How a Racist System Has Poisoned the Water in Flint, Mich
When the citizens of Flint lost control of their government,
emergency managers started pumping in filthy, lead-filled water, and
the children of Flint are paying the price.
A resident of Flint, Mich., runs
water from her faucet.
9 January, 2016
Tainted water is
poisoning thousands of children in the predominantly African-American
city of Flint, Mich. The high levels of lead in Flint’s water may
create a plethora of serious, long-term
health problems including brain damage, behavioral troubles,
anemia and kidney problems.
On Wednesday, Michigan
Gov. Rick Snyder declared
a state of emergency in Flint and Genesee County in response
to high levels of lead in Flint’s water supply. The U.S. attorney’s
office has launched an investigation to understand who is
responsible, and filmmaker Michael Moore has
called for Snyder’s arrest. This investigation, however, must
go beyond blaming
one individual, because the current water crisis is a direct
result of racialized state politics.
Flint’s citizens, 52
percent African American, have been deprived of the right to govern
their city since 2011. Michigan's Emergency Financial Manager law
allows the governor to appoint an unelected official to control a
city determined to be in fiscal crisis. Emergency Financial Managers
have been primarily assigned to majority-African-American cities
across Michigan. In the past decade, over half of African Americans
in Michigan—compared with only 2 percent of whites—have lived
under emergency management. EFMs are supposed to take over cities
based on a neutral evaluation of financial
municipalities with similar money problems have
not been taken over. Flint’s poisoning is one effect of the
systematic stripping of black civil rights in Michigan.
Flint’s water crisis
began in 2014 when, to save money, Flint’s successively appointed
EFMs, Ed Kurtz and Darnell Earley, switched
the city’s water source to the Flint River rather than
renewing the city’s water contract with Detroit—an established,
safe water supplier. Residents immediately began complaining that
brown water flowed from their faucets, yet health
concerns were disregarded by officials, including Earley’s EFM
successor, Gerald Ambrose.
As early as March
knew that the water contained E. coli and carcinogens.
By fall, it was revealed that residents’ drinking water contained
high levels of lead and copper, contributing to significant reported
assurances in July from Michigan’s Department of
Environmental Quality that concerned residents should “relax,” an
team from Virginia Tech found lead levels were a staggering
16 times the allowed limit, and a local pediatrician found that lead
poisoning had doubled among Flint children in a single year. (There
are twice as many black children as white children in Flint.)
It took national media
attention to make the state apologize and provide tap filters for
residents. The city returned to getting water from Detroit in October
2015, but experts argue that the city’s infrastructure was damaged
by the Flint River’s corrosive water. As a result, levels
are still high, since corroded
pipes may not be capable of preventing toxins from leaking
into the water supply.
What gave this
unelected person the power to poison a city? Emergency financial
management, which grants virtually unlimited power to an unelected
official, lies at the heart of this story.
The EFM law, as
designed and implemented, rests on the premise that democracy in
predominantly African-American cities is unnecessary and that the
state knows best. But the state shares blame for Flint’s fiscal
problems: It cut
almost $55 million in expected revenue to Flint from
2003-2013 in a move that disproportionately defunded already
impoverished (and majority-African American) cities.
Six EFMs have governed
Flint in the past 13 years. Because budget deficits trump all other
concerns, EFMs’ financial decisions have followed the austerity
playbook, including cutting pay or firing unionized city employees
and selling city properties. Cities under EFM have no one to hold
accountable for the impact of these decisions—including decisions
that result in poisoned water.
Water provides a
telling window into the harmful effects of EFMs on African-American
citizens. Various EFMs across Michigan, including Flint, have used
water as a revenue stream by hiking
to privatize systems or borrowing from the water budget.
EFMs in Detroit and Highland Park have implemented draconian
punishments for households unable to pay high water prices
(including cementing over valves) while ignoring delinquent
companies’ bills. And in Flint’s case, the deposed city
independently check water quality after concerns were
water reveals the toxicity of the EFM law. Though several
families filed a lawsuit against Earley and others, they
to succeed, since government agencies can’t be held liable for
how they do their job.
Michigan’s EFM law
deprives local residents of basic political rights. Because African
Americans are more likely to live in cities with EFMs, they are more
likely to be impacted by their decisions. We are left to wonder:
Would this happen in a majority-white city? This law and its effects
reveal unpleasant truths about race and democracy in 2016.
Michigan: 'Legionnaires Disease' Spikes In Flint Amid Poisoned Water Crisis
How Flint, Michigan, Saved Money and Poisoned Its Children: City Declares Water Emergency
Following Flint Tragedy, Republican Congress Votes to Block Clean Water Bill
15 January, 2016
Flint has recently had a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint, which has killed 10 and sickened 87, which came on top of the revelations that the water has been poisoned with lead for years and that some state officials ignored evidence for months. Now just a day after that outbreak, a bipartisan bill on the national stage called the “Waters of the United States rule” has been voted against by Montana’s delegates, which will block the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean water rule.
The people of #Michigan are filling up the rotunda in Lansing calling for Governor Rick Snyder to be held accountable for the #FlintWaterCrisis!
Posted by Cameron Fure on Thursday, 14 January 2016