Fight the victim culture

Everyone who cares about Detroit has a secret fantasy about the city. For years, I’ve waited for a black leader who would inspire the boys n’ the hood to beat Whitey at his own game by working hard, taking responsibility for their actions, rebuilding the neighborhoods, etc., and thereby making society’s hypocrisy plain.

Today, no white person can suggest this without getting their head verbally torn off, and being acidly reminded of all the historic injustices and present prejudices that have worked against Detroit for decades. Those hurdles are and were real. Trouble is, wallowing in self-pity doesn’t help, though plenty of politicians have exploited it.

Mildred Gaddis knows better — and wants Detroiters to stop being professional victims. If you don’t know who she is, you are surely melanin-impaired. Few institutions in heavily segregated Detroit are as segregated as radio. Black Detroiters generally do know something about white radio. Biff and Muffy, however don’t have a clue about the other side of the spectrum. So for you palefaces out there, Mildred is the dominant voice of black talk radio, through her “Inside Detroit” show which airs on WCHB (1200-AM) weekdays 6-10 a.m.

Gaddis calls ’em as she sees ’em. Last week, I happened to be on WDIV’s Sunday morning “Flashpoint” show with her and some other talking heads. It had been a bad week for the city. Actually, there have been a lot of bad weeks for Detroit lately, and this just happened to be one of the worst. The day we taped the show, 17 cops were indicted by the feds. They are accused of violating citizens’ civil rights by allegedly committing a host of crimes including abusing people, planting evidence, shaking down drug dealers, etc., etc.

Even before this, Police Chief Jerry Oliver had been given a minder, Kroll Inc.’s Sheryl Robinson, a young lawyer sent by the federal government to monitor the Detroit Police Department, because the abuses have been so bad. That must be embarrassing for the chief, but far worse was what the mayor did to him a month ago.

That’s when Kwame Kilpatrick angrily fired Deputy Chief Gary Brown — by all accounts a straight-up guy — apparently for doing his job. Brown, who was assigned to investigate public corruption, was looking into what might be called “Partygate.” That includes wild rumors about women at the mayoral mansion (the mayor has denied the rumors), but also, it seems clear, a lot of wrongdoing by members of the mayor’s oversized “security detail.”

But on May 9, the mayor fired the deputy chief, and as an afterthought made Brown’s actual supervisor, Jerry Oliver, put it in writing. What I don’t understand is why Oliver didn’t resign on the spot, as a heroic attorney general named Elliot Richardson did when Richard Nixon tried to get him to fire a special prosecutor.

Nor do I have a clue why editorial writers and the City Council did not demand Brown be reinstated immediately. But if our 33-year-old boy mayor thought firing the man would solve his problem, it proves his mommy failed to rent the video of All the President’s Men. Now the investigation is in the hands of Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who is ambitious, politically hungry and owes the mayor nothing.

Expect more developments soon — and then tune in to see what Mildred and her call-in listeners make of it all. Gaddis doesn’t shy away from giving it to Detroit’s enemies, and any black woman who grew up in Southern Mississippi doesn’t need a telescope to know racism when she sees it.

But she, to my great admiration, also isn’t afraid to say “we have a culture of professional victims in this town,” and call on Detroiters to stop whining and suck it up.

She and her co-host Greg Bowens have been very critical of Kilpatrick and the entire administration, almost from the start, and I don’t think they have always been fair. But what I do know is that we have, essentially, a permanent crisis situation in the city of Detroit, and we need a government fully engaged in trying to clean it up and lift it up instead of covering anything up. The learning curve needs to start curving, fast.

Naturally, not all the problems are of Detroit’s making or can be solved by Detroiters alone. The long-simmering financial crisis at the Detroit Medical Center could damage Detroit more than a thousand stripper parties. Officials are proposing to cut back on births at Hutzel, to turn Receiving into just an emergency room, and who knows what next.

And that’s just the tip of the colossal health care mess. This is going to cost us all, big-time, one way or another. The tragedy is that this was foreseeable. Ten years ago, Bill and Hillary Clinton tried to do something about the growing health care crisis in this country — remember? Indeed, it was one of the reasons he was elected.

Yet their team was politically clumsy and arrogant. They came up with a plan that looked like a bureaucratic mess and was hard to understand and easy for the Republicans to torpedo. Bob Dole later said if the Clintons had been content to start by insuring the uninsured, the GOP — then still a minority — wouldn’t even have fought it very hard.

Today the DMC’s biggest problem, other than mismanagement, is the cost of caring for the uninsured. Quality of life in the entire metro area will be severely damaged if the DMC collapses, because that would pancake other local hospital systems too.

Something needs to be done.


Homage to doublethink: George Orwell, perhaps the most important and morally honest journalist of modern times, would have been a century old June 25. We could use him today to explain why our last president was impeached for lying about some common sexual fumblings with an eager plump girl, while few blink at the fact that his successor clearly lied about his reasons for launching an aggressive war of conquest.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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