EXCLUSIVE: New study proves the connection between race and the imposition of Emergency Managers in Michigan


The following guest post was written by Nate Breznau of Mannheim Centre for European Social Research. He is the co-author of a new study that looked at the disparate racial impact of Michigan’s Emergency Manager law, Public Act 436. The academic study proves that the elements involved in the imposition of an Emergency Manager in a city go beyond simple financial stress factors. In fact, as their study shows, the racial makeup of the city is a significant independent variable, as well. Their study, linked below, was conducted while both lived in Michigan and when Breznau’s co-author, L. Owen Kirkpatrick, was an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan.

The findings of their study come, of course, as no surprise to those of us who have paid attention to this issue for the past half-decade. However, Breznau and Kirkpatrick’s work is the first of its kind to use data analysis to prove this disparate impact of the policy of emergency management on black Michiganders. Its release comes as the NAACP is calling for the repeal of Public Act 436 following the devastating report released yesterday by a Flint water crisis task force appointed by Gov. Snyder last fall.

Learn more about Nate Breznau at his website HERE.

More than Water Under the Bridge in Flint: The Michigan Emergency Management Crisis

The Flint water crisis calls into question the true costs of Michigan’s Emergency Manager law – Public Act 436. Are human lives and democracy itself worth trading for a budget surplus? Flint, like Detroit, was under emergency management. This led to changing their water source from Lake Huron via the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department to the Flint River through the actions of Flint’s emergency manager (EM). Under PA 436, the EM has what amount to dictatorial powers.

The Flint water crisis is only one of many disastrous outcomes of Michigan emergency management. Others include sale of public parks, libraries, and firefighting equipment. More severe damage occurs through the EM’s power to sell public pensions, nullify collective bargaining contracts, fire public employees at will, and privatize or close schools. Democracy itself has been dispensed with since the EM is not elected and cannot be removed through public will. Despite being guaranteed by the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions, citizens living under an EM no longer rule themselves.

Who are these people egregiously stripped of democratic rights? It turns out that they are disproportionately black. A recent study published by me and my co-author from Southern Methodist University, L. Owen Kirkpatrick (both of us lived in Michigan during our research and writing of the study), shows that 10% of all Michiganders have been under emergency management at some point since 2007. Of these, 73% were black while only 21% were white despite Michigan itself being less than 15% black.

PA 436 specifically targets financially troubled communities. So this bias must be purely financial in origin, right?


The study controlled for fiscal distress measured by the Department of Treasury and found that it does not fully explain emergency management. The percentage of a city or school district that is black increases the likelihood of getting an EM despite its financial troubles and average income. Although race and class are linked (i.e., black cities tend to be poorer), black racial makeup prevails as a significant factor in the Governor’s application of PA 436.

This is not simply chance. Scientific method demonstrates systematic racism. As the chart clearly shows, communities that are 50% or more white have almost no chance of getting emergency managers.

Michigan historically has had racial segregation in housing and schools. Black Michiganders are unequal to whites on average in terms of income, wealth, health, and education concerning political processes. Thus, they have less chance to shape politics and are less threatening to politicians. The ultimate authority to assign an EM is the governor. Does this mean Rick Snyder deliberately targets black people? Although possible, this is unlikely. Gov. Snyder more likely deliberately avoids targeting white people who have the money, education, and political resources to harm his administration. His imposition of an EM in Flint was a continuation of racially-biased EM application and the cause of a major human health crisis in the city which is over 60% black.

The Flint water crisis is not isolated. It is part of a statewide crisis of emergency management stripping democratic rights from Michigan’s citizens. In 2012, Michiganders expressed cross-color solidarity and repealed the EM law through a citizens’ initiative. Gov. Snyder did not flinch. In what seems more like fictional dark comedy, the state legislature took only 13 days to reinstate the EM Law.

The Flint crisis and the removal of democracy are compelling enough reasons why Gov. Snyder should step down. But selective removal of democratic rights based on racial application of EM law should be the nail in the coffin. If Gov. Snyder wants to show he cares at all about Michigan and democracy, he should strike down his racially-applied law before willing leaving office.