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Two Detroits: Fantasy Island and the Streets

This Friday, June 4, the reality of “two Detroits” was brought into sharp focus. One version of Detroit was being celebrated on Mackinac Island as Michigan business, political, and media elite gathered at their annual policy conference. Here were tales of Detroit’s comeback. Detroit is open for business and Dan Gilbert urged people to “think big.”

The other Detroit was playing out in a quiet neighborhood near McNichols and Shafer. Detroit Eviction Defense gathered to stop the eviction of a woman and her children. The case has been mired in a court fight for months.

Those on Mackinac refuse to acknowledge the policies and practices they support are driving a vicious ethnic cleansing related to foreclosures, water shut offs, and the disappearance of meaningful work. The Mackinac elite are determined to create a whiter, wealthier city. In the process they are destroying the very essence of who we are as a city.  Increasingly, their efforts depend on the brutal use of force and violence.

That violence was on full display Friday morning. While Stephen Henderson broadcast from Mackinac about Governor Snyder accusing the press of playing the role of Eeyore, the official agenda had no conversation on the foreclosure crisis or the violation of human rights caused by denying water to thousands.  Flint barely made it to the agenda.

But the future of Detroit is more likely to be emerging from the streets than from some Fantasy Island.  Here is what I know.

Shortly after 6am two Detroit Dumpster trucks came up the street. The drivers accelerated in an effort to scare people away. People stayed put.  One driver, confronted with a group blocking the street, turned and left.  The second driver pulled up and jumped out of his cab. He shouted at the demonstrators and began throwing punches. After a few short minutes, all captured on cell phones and video cameras, one demonstrator had a broken leg and another a badly bruised neck and cut arm.

Police arrived on the scene. The driver said 50 people attacked the truck with chains and pulled him out of the cab.  The police did not want to hear the stories of the demonstrators. Nor were they interested in the video recordings.

Later in the afternoon the bailiff arrived with an overwhelming police presence. They forcefully moved the demonstrators and evicted the family.

This is not the first time this home has suffered an eviction.  About 5 years ago the bailiff served papers at the same address. It seems the company that holds the title, Thor Real Estate, is in the business of issuing land contracts, only to take people’s money, not pay taxes and not pay water bills. Neighbors believe the company is buying up homes, putting them up for land contract, then forcing foreclosure.  They then purchase the house at auction under a different name, and start the process all over again.

What we know for sure is that Thor is one of the top owners of tax-foreclosed real estate in Detroit.  We know for sure that is was cited in Cleveland for buying properties and letting them rot.

The direction for our city championed in Mackinac depends on brutality. It pits people against one another. It creates a climate where some of us are willing to do almost anything to others of us, just to keep our job as a truck driver or cop.

Anyone not on Fantasy Island knows that the violence required to protect power and privilege will only intensify as policies of dehumanization are forced on people.

Anyone not on Fantasy Island knows that for decades people have been creating alternative ways of living based on a vision of a compassionate, sustainable future. The clash between these two visions and where each of us stands is becoming clearer every day.

Editor’s Note: Thor Real Estate has no relation to Thor Equities, LLC, a New York based commercial real estate developer.
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Shea Howell lives in Detroit.

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