Since our organization’s 1916 founding as the Detroit Bureau of Research, we have worked to promote good government for all Michigan citizens. Among other traits, a good government is one that is representative of and accountable to the public, effective in carrying out its responsibilities, and efficient in its use of resources. By definition, then, any government that cannot guarantee all of its citizens equal treatment and protection under the law cannot be considered good.
Like many of you, our organization is outraged by the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and of the many others that weave a tapestry of the ongoing fear and pain faced each day by Black Americans and all people of color.
The insidious, ubiquitous nature of racism is revealed plainly in these horrific acts, and we condemn them utterly and completely; however, the tendrils of racism extend throughout our society in ways that we too often fail to acknowledge or even notice. The inequitable health outcomes observed throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—which has claimed a disproportionately high number of Black lives in Michigan and elsewhere—reveals the consequence of poor physical, economic, and social conditions that confront Black Michiganders each day of their lives.
Throughout our organization’s history, our research has often shown vast disparities in government services, particularly for communities of color. From the 1925 mob scene that ensued when Dr. Ossian Sweet purchased a home in one of Detroit’s all-white neighborhoods to the Detroit bankruptcy and Flint water crisis, a thread of racial inequity runs through nearly a century of our research. Across issues in local government, education, and health, our research has shown that Black citizens have rarely enjoyed the qualities of good government that we expect from society.
To be sure, government cannot guarantee every person an equally favorable outcome in life; however, government must give each individual an equal opportunity for a life well lived, characterized by a freedom to pursue one’s aspirations and pleasures. Every Black life cut short by health disparities or institutional violence, every opportunity for prosperity placed out of reach by inequitable educational opportunities and workplace discrimination, and every moment of happiness cut short by the experience of structural racism is a violation of the social contract implicit within our purportedly free and equal society.
In advocating for a better government, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan proclaims that #factsmatter. Years of public policy research have identified issues with the division of communities by race, the selection our political leaders, the provision of schools and their funding, disparities in economic opportunity, and problems with many other policies. The research is very clear: good government means addressing structural racism and other systemic inequalities in our society that damage our collective physical, moral, spiritual, social, and economic wellbeing.
The Research Council will identify projects for our future research agendas that address issues of racism and systemic inequalities and we will be mindful in all of our research on all topics to identify policies that facilitate unequal treatment in statute and policy. Additionally, we recommit the organization to increase board and staff diversity. We are not policymakers, but we can work to advance the discourse on these important public policy issues.