by Dakarai Carter and Paige Watkins
On Tuesday, February 23rd, the Mayor of Detroit held his annual State of the City address at Second Ebenezer Baptist Church on Detroit's east side. Young Black activists and activists of color from Detroit used Duggan’s address as an opportunity to disrupt and speak truth to the real state of the city. Using “Shut Up Duggan” as a call for the mayor to stop grandstanding and listen to the people, we asked, “Opportunity for who?” and, throughout the address, interrupted to lift up narratives and issues important to Detroit residents. Planned as a collaboration between Detroit’s chapter of the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Black Lives Matter Detroit, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, Raiz Up Detroit and the Detroit Light Brigade, this disruption was purpose-driven and intention-filled.
Only 5 of us went in, understanding the room would be filled with thousands of people - still determined to have our voices heard. We knew that the mayor would get on that stage and talk about his plans for the city and boast his idea of progress and solutions. What we also knew is that he would not be honest about his involvement in the displacement of poor and Black Detroiters nor about his complicity in the continued disinvestment and disenfranchisement of communities through corporate takeover, emergency management and hyper-surveillance.
In his speech, Mayor Duggan said, “the best way to handle the problem is to grow the city.” He spoke about his administration’s solutions to blight - the thousands of homes being demolished this year and over the next several years. Naim Leal interrupted the mayor to ask - what does that mean if the only ones seeing that growth are in the greater downtown area? What about the tens of thousands of poor and Black Detroiters removed from their homes through mass foreclosures? The thousands of families having to deal with mass water shutoffs due to increased privatization of city resources?
Antonio Cosme of The Raiz Up disrupted Mayor Duggan’s speech on Tuesday pointing out the Mayor acting as an accomplice to the state and to the appointed emergency manager. Mayor Duggan followed by admonishing emergency management, saying, “I am more against emergency management than anyone I’ve met.” But we know that to be untrue. Detroiters know about his connection to Governor Synder and his close involvement with Detroit’s emergency manager since he has been in office.
Black Lives Matter activist Adrienne Ayers interrupted by uplifting the problems with the public school system under the control of emergency management. For years, Detroit schools have been crumbling - literally - with little support or even acknowledgment from the city or the mayor. It wasn’t until teachers and students began doing “sick-outs” and other coordinated, mass protests that the mayor personally toured and inspected the schools. At the State of the City, he discussed his plan for city-wide school inspections that is much needed, but well overdue.
When it was my turn to stand up and yell, “shut up Duggan,” people booed as I lifted up the privatization of public spaces downtown and throughout the city, the increasing number of private security firms and the lack of accountability these private companies have to the people they are policing. During his address the mayor only spoke of more plans to increase such security. Through Project Green Light dozens of business will participate in a program that will allow several cameras to be monitored in real time by the Detroit Police Department with no stated plans for transparent accountability. He also introduced that police cars will begin having license plate readers, in order to quickly scan for warrants and unpaid tickets. We don’t consider further criminalizing Detroiters a solution.
As activists and organizers, we have dedicated ourselves to working for the safety and freedom of all the people in Detroit and beyond. The disruption of Mayor Duggan’s address at the State of the City was us demanding that these narratives be lifted up. By confronting the mayor directly, we were ensuring that our issues aren’t lost in the false promises of “progress.”