The people of Flint, Michigan are dealing with a terrible crisis of their water quality that will probably have huge ramifications for years, if not generations to come. When Governor Rick Snyder was elected, he knew that he needed to act to help the economy in Michigan. One critical and controversial way in which the Governor acted was to establish Emergency Managers for areas in crisis. This meant the the Governor could declare a city in financial crisis and appoint an Emergency Manager that would take over for the city. This in theory was supposed to help expedite changes more quickly and get to more technocratic answers and skip over the politics. This also meant that the locally elected officials were essentially rendered useless in lieu of the State’s appointed leader.
It was just such an Emergency Manager that led Flint and made the fateful decision to change water sources for the city which caused all the water woes. With the water switched from the Detroit water source to the Flint River, many residents began to complain that the water didn’t look, smell or taste good. After research was done it was discovered that the corrosive water in the Flint River was sending pollutants into the drinking water of the town. Most importantly, lead. Lead poisoning can be especially severe in children and has been linked to a loss in IQ.
For months the city was assured that the water was fine, while there was much internal consternation and discussion about the risks involved. Now, the water has been switched back to the Detroit source, but the corrosive nature of the Flint River means that the damage has already been done and the system itself has been corrupted. Now residents struggle to live on bottled water that they get through donations and some still use the lead-laced water because they frankly have no other water source.
Flint is in crisis because of a failure of leadership on multiple levels. The Emergency Manager cared more about cutting the costs in the short-term than the long-term health of the city. The Governor failed both in passing the Emergency Manager law and in his so far slow and lack luster response. The is exacerbated by the fact that no one knows what the Governor knows as his office has been exempted from Freedom of Information Act requests. The EPA didn’t ring the alarm loud enough or long enough to get the attention is issue deserved. So far the Obama administration has declared a state of emergency, but there is no FEMA trucks pulling up with fresh water, not public money is going to a massive campaign to ensure safe drinking water in the city.
It is my belief that the state should immediately harness the necessary resources and provide clean water to the citizens of Flint. If that means they borrow money from the federal government to do so, then so be it. Additional funds should be set aside to deal with the lingering effects of lead poisoning in the children of flint and to cope with the damage done to their lives.
No conversation can be had about this crisis that doesn’t also include race.The majority of Flint residents are black. It is unconscionable that this happened at all, but it seems that there is no coincidence that this happened in a majority-minority city. This is not to say that there is some explicitly racist motivation for this crisis. But this does fit into the narrative of institutional racism and discrimination that disparately impacts people of color and reinforces the societal impression that black lives don’t matter as much as white lives.
While at this point we do not know the full extent of the problem and where to totally assign blame, we must work together as citizens to demand that the problem be solved and full restitution be given to those affected. Those responsible in the public life should resign, be forced from office or not reelected. This is disgraceful and unbecoming of the Uniteed States and any democracy.