Gov. Snyder’s actions neglect human well-being
A couple of months ago, most Americans probably had no knowledge of Flint, the largest city in Michigan’s Genesee county and now a main city making headlines in national news.
The Flint water crisis has been a major issue since April of 2014, but has only recently been in the public eye. According to The Huffington Post, the issue started after Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder switched residents from their water source in Lake Huron, the third largest body of fresh water in the world, to the Flint River in order to cut costs. Since that move, residents have been exposed to discolored, putrid-smelling water with dangerously high levels of lead.
The water has been linked to lead poisoning in children and about 87 outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, which has resulted in ten deaths, according to CBS News. To make matters worse, about half a dozen new toxins have been found in the water that can cause further health issues in the future.
According to a Huffington Post op-ed written by Emmy-winning director and former resident of Flint, Michael Moore, after Snyder took office in 2011, he passed multi-billion dollar tax breaks with the assistance of the Republican legislature as a way to assist the rich and large corporations. These tax breaks resulted in budget cuts for schools, welfare and water safety.
The lack of representation for minority residents, especially black residents, is also an issue associated with the water crisis. Significant racial segregation in Flint and other cities across the U.S. gives minorities many disadvantages; policies passed by the federal, state and local governments contribute to this segregation and inequality of resources.
Residents noticed differences in the quality of their water over a year ago, but before action was taken for the citizens of Flint, the government decided to help General Motors instead. Because the auto industry has always been a main economic force in Michigan, according to Moore, it was no surprise when $440,000 was spent to reconnect the GM factory back to Lake Huron water after complaints that Flint River water was corroding their car parts.
This demonstrates the value corporations have over everyday people. There is no excuse for Flint officials to assist an auto factory before assisting individuals who need water for their survival. Yes, corporations like these are supposed to bring money into local economies by providing jobs and other resources; therefore it makes sense why local governments will do things in their favor. But even with the GM factory in the area, Flint doesn’t appear to be more prosperous.
Federal law requires water going through lead pipes to have an additive that prevents lead from leaking into the water which is something that wasn’t utilized in Flint. Now the government is faced with a $1.5 billion cost to fix an issue that could have cost $100 a day for three months.
During the great migration, many African Americans from the south settled in the north, leading to the rapid growth of urban black communities. With the decline of the auto industry because of global competition, many urban areas in Michigan are in a state of decay. Poverty and crime have been prevalent issues for years in Flint, especially with a per capita crime rate seven times higher than the national average, ranking it as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., according to Al Jazeera America.
Given the demographics of Flint, which contains a population that is 57 percent black, 37 percent white, 4 percent Latino, 4 percent mixed race residents and with almost 41 percent of residents living below the poverty line, the water crisis has been labeled as an act of environmental racism. In a recent tweet, Moore wrote, “This is a racial killing. Flint MI is 60% black. When u knowingly poison a black city, u r committing a version of genocide #ArrestGovSnyder”.
Blacks have historically been deprived of accessing resources that our country of “equality” claims it grants to everyone with no regard to race or economic status. According to an article by an African American paper, The Root, as recently as 2010, residents in places such as Sunflower County, Mississippi had insufficient water or no water at all. This proves that access to resources for blacks is nothing new and that environmental racism is alive in the U.S.
“While it might not be intentional, there’s this implicit bias against older cities — particularly older cities with poverty (and) majority-minority communities,” Flint’s Democratic representative, Dan Kildee, said in an interview with CNN, “It’s hard for me to imagine the indifference that we’ve seen exhibited if this had happened in a much more affluent community.”
Black Lives Matter even stated that African Americans, especially those living in rural or low-income areas, have historically been denied access to clean drinking water.
Since this crisis has gotten a lot of attention in the news, individuals across the U.S. are trying to do as much as they can to assist the people affected by the Flint water crisis. People in surrounding areas in Michigan have taken it upon themselves to help those in Flint. Carrie Davis is a resident of Lansing, but has many friends and family members living in Flint. She started a GoFundMe page in December as a way to gather donations to provide residents of Flint with cases of water bottles. So far she’s gained over $21,000 in donations and has delivered over 230,000 bottles of water to those in need.
“The local government has helped a bit and the Genesee County Police has started handing out water but other than that there hasn’t been much help,” Davis said. “There’s been a lot of talk but no action at all. I just want people to know that the need is still there and that the government isn’t stepping up.”
Davis said the north side of Flint is the worst and is also the part most impacted by the water crisis.
“There are big empty spaces and most businesses are shut down and homes are abandoned ever since the GM factory closed,” she said. “There are no groceries on the north side so kids don’t even have access to fruits and vegetables.”
In addition to people like Davis, local universities such as the University of Michigan-Flint are trying to keep their students safe and also assist with the local community. According to a Facebook post from Feb. 19 by chancellor Susan E. Borrego, the university has created an interactive map to provide recent information on lead test results and has given out water filters and replacement cartridges to faculty, staff and students living in the city.
Recent water test results at the university have been good, according to Borrego. The university also said that they continue to remain active in the community during this crisis and will continue to provide education.
Recently, Flint residents have issued a class action lawsuit which served Snyder a subpoena. They demanded he release emails and text messages from 2011, but he only released some emails from 2014 and 2015. But as of Feb. 26, he’s released around 6,000 to 8,000 emails related to the water crisis that date back to 2011.
People have been calling for the arrest of Snyder, but as of now he remains untouched. Not only should Snyder be arrested, but also the numerous government officials who were responsible for this chain of events and did nothing to stop it. The lack of action taken by these politicians even after deaths have occurred following residents of Flint’s exposure to dangerous drinking water is a reflection of the influence that power and privilege have in our justice system and the privileges that have been abused at the expense of the lives and well-being of other humans.
Tyla Pink is a freshman philosophy major who is done with corporations being valued more than people. Email her at [email protected].