophrenic, and prone to feel that malfeasance when done by blacks is justified because there are whites who "get away with" similar misdeeds.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


On May 22, in downtown Detroit's Hart Plaza, there was a rally organized by a public transit worker's union in support of greater federal help in appropriating funds to develop and bolster improved mass transit opportunities in Detroit and greater Southeast Michigan. Metropolitan Detroit is one of the few major urban centers in America without a comprehensive mass-transit system of high-quality bus service, light rail, and other transit options. If one lives in urban Detroit, they are almost surely paying high-end costs for automobile insurance, let alone the annoying cost of gasoline. Urban Detroiters also face a lack of mainstream-quality grocery options. The city government's belt-tightening has cut back on some bus-line services, as the Bing administration attempts to design a comprehensive plan on how to 'right-size' overall city services to a shrinking population. Despite the federal government-initiated taxpayer bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, little, if any, trickle-down effect has come to ordinary citizens, especially in the geographical backyard of these two corporations (Michigan overall still has unemployment hovering at 14%, and urban Detroit's rate is at least twice that.)

The keynote lecturer was Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stressed that bus-system drivers, train operators, and other public-transit-industry workers represent a green-jobs initiative that is being under-stressed in the public dialogue: "The steel can be made in Gary (Indiana), in Birmingham (Alabama).. the (rail cars & infrastructure) can be made in Detroit", pointing out that during World War II auto-industry related factories converted into producing military vehicles and other materials for the war effort. Other speakers included the US House representatives of Detroit, John Conyers and Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick. Also on hand were two Detroit city councilpersons, local Detroit labor union reps and local transit-improvement activists.

All parties stressed that for Detroit and other urban centers, public transit is a core service that is needed to keep the local community on its feet, providing an affordable means for people to get to work, school, run errands, and to seek recreation. Organizers of the rally plan to follow up with continued community outreach, including another march planned for August 2010, and promise that they will eventually make a formal pitch to the White House with their platform.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Detroit Turning Over a New Leaf?

Looks as if there are potential proposals in the Michigan state legislature that would clear the way for a ballot proposal to legalize possession of marijuana in the city of Detroit (Medical marijuana is already legal in the state, but laws are fuzzy as to who can produce it). Well, we know what Snoop Dogg might say.. Among the disparate array of individuals interviewed in favor of decriminalization or legalization are Democratic state rep Lamar Lemons, former Republican state rep Leon Drolet and prominent Detroit-based businessman Pete Karmanos. The coalition of professionals involved with the proposal, as well as advocacy organizations like the non-profit Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, go against the cliche' of pro-legalization efforts by aging ex-hippie activists like actor Tommy Chong, or even the fallen-academic example of the late Timothy Leary and his "tune in, turn on, drop out" philosophy.

This author believes that all currently illegal substances should be legalized, taxed heavily and regulated. Having a universal set of standards in place would actually cut down on the unpurity that most street-level product has (and its the other stuff that also adds to side-effects for users). There should be age limits for access, say, age 21. Schools and workplaces can still have anti-drug statutes, same as before. Just like you can't drink on the job, you can't get be high on the job, and can still be fired for failing a drug test. You'd still be arrested for driving while high. Feel free to make the penalties harsh with fines. Also, there should only be licensed outlets for sales of said substances, say, pharmacies.
Now, many mainstream pharmacies (Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS) may balk at selling metered doses of 'coca', but, maybe this is where smaller-scale, independent pharmacies can make their niche, and become thriving small businesses again, since so many of them in recent decades have lost ground to the Big-Box pharmacy outlets. It's interesting that journalist Darrell Dawsey interviewed some fellows who 'allegedly' are involved in street trafficking and are opposed to legalization (http://tinyurl.com/25xoyc4). This would mean that they would have to go to school and be licensed to sell drugs now to make any real salary. I'm for it. The Tax money can be used for prevention programs, rehab programs, public schools, transit improvement, and more.
However, there would be nearly impossible obstacles to overcome in getting traction for this at the legislative level. No one really wants to hear the logic in the decriminalization argument, let alone the legalization/taxation/regulation argument. Almost literally no mainstream politician looking to get reelected again, Democrat or Republican, will get behind this. The super-patriotic, tough-on-crime absolutists (mostly suburban residents) will insist that society has "waved the white flag" to drug gangs. Some black activists will insist that it is a "white folks thing" trying to get pushed on black Detroit (and potentially, other heavily-minority municipalities). The religious community will harp on this incessantly as an example of "turning away from God" and "embracing hedonism"-- look at Marvin Winans with the Detroit strip-clubs debate. You will have people trying to flip the argument that legalization means you're telling school-aged Johnny and Jane that it's okay to shoot up heroin (No, that's not what the argument is). I find it curious that there are any number of folks who don't mind the "legalized sin" of casinos, and who would throw a fit if alcohol were banned (again), and who get upset at public-smoking restrictions, but they absolutely are against any form of drug legalization because it's a "slippery slope".

Thursday, May 06, 2010

LGBT Activism and the Black Community

On April 30, 2010, the Freedom Institute think tank, led by Rev. Wendell Anthony of the Detroit NAACP organized a town hall meeting as part of the Institute's "Freedom Weekend" string of events leading to the annual Detroit NAACP dinner. During the convention weekend there were seminars focusing on employment and educational opportunities, social assistance agencies, and more. This evening's town hall meeting focused on LGBT activism and urban communities of color, in particular African-Americans: Where do these groups have common ground, where do they differ, what can be mutually learned? Footage from said event can be viewed here:

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

On Saturday, May 1, 2010, a multicultural gathering of people from Metro Detroit gathered in the Southwestern district of the city, to participate in a march for workers' rights and a reform of American immigration policy.

The March took several thousand participants down West Vernor street, where they finally coalesced in Clark Park for a rally where speakers exhorted the crowd to push for a repeal of the recently passed legislation in Arizona that places undocumented immigrants under extreme scrutiny, giving local and state law-enforcement broad powers to stop and question anyone who looks suspicious-- they must produce the proper ID and/or paperwork or risk being jailed and ultimately deported.

Speakers at the rally spoke in Spanish and English. Attendees were told to advocate for workers' rights, including union workers, also for a moratorium on home foreclosures.