Slavery Disclosure Law a Ridiculous Distraction
Detroit’s elected leaders avoid the real work of reviving the city while they focus on businesses’ ties to slave trade
detnews.com, Mar. 5
The way some Detroit City Council members behave, you would think Detroit is a place where businesses are beating the doors down to get in.
Businessmen, investors and even labor officials who come before the council are routinely subjected to irrelevant and racially tinged grilling — “Where do you live?” “How many workers who look like me will you hire?” etc. — as the members pose and preen for the cable television cameras.
Now Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, the worst of the bunch, is offering a proposed ordinance that would require businesses seeking city contracts to disclose whether they or their parent companies profited from slavery.
Never mind that slavery was ended by a nightmarish civil war nearly 140 years ago, and any company that has survived since then has gone through all the wars, economic collapses and recoveries, social movements and cultural and technological changes that the rest of the nation has endured. It’s highly unlikely that any gains from slavery are still fueling the business.
Still, council wants any company that might have been around prior to 1865 to delve into its archives and determine whether it had an association with slavery.
Obviously, the ordinance would apply to very few companies and possibly none.
But it illustrates remarkably well the misplaced priorities of the people who are supposed to be leading this city from blight to light.
Rather than saddling businesses with an additional burden, the council members should be working themselves to the point of exhaustion tearing down the barriers to business in Detroit: high taxes, poor services, bureaucratic red tape, a deteriorating infrastructure, lack of a skilled workforce, just to name a few.
Those are all problems that elected leaders are paid to solve.
Instead, Watson and others on the council seek issues like the slavery ordinance on which they can grandstand while avoiding any real work.
Chicago and Los Angeles are among the cities that have adopted slavery disclosure laws as part of the reparations fight. It is an equally poor idea in those communities, but at least they are better able than Detroit to afford turning businesses away.
If Detroit is to win the long and difficult struggle for revival, all of its leaders must be singularly focused on improving the business climate, creating jobs and encouraging investment.
The city doesn’t have the luxury of being distracted from that mission by matters that were settled back when Detroit was a place where people actually wanted to do business.