DTE: No Power for the Poor in Detroit

I do a whole lot of writing about human rights and inequality on this blog, but almost none about my home state of Michigan. Michigan is ground zero for inequality. Michigan can lay claim to flagrant violations of human rights due to the vast indifference of state leaders to the troubles of the state’s largest city, Detroit.

My buddy Luis just sent me the video below about the rash of power shutoffs in Detroit, here in the dead of winter. I had though that the elderly were protected from getting their utilities cut in Michigan, but it is clear that this is not the case. This video was produced by the Committee Against Power Shutoffs, a socialist group out of Detroit, fighting to help the poor against giants like DTE Power.

The Committee Against Power Shutoffs formed after three people, Marvin Allen (62) and Tyrone Allen (61), and Lynn Greer (58) were all killed in a fire at 8011 Dexter in Detroit in 2009. Power had been shut off at their home by DTE due to non-payment and the three were using space heaters to keep warm. A fire broke out and all three were killed. According to their site, more than 220,000 homes around Detroit had their power shut off in 2009, up 50% from the previous year. In March of 2010, three children died in a fire on Detroit’s west side because of using space heaters in a household which had it’s power shutoff. We can assume that that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

While there may be crotchety old white people out all over Michigan quick to say that the people are Detroit deserve everything they get, it’s pretty obvious from this short video that the people of Detroit need nothing more than jobs, of which there are none. Michigan is an economic disaster and the reasons behind Michigan’s fall are complex and a host of parties are to blame. It’s easy to blame the plight of the poor on the poor, particularly when you don’t care about getting their votes. It takes courage to do something about it.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

6 responses to “DTE: No Power for the Poor in Detroit”

  1. Kirkpad says :

    So they were shutting off heat, but leaving them with the electricity to power space heaters to kill themselves? I thought space heaters needed to be plugged in. When you first said “killed in a fire”, I assumed you meant that they actually tried to heat their houses with open fires.

    “Young’s gas and electricity had been cut off. DTE Energy says the service was not authorized, calling it an unsafe and illegal hook up.

    The landlord’s handyman says he turned it back on…”

    So, someone else turned the electricity back on? Odd, I thought only the power companies had that ability. Maybe Canada is different. As far as I know, our utility companies are not allowed to be privately owned.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    There’s a video of Detroit firefighters explaining that often residents without power will run extension cords from the neighboring household to power space heaters. This creates not only a fire hazard from the space heaters, but also from overburdened extension cords.

    Sometimes, also, people will just turn the power back on themselves, illegally. It’s not hard to do.

  3. Ferunando-desu says :

    Pete, something very nasty is that they dig out the pipelines in the summer so they do not need to follow the law of providing the service to the poor people. Really sad.

  4. Kirkpad says :

    Thanks for clearing that up Pete. In Canada we don’t have the ability to turn our power back on, as far as I know. Here in BC we have BC Hydro, who is pretty much government owned/run. When we get our power shut off I believe it is done remotely from the city’s hydro office. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Anyway, this seems to be one part of a larger complicated problem.

  5. Pete Larson says :

    Here there’s usually just a meter at the house that the power company takes out. You can get a meter or rig it up (dangerously) so that power is in the house again. My stepfather did it all the time when I was a kid.

    Cananda does a lot of things right that America doesn’t.

  6. Pete Larson says :

    I have to explore this. Do you have any info on this?

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