Civil Rights Commission States Flint Water Crisis Was Caused By Systematic Racism

Photo: Rolling Stone

A new report issued by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission cites systematic racism at the root of the Flint water crisis. The report states:

Reviewing the historical governmental actions impacting the living and health conditions of Flint residents… was sobering and left a deep impression. We must come to terms with the ongoing effects of “systemic racism” that repeatedly led to disparate racial outcomes… This can no longer be ignored”.

Today, the majority of Flint is comprised of African Americans (56.6%) and almost half (41.2%) of residents live below the poverty line. The Commission’s report, issued February 17th, examines Flint’s “community of color… long relegated to substandard housing, education, and job opportunities…  a result of both private discrimination (restrictive covenants) and government policies (mortgage requirements, school district lines, etc.)”. It emphasizes that although innumerable technical investigations have strove to assign blame for the enduring negligence that perpetuated this extreme environmental injustice, the issue is in fact both long-running and insidious.

Elevated levels of lead and other toxins were found in the city’s potable water as a result of inadequate purification measures. The problem began in 2014 after, in a move to cut costs, the city switched from the Detroit water supply to Flint River as the primary water supply. This was only meant to be temporary, while the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline was built— a $274 million project due for completion in 2016. Unfortunately, the Flint River water turned out to be highly corrosive to the iron and lead pipe materials widely used in Flint.

The move was instantly protested. Detroit Free Press reports that the state “downplayed and largely ignored the immediate complaints about the smell, color and taste [of the water]”. Boil water advisories were issued. There have been 91 confirmed cases of the bacterial infection Legionnaires’ disease recently in Flint, resulting in 12 deaths. Additionally, a study by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha revealed the shift in water supply has caused the number of infants and children in Flint with elevated blood lead levels (BLL) to nearly double. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause cognitive dysfunction and a plethora of physical symptoms; children are most vulnerable to irreversible brain damage.

It wasn’t until December 15th of 2016 that Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency. A Michigan state task force determined Flint had violated water treatment rules, while research implicated county officials of orchestrating a cover-up. The state was mandated to distribute bottled water. Shortly after, on January 30th of the new year, a $722 million class action lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Protection Agency, on behalf of the 1,700 citizens of Flint affected by the crisis.

Since, Michigan has allocated approximately $250 million toward restitution and thirteen associated government agents are being criminally charged.The commission report recommends increased community representation, and changes to Michigan’s emergency management laws that address the type of dire financial problems that contributed to such desperate measures and severe negligences.

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