DETROIT (AP) – Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan urged Detroit’s pastors and majority black population Friday to join him in an effort to buy neglected properties and take other steps to help revitalize the struggling city where the movement started more than 80 years ago.
The fiery orator offered few specifics in a speech to the Detroit City Council, but made plain his displeasure with Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to appoint an emergency financial manager. He likened the takeover to buzzards circling over a carcass.
“The city abandoned, crime and violence rampant, and the governor has seen fit to take away the rights of the voting public,” Farrakhan said, referring to putting someone in charge of the city’s finances that wasn’t elected. “I don’t know what democracy really means if you can be given the right to vote and then somebody can take it away.”
He said the city’s downtown is “coming along pretty good” as its buildings are bought and renovated, but many other areas are “like a wasteland.”
“But a wasteland always gives opportunities those who have a vision,” he said.
Detroit’s problems include high crime, joblessness and abandonment; its budget deficit is about $330 million and rising.
“Suppose we in leadership, the pastors of the city, stop arguing,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we come together and own Detroit?”
At the movement’s annual convention in February, Farrakhan called on blacks nationwide to curb economic disparities by cutting back on excessive spending, pooling resources and investing in land. The Nation of Islam has more than 1,500 acres of farmland in Georgia, and leaders have said the group is looking to buy thousands more acres in the Midwest.
Now based in Chicago, the Nation of Islam was founded in 1930 in Detroit by Wallace D. Fard, who the movement says attracted blacks on the margins of society with a message of self-improvement and separation from whites.
The group, which promotes black empowerment and nationalism, was rebuilt by Farrakhan in the late 1970s.
He became notorious for calling Judaism a “gutter religion” and suggesting crack cocaine might have been a CIA plot to enslave blacks. Farrakhan has over the years denied claims of anti-Semitism, arguing his remarks are often taken out of context and that criticism of Jews in any light automatically earns the “anti-Semite” label.
His message on Friday was one of unity among races and religions, but he said he’s focusing on African-Americans because they are city’s majority population.
Farrakhan said it was important to return to Detroit “at a time of intense dark.”
“We got to come home and help this city,” he said.
Farrakhan also is scheduled to deliver an evening public address at Fellowship Chapel on the city’s northwest side.