Bankole: Detroit should anticipate a painful post-virus recovery

Bankole Thompson

Prominent Detroit minister Kenneth J. Flowers had a very up close and surreal encounter with the deadly coronavirus pandemic in the last several weeks.

His 90-year-old mother Rosie Flowers caught the virus and has since been admitted at Providence Hospital in Southfield. More than a dozen of his members at Greater New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church also tested positive, including three of whom are currently on ventilators, according to Flowers. 

Flowers said because he’s been caring for his mother by taking her in and out of the hospital, he himself may have been exposed. He told me he would not abandon his mother no matter the illness. He has yet to be tested.

The pandemic is sweeping through Detroit, bringing big and small businesses to a standstill and rendering downtown a graveyard. The neighborhoods cower in uncertainty. It remains to be seen how soon the city will recover. 

“I definitely think the city can come out of this,” Flowers said. “But there are going to be some harsh economic realities, probably far worse than we’ve seen in 2008. We are going to have to retool the whole city.” 

That fact is not lost on Detroiter and renowned author Thomas Sugrue, whose widely cited book, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit,” examines how race, housing discrimination and capital flight contributed to the decline of the city. 

“If history teaches us any lesson it is that crises tend to follow two paths. One response, and it is a sadly familiar one in Detroit's history, is making people fend for themselves. That will end disastrously, as it has in the past, with more sickness and more insecurity and a painfully slow recovery. We did that in Metro Detroit during the urban crisis of the mid and late 20th century,” Sugrue said. “The other response is to marshal our collective resources and make sacrifices for the common good. We did that in Detroit during the Depression and World War II.” 

Sugrue said just as massive federal intervention was needed to jump-start Detroit after World War II, a similar measure would be required after COVID-19 ravages the city. 

“Right now, more than ever, we need strong federal policies to help hospitals and healthcare providers, to shore up the wages of those who are underemployed, and to assist those who can't pay next month's rent or mortgage payment. The city doesn't have the resources to go it alone,” Sugrue said.

Detroit is not the only place where a COVID-19 recovery conversation is taking place. San Francisco is already looking ahead. Last week, city leaders announced an economic recovery task force. The priorities of the panel include supporting vulnerable communities that are the hardest hit during this crisis. 

“We need to figure out how to support people during the duration of the pandemic and have a plan in place for how we’re going to bounce back, and this task force will help us get there,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. 

For Detroit’s recovery to have any lasting positive impact, it should not just be confined to returning to business as usual, with the usual refrain about how downtown and Midtown are bustling with energy. 

A serious recovery from the coronavirus will have to place significant emphasis on the fact that the pandemic is forcing the city to confront a poverty epidemic that was here long before COVID-19, which has contributed to more adverse health conditions among Detroiters.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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