It is a story that has received national attention: the state of Michigan, declaring an Emergency Financial Manager, in charge of Benton Harbor. Now, a civil rights activist is calling for federal intervention.
Benton Harbor is a financially troubled place; abandoned homes pepper the cityscape. Earlier this year, Benton Harbor became the first in the state to be taken over by an Emergency Financial Manager under a beefed-up law, Public Act 4 of 2011. “It flies in the face of the US Constitution, the State Constitution and it has literally abolished our local charter,” says Marcus Mohammed, Mayor Pro Tem of Benton Harbor.
The law makes it impossible to manage the city they were elected to govern. “We think of all the people that have died for minorities and people to gain the right to vote,” Benton Harbor Mayor Wilce Cook told FOX 17 News. “We have, right now, America is oversees fighting to give others countries the same right we have people in this country trying to take away from citizens here.”
Civil Rights Activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., came to Benton Harbor, calling for the Attorney General to investigate, saying the move by the state destroys one of our country’s greatest virtues. “The Emergency Manager represents a czar, displacing a Democracy, the state law must be challenged by the Department of Justice.”
Reverend Jackson says that the plight in Benton Harbor is similar to the struggles in the south before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ”If this were Alabama and we finally got the right to vote,” Reverend Jackson told FOX 17 News, “the mayor and Governor Wallace were to remove the mayor of Birmingham and suspend the council for no good reason, no malfeasance, no illegal activity and nullified the people’s vote, then put in someone of his own choosing, there would be a national outrage.”
The state says the Emergency Financial Manager is only put in place so a city won’t lose basic services. Many believe the move was made because the state is looking to control resources here, such as lakefront property. “The more attention we get, the stronger we get and we can’t stop, if we stop we lose,” George Moon said. “This guy didn’t come down here to balance no budget. I can balance that budget with a WalMart calculator and three weeks.”
Several city leaders are running for office right now, even though they don’t get paid, and all decisions must be approved by the emergency manager. We called Governor Rick Snyder’s office for comment, but they did not respond.