Detroit Regional Mass Transit

September 28, 2008

“A commuter line over track used by Amtrak would connect Ann Arbor with Detroit’s New Center, with a potential trial run beginning in 2010.”

Of course, it has to be the year I graduate…


A new day for Detroit?

September 21, 2008

This past summer I worked for a nonprofit in Southwest Detroit. My boss was one of the most negative people I had ever met, especially when it came to Detroit. To her, the city was all scumbags and sleaze, slippery ethics and slicker hair. So when scandals in city government emerged one after another during my three months there, she met each tidbit of news with a smug, I-told-you-so attitude.

One of the few exceptions to this rule was Ken Cockrel, Jr., then the president of the City Council. When his chief of staff, John Clark, was embroiled in a sewage sludge payoff that led to an FBI probe, my boss was shocked that the Cockrel office would have anything to do with such a scandal, clear though it was that Cockrel had had nothing to do with the actual bribe.

Much of Ken Cockrel, Jr’s reputation in the city draws from the legacy of his father. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ken Cockrel, Sr. was known not only as an unapologetic Marxist and a revolutionary leader in groups such as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, but also as one of the city’s most tireless, eloquent, and successful lawyers. He did not shrink from anyone in his indictment of the city’s brutal social hierarchies and de facto racial discrimination. Furthermore, he sought justice artfully and professionally.

Ken Cockrel, Sr.

In the 1969 New Bethel trials, Cockrel defended the accused murderers of two Detroit police officers who raided a meeting of the black nationalist group Republic of New Africa. In the first of these trials, Cockrel demonstrated that the police officers had incited riots at the meeting and secured the acquittal of Alfred Hibbett – but not before being charged with contempt for calling Judge Joseph Maher a “racist monkey, a honky dog, a racist pirate, and a bandit” under his breath. Cockrel turned the contempt case to his significant advantage, rallying area linguists and etymologists “to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Judge Joseph Maher is a criminal, a racist, a bandit and a thief.” His thorough and rigorous research was supported by massive rallies of support from black and white revolutionary organizations, and he handily won the trial.

In the second New Bethel trial, Cockrel defended two notoriously radical Black Nationalists, Raphael Viera and Clarence Fuller, who were also accused of shooting the two police officers. Disappointed by the homogeneously white jury, Cockrel began researching the jury selection process, and found that juror candidates had been turned away for reasons as trivial as having a beard, wearing miniskirts, chewing gum, or being on welfare. His report detailed 834 cases of unconstitutional exclusion and led to a new, largely black jury for the New Bethel trial as well as a thorough renewal of jury selection procedure in the city.

Ken Cockrel’s next major trial, the Johnson trial of 1971, is even more notorious. James Johnson Jr. had just been suspended from his job at a cramped, dangerous Chrysler plant when he shot and killed foreman Hugh Jones. As Johnson’s defense lawyer, Cockrel successfully argued that the plant’s inhumane working conditions had driven the worker to insanity.

Cockrel went on to serve as a City Councilman for many years before his death in 1989. His reputation was sterling – he is one of the stars of Detroit’s history.

So I wonder about many people’s effusive support of Ken Cockrel, Jr. as he replaces Kwame Kilpatrick as interim mayor of Detroit. I wonder whether the city’s faith may be blinded by the memory of his father. In 1997, Cockrel was the youngest City Council member in history; in my opinion, he still needs to prove himself.

But he seems focused on the base of the city, and is known for his regular meetings with community groups about small neighborhood issues. His Friendly Neighbor Program, which helps connect first-time home buyers with city-owned property in need of repair, is an excellent idea. And the video from his swearing-in is encouraging. Although I don’t know how I feel about the Star Trek and Terminator references at the end, I love hearing him kick off his swearing-in speech with talk of green jobs for Detroit.

So I’m very excited to see the city moving past Kwame. And I’m excited about Cockrel’s first move, the appointment of Saul Green to the post of deputy mayor. Saul Green is a University of Michigan law professor, the former president of the UM alumni association, a former U.S. attorney, and the 2007 Michigan Attorney of the year. Cockrel’s first job for Professor Green? Corruption in the police department. That’s a classy move, one his father might have made. I look forward to seeing what Ken Cockrel can bring to the city, and hope he can take the 2009 election after his first year as interim mayor.

Jazz Til Noon – 9/18/08

September 21, 2008

Starting this semester, my weekly show on WCBN is all jazz, each Thursday morning from 9-noon. My definition of jazz will be a loose one that includes everything from ragtime to fusion to electroacoustic free-improv. It should be a great chance for me to learn about the genre.

My second Jazz Til Noon broadcast starts with an hour of rinky-dink big-band jazz and swing from the 20s and 30s.

Cab Calloway

Benny Goodman

I found some gold in the vaults – one great album, “Laughin In Rhythm,” contains a track called “Chinese Rhythm” that teaches the listener to speak Mandarin through scat, as well as a Jelly Roll Morton number called “Hyena Stomp” that sets a typically corny big band arrangement behind some chilling, maniacal laughter.

The next two hours follow with Jack Kerouac’s “History of Bop” set to a Charlie Parker suite, the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s genre-defining freejazz-funk hit “Theme De Yoyo,” and three tracks from Detroit free-jazz legend Faruq Z. Bey.