Poisoned water mirrored in Black and Brown communities nationwide
WASHINGTON – The poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s drinking water may have fallen off newspapers’ front pages and television screens, but residents are asking those concerned about the fallout and the effects on the city’s almost 100,000 residents to not forget them.
Several Flint residents were among a slate of panelists who discussed the on-going crisis at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in downtown Washington, D.C. at a national town hall meeting. In addition to presenting the roots of the tragedy, panelists spoke about the strategies and plans either being considered or already underway and tied the lead poisoning to cities and communities across the country.
“Some people call it an emergency or a crisis, some call it a disaster, others say put yellow tape around the city,” said community activist Yvonne Lewis, who has lived in Flint for 40 years. “I can’t share with you everything everybody feels. The disaster is framed as a poor, Black, African American issue but every one of every race has been affected,” she said.
“There is intent and intention. It may not have been the intent to poison the community but the intention was to remove the power of choice. Our community is afraid of being forgotten, afraid of being left behind. We have enough to help ourselves … we’re standing and will continue to stand.”
For more than a year, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and state officials delayed, ignored and stonewalled as complaints from frustrated and concerned Flint, Michigan residents mounted.
“Before it got on TV, we had three lead people out in front. We saw water running from the hydrants before April 14,” said E. Hill Deloney, a Flint resident and executive director of PARTNERS. “Some people came and asked what’s wrong with the water. The oppressor put a plan together to save the oppressed. They went directly to the Red Cross, found people who looked like them. ”
Ms. Deloney said Michigan state officials formed the group called Resiliency Group which had no water officials or community or grassroots organizations. She said she publicly expressed her displeasure at the lack of representation of Blacks and others and chastised the organizers.
“We have been here fighting the government face-to-face. We’ve been flipping the script completely.” Bishop Bernadel Jefferson agreed.
“We were left out of meetings and solutions. You can assume to know what we need but you don’t,” said Jefferson, pastor of Faith Deliverance Center in Flint and a plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenges the state’s emergency manager law.
“We went to the mayor, we went to the council, we went to the emergency manager. We went to the governor and he refused to speak to us. When he says he didn’t know, he’s lying. He wasn’t sorry, he’s just sorry he got caught. It took Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha to step forward.”
“This is genocide. It started in 2011 with the emergency management law. It took our vote and voice away. We didn’t have a say so with the emergency management. They sold off all our public assets. The root problem is the emergency manager.”
Bishop Jefferson and Ms. Deloney said residents and activists continue to agitate in Detroit, Lansing and elsewhere in the state on the city’s behalf and continue to push for accountability from Snyder and other state, county and city officials who have refused to take responsibility for the man-made public health crisis.
Accountability and responsibility
When Gov. Snyder authorized Emergency Manager Darnell Early to switch Flint’s drinking water from the clean, fresh water of Lake Huron to the foul, dirty and corrosive Flint River in 2014, residents began complaining about the foul taste and color of their drinking water but the governor, his former spokesman, state and city officials, dismissive of the chorus of complaints, continued to insist that the water was safe to drink.
Since then, the move—made ostensibly to save money—has left Flint residents to deal with the long-term consequences and fallout from a lead poisoning tragedy that could affect them and their children into the foreseeable future. Problems associated with exposure to lead are irreversible. Lead is a potent neurotoxin which can cause memory loss, irreversible brain damage, impaired development, cognitive dysfunction, speech impediments and other serious chronic conditions, particularly in children.