Land Dispossession and Disaster Capitalism: A Post Bankruptcy Detroit

by Dennis Black

Following the largest bankruptcy in the history of this country, the residents of Detroit continue to find themselves in the same precarious position that brought about the bankruptcy to begin with.  During the bankruptcy proceedings, quality of life was echoed over and over but that rhetoric has yet to reach the people who were born and raised in this city.  Amidst the bankruptcy, Detroit received international attention and even an official United Nations convoy examining the violation of international human rights in relation to mass water shutoffs.  These unprecedented shutoffs did not occur in a vacuum; for residents that were unable to pay, delinquent monies were attached as liens onto the homeowner’s property tax. 

While police brutality is one of the more politicized facets of state sanctioned violence, we must never forget this countries greatest act of sanctioned violence – the mass enslavement, torture, and genocide of African and Indigenous people in the United States. These atrocities, coupled with the massive land dispossession imposed on these two disenfranchised groups stand as some of the worst crimes committed by our government. The backbone of U.S civil society was built through our free labor and social death, yet Detroit has one of the highest water rates in the country, the highest car insurance, the highest unemployment rates, and one of the nations highest high school drop out rates, and to top it off, we are the largest and most populated city occupied by Black people. Police violence is just one of many anti-black technologies wielded by the state to repress the upward mobility of our people. Cutting off faucets in 30,000 homes and an additional 30,000 homes now face tax foreclosure. When coupled with reports finding that during the nation’s housing crisis (2004-2008), the U.S Black demographic saw the single greatest loss of wealth since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the shutoffs and property dispossession attached to them are startling. 

The 13th and 14th amendment gave birth to the afterlife of slavery; these legal reforms restructured the genocide of Black Americans through other means. These legal reforms crafted the misguided notion that the U.S is an egalitarian and democratic society, using the vessel of public education. Slavery died so that the afterlife of slavery would resurrect in Detroit and in all other cities across the United States. Through the illusion of inclusion they have taken away everything that they possibly could from Black Americans – re-enslaving us without putting us back onto the plantations in the antebellum south. 

In Naomi Klein’s groundbreaking work The Shock Doctrine, she highlights the systematic attempts by government to usurp the will of the people for special interests. These special interests are given authority by those that craft the law so that white supremacy can legally navigate the ethical standards put in place 50 plus years ago. The water shutoffs, lack of public lighting, school closings, and massive foreclosures are emblematic of a system that was never meant for us. These different forms of structural violence are co-extensive with one another and are the framework for gentrification in the city.  Bankruptcies, along with the neoliberal assault mounted by corporations, are attempting to remove the former community so that they can rebuild on a “clean” slate. When neighborhood schools close, when you’re left in the dark, when your taps run dry, and when your home is foreclosed upon, you will flock to the periphery of Detroit. To Southfield, Redford, and Dearborn we will go. An unlivable reality has been constructed around us in the hope that we will leave our homes and dispossesses ourselves – giving them our land. 

No matter where you go in the country, the name of the game in 2015 is still land. There will always be land disputes. Why? Because this country is already always at dispute over land. Land dispossession is the greatest terrorist act that the survivors in this country know. We are conditioned to these normalized shocks, or crises, so that the populace remains ignorant of the intensity of violence that is around them.  Our resistance to daily structural violence must be equally as nuanced as the oppressors, if elected officials are legislating and sanctioning violence then we need Black revolutionaries in those same spots.

I am too revolutionary intoxicated, to be astronomically intimidated

— Chairman Fred