Minister Malik Shabazz, who not long ago was an outspoken black separatist who supported overthrowing the white capitalist structure, is embracing the only caucasian mayoral candidate, former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan.
In an interview with the Motor City Muckraker, Shabazz acknowledged it may sound odd that a leader of the New Black Panther Nation/New Marcus Garvey Movement is endorsing a white man who only recently moved to Detroit. But with murders on the rise, a cash crisis in city government and crumbling neighborhoods, Shabazz said the focus must go beyond race.
“The city is falling apart,” a charismatic Shabazz told me Sunday night. “I am not choosing the best African American, which I usually do, and I’m not ashamed of that. This time I’m voting for the best candidate.”
Shabazz said Duggan “has the government experience, the crime-fighting experience and the business experience” to best improve a city besieged by violence and poverty.
“Mike Duggan has the best credentials. Should I hold it against him because he’s white?” Shabazz asked me. “He’s the best guy for the job.”
If Duggan beats what will be a large field of black candidates in August and November, the former Wayne County prosecutor and deputy executive would become the first white mayor to be elected in Detroit since Roman Gribbs in 1969.
Duggan has begun campaigning at the homes of Detroiters in hopes of overcoming the racial barrier in a city that is more than 80% black.
For most of his life, Shabazz has been committed to empowering black people. To do that, he told me, the city needs the best candidate to generate jobs and add more police and fire protection so Detroiters can become productive members of society.
“If I have to support a white man for black empowerment, I will,” said Shabazz, who sounds like an entirely different leader than the one who called for separate racial societies a few years ago. “I don’t have a problem with white folks.”
While Shabazz has been portrayed by the media as a militant, uncompromising leader, the minister is anything but. Outside of his sometimes fiery rhetoric, Shabazz is earnest, passionate, reflective and driven by a desire to improve the lives of Detroiters.
When he was growing up in the hardscrabble streets of Detroit’s North End, Shabazz got mixed up in drugs and gangs. But when his mother, who was addicted to crack, killed her husband, Shabazz had had enough.
He lifted himself out of the gang and drug life and focused his energy on empowering the black community and fighting racial injustice.
Shabazz helped shut down corner stores that were selling spoiled food. And when police wouldn’t break up drug houses, he marched on the homes and demanded the occupants leave.
Shabazz’s efforts in the 1990s caught the attention of Duggan, who was a deputy Wayne County executive at the time. He enlisted Shabazz to help close drug houses, and the peculiar relationship continued when Duggan was the prosecutor.
In a 2000 interview with the Detroit News, Duggan said Shabazz “seems to be the kind of man I can work with.”
As I was wrapping up my interview with Shabazz, he shared that he wants a safe, healthy, economically strong Detroit for all people, regardless of race.
“Black folks and white folkas can work together,” Shabazz said. “I think Detroit should be for everybody.”
Why the change in attitude?
“I am a lot older and a little bit wiser,” Shabazz said. “My friends are black and white. My enemies are both black and white.”
But, he emphasized, progress cannot come at the expense of black Detroiters – as it has since African Americans began migrating to Detroit for auto jobs in the early 20th century.
Other candidates for mayor are State House Reps. Lisa Howze and Fred Durhal, Jr. Detroit’s former top attorney, Crystal Crittendon, announced today that she may enter the race.
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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.