Hundreds of well-organized demonstrators vowing “civil disobedience” will greet Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s visit to Cobo Hall in Detroit Monday for an economic summit in order to protest Snyder’s selection of a powerful “emergency manager” to save the city of Detroit from bankruptcy.
On Thursday, Snyder appointees on a three-person panel confirmed African-American lawyer Kevyn Orr as the city’s “emergency manager,” a powerful position that gives him authority to restructure the city’s finances and change labor contracts while the all-black elected city council sits on the sidelines. The move, facilitated by Snyder, has sparked charges of racial animus and “anti-democracy” against the governor.
“It’s obvious that race played into this decision,” Rev. Charles Williams III, the head of the Michigan affiliate of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, told The Daily Caller. “There may be some voter suppression behind it.”
“We’re going to educate and also escalate,” Williams said about the planned protest. “Between us and all the people from UAW [United Auto Workers], there should be hundreds. There’s going to be action, and escalation around some civil disobedience.”
“You won’t even know it until it happens,” he continued, when asked what kinds of civil disobedience Snyder should expect. “There are plenty of people committed to going to jail. We’ve been doing traffic slowdowns. We’re going to push that up and go ahead with a full traffic stop.”
Williams confirmed that Sharpton has been very involved in his group’s efforts in Detroit. Williams met with protest organizers Saturday at Detroit’s King Solomon Baptist Church on 14th Street, where, he pointed out, Malcolm X delivered his 1963 “Message to the Grassroots” speech criticizing non-violent civil rights groups.
“Maybe we won’t take it to the level of the ’60s riots, but this thing is escalating,” Williams said.
While supporters of the emergency manager say that Orr’s appointment is the “only option” for a city racked last year with a $327 million budget deficit and $14 billion in long-term liabilities, others see it as a civil rights issue.
“Obviously [Orr] is a black proxy for the governor,” Williams said. “Detroit is 84 percent African-American, and this is an obvious opportunity for Snyder to utilize this man as an Uncle Tom, quite frankly.”
Orr previously served as a partner at the Jones Day law firm, resigning last week to accept his appointment with the city of Detroit. Snyder declared Detroit to be in a state of financial emergency March 1. Though the City Council appealed Snyder’s decision on March 12 in an effort to enact its own recovery plan, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing did not join the appeal and consented to the appointment of an emergency manager.
Bing announced last Monday that the city had hired Jones Day, Orr’s firm, as restructuring counsel.
At the Michigan state capitol in Lansing, tensions are high between Republicans who support Snyder’s emergency turnaround plan and Democrats who fear Orr’s wide-ranging power.
“We had our meeting with the treasurer before it was announced. We said we hear [Snyder is] interviewing people. If the decision hasn’t been made about whether you’re going ahead with an emergency manager, why is he interviewing people?,” Democratic state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents part of Detroit, told TheDC.
“At this point, it’s out of the hands of the legislature, the city council, and the mayor,” Tlaib said.
Orr’s success or failure will likely rest on his own judgment and decisions alone, given the power usually afforded emergency managers.
“[Synder's] treasurer Andy Dillon said ‘we have a tendency not to micromanage emergency managers,’” Tlaib said.
“When I had an issue with the Detroit public schools, which was under emergency management, I presented it to the emergency manager of the Detroit schools, and they were not responsive. I contacted Andy Dillon and he said, ‘we don’t micromanage the emergency managers, we stay out of all that.’”