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Bankole: Why Tlaib won and Detroit’s old Black guard lost

Bankole Thompson

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib won. Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones lost. But there are plenty of lessons to draw from Jones’ failure in Tuesday’s election to deny Tlaib a second term.

Among them is the fact that no one has a political and cultural birthright to the 13th Congressional District seat once held by the late John Conyers Jr. No one should feel entitled to any political office. Every seat in Congress must be contested. Candidates must give voters a reason to support them, not just because they are Black.

The rematch between Tlaib and Jones provided yet another indelible lesson for our body politic and for the merchants of nativist and xenophobic politics: Getting behind any Black candidate without a serious examination of that individual’s record of public service isn’t enough.  

Voters admire Tlaib’s firebrand style of politics, Bankole writes.

Those kind of backwater politics have undermined real progress in the Black community, because too often we are tempted to measure the quality of candidates solely based on their skin tone, and not by the kind of equitable policies they are advocating.

That kind of lopsided thinking is also why Jones was expected to not only present a formidable challenge to her opponent, but also to defeat her in the election by demonstrating she was more connected to Black Detroit than Tlaib.

The campaign to stop the outspoken congresswoman was in overdrive after Jones received the support from a list of who’s who in the Detroit Black civic community. That included names such as the Rev. Wendell Anthony, the president of the Detroit NAACP; Keith Williams, the head of the politically entitled Michigan Democratic Black Caucus; as well as a bevy of other civic leaders.

Days before the election, the Jones campaign rolled out a list with many notable Black supporters on social media with their neatly arranged photos on a flier, as if they were getting ready for a coronation as opposed to an election.

But voters saw something totally different: They admire Tlaib’s firebrand style of politics. For weeks on my radio show on 910AM engaged listeners talked about how they love the fact that she’s not afraid to confront an issue. They want a fighter who won’t back down on racial justice issues like facial recognition technology, which research shows can be faulty and falsely identify Blacks as suspects in the search for criminals.  

For example, while the City Council under Jones’ leadership once held what amounted to a softball Q&A session with Detroit police Chief James Craig regarding the use of facial recognition technology, Tlaib visited the department to see the Real Time Crime center for herself, which displays video footage from both traffic lights and businesses in the city. She later engaged in a very tense public debate with Craig over its use, and urged him to hire more Black analysts to work in the facial recognition department. Even though her recommendation incensed Detroit’s top cop, it was by far the strongest public pushback against the technology from an elected official in the city.  

Since then a Black man, Robert Williams, who came forward in June of this year, explained how he was wrongly identified as a shoplifting suspect by the technology from a 2018 incident. The following month the case of Michael Oliver, another Detroiter, became public after he was misidentified last year as a suspect and was facing felony larceny charges that were subsequently dropped. Despite the severity of these two cases, the City Council that Jones leads has yet to convene a pair of special public hearings on the reported cases.

True to form, Tlaib, during her first term in Congress, has established herself as an elected official who would ask penetrating questions during congressional hearings, including a notable exchange with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, where she squeezed the Fed boss about helping locally distressed cities like Detroit. 

She should now take it a step further and ask for federal intervention in the $600 million over-taxation of Detroit homeowners. It’s time for the over-taxation scandal, which exemplifies a crisis of homeownership in the city, to go before the House Financial Services Committee, of which Tlaib is a member.

Tuesday’s verdict says Rashida Tlaib isn’t afraid to hold power accountable, while Brenda Jones hasn’t stepped up. And Detroit’s Black old guard lost.  

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.