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Michigan’s Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson

Is Patterson's Racist 'Indian Reservation' Quote in New Yorker Fair?

Vincent Schilling

Michigan’s Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is a main topic of discussion in the press and in social media in the wake of a lengthy The New Yorker article entitled Drop Dead Detroit, in which Patterson harshly criticized the city of Detroit and referenced a comment he once made about turning the city of Detroit into a reservation to house Native Americans.

In the interview, New Yorker Correspondent Paige Williams quoted Patterson as stating the following:

“I used to say to my kids, ‘First of all, there’s no reason for you to go to Detroit. We’ve got restaurants out here.’ They don’t even have movie theatres in Detroit — not one.” And, before you go to Detroit, you get your gas out here. You do not, do not, under any circumstances, stop in Detroit at a gas station! That’s just a call for a carjacking.”

In the article Williams also quoted Patterson as stating “I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.”

According to Patterson’s office, Patterson, who has governed Oakland County, Michigan for the past 21 years, made the remark about Native Americans 30 years ago and has long since apologized for his remarks.

Additionally, Bill Mullan, the Media & Communications Officer for Oakland County told the Detroit Free Press says that the New Yorker’s correspondent, Paige Williams did not write fairly about the interview with Patterson.

“It is clear Paige Williams had an agenda when she interviewed County Executive Patterson. She cast him in a false light in order to fit her preconceived and outdated notions about the region. Mr. Patterson’s record on advancing regional issues in a transparent and responsible manner is unparalleled,” Mullan told them.

In an ICTMN interview Mullan said that a public statement in response to The New Yorker article Mr. Patterson has just released will clarify his true character.

“What wasn’t clear in the article, like lots of things that she didn’t address in the article, is that she pulled that statement and something that Mr. Brooks apologized for from thirty years ago,” Mullan told ICTMN. “ She put it in a way that makes it seem like he said it yesterday.”

“I can say this affirmatively because I sat in on some of these interviews, is that we did talk about some of the problems Detroit has had from mismanagement to corruption, but we also talked about some positive things about Detroit. None of that made it into the story, which shows her hand in my view,” Mullen said.

Patterson’s official public statement received by ICTMN stated the following:

“I regret that something I said 30 years ago is causing such consternation today. I have worked hard to build good relationships with some of the past mayors of Detroit. I do not intend for The New Yorker article to damage my relationship with Mayor Duggan and I look forward to working with him over the next four years.

“I want to remind Mayor Duggan of what I said at the Big 4 Luncheon at the Auto Show last week and these are my true feelings: That I want to work with him, and I want to make sure that any project that he has that I can be supportive of, to give me a call.

“The reporter, Paige Williams, told us she wanted to compare and contrast Detroit and Oakland County: why Oakland County is well managed and why on our southern border a great American city is in bankruptcy. For several days, my staff and I spoke with her about our office management style, the ways we have assisted Detroit, regional success stories such as the Cobo Authority, and the county’s major programs that are having a positive impact on the region. We are beyond disappointed that none of those in-depth discussions made it into the article for balance.”

When Mullan was asked in an e-mail if Patterson would respond directly to the remarks made about Native Americans, Mullan responded, “When he talks about the 30 years ago, that is the Indian Reservation quote.”

After attempts to reach The New Yorker or correspondent Paige Williams, no responses were made to ICTMN.