We Shouldn't Fear Citizen Involvement in Detroit
As a group of Detroit merchants and residents turn up the heat on deadbeat property owners with a campaign of lawsuits, at least one attorney seems bothered by their civic action.
Property rights attorney Alan Ackerman said Detroit "clearly is not capable" of forcing owners to maintain safe properties. But he worries these suits could clog courts with personal beefs.
"When you have private citizens doing public things, you run the risk of society running amok," Ackerman told the Detroit News.
Perhaps Ackerman isn’t as dead-set against this latest blight-busting tactic as he seems, but how are we supposed to abide his notion that “private citizens doing public things” is somehow socially risky?
In Detroit, the withdrawal of too many private citizens from public action has helped us along a winding road to ruin. The problem here isn’t that too many citizens are involved, but that not nearly enough care to join in.
Since when does behaving like you give a sincere damn create more “risk” than not caring at all?
Back in the day, there were always outlets that gave even some of the most disadvantaged Detroiters opportunities to make differences. There were block clubs and rec centers, strong social organizations and engaged political slates.
Many of these outlets have faded or collapsed like so many of the houses around the city. Nowadays, too many Detroiters are content to either move away from the problems or accept them as just more sad realities in even sadder lives. This is reflected in everything from the low level of attention generally paid city politics to the oft-depressing turn out at local ballot boxes.
Detroit police often carp about lack of cooperation from residents in many neighborhoods. The mayor’s office often complains about citizen apathy in getting behind programs like his Detroit Works Project. And everyone seems to bitch about too many in the city willing to turn a blind eye to crime and dilapidation.
All stem from the same malady: A stunning and potentially lethal disconnection from the individuals and institutions we’re supposed to be keeping an eye on.
That’s how we wind up with communities that, instead of being protected by cops, get terrorized by them.
That’s how we get low-information voters whose disinterest in actual issues and political platforms opens the door for ex-Motown singers, lawsuit winners and other equally unqualified figures to helm a crisis-ravaged city government.
That’s how we wind up with so many in the electorate who would rather treat politicians like pastors—allegedly above reproach and vested with near-divine authority—than like the public servants they really are.
And that’s certainly how we get citizens who feel they have absolutely no control and businessmen (Matty Moroun) and politicians (Robert Ficano) who falsely believe their control to be absolute.
Not unlike the activist group such as the Coalition to Restore Hope to DPS, Highland Park’s FARC Commission and Occupy Detroit, residents who’ve joined with the nonprofit organizations pushing the blight litigation—the Detroit Crime Commission and Michigan Community Resources—represent a shining rebuke to this kind of thinking.
They stand. They make themselves heard. And no matter what those who’d rather seal off the doors to the public square say, they refuse to go away.
Perhaps Ackerman really does fear some great social breakdown that would result from the lawsuits and the increased action.
Me, I’ve got other terms for “private citizens doing public things.” Like “showing civic responsibility.” Like “taking control over your community.”