An Open Letter to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission on Their Report: “Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint”
By Tom Stephens
First, the Good News
There’s much to applaud in the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s recent report[i] (February 17, 2017) regarding the deep historical and social origins of the now-notorious Flint water poisoning catastrophe.
In the midst of the anguish and chaos flowing from the Trump administration, new reports about water were issued with little attention. They raise serious questions about the quality of our drinking water and predict that clean, affordable water is rapidly disappearing.
In December, as we braced for Trumps inauguration, Reuters released an alarming report that concluded nearly 3000 localities in the United States currently have drinking water with levels of lead “at least double the rates found in Flint’s drinking water.”
This was followed a few weeks later by research from Michigan State University concluding that water rates are becoming increasingly unaffordable. “If water rates continue rising at projected amounts, the number of U.S. households unable to afford water could triple in five years, to nearly 36 percent.” This means, “As many as “13.8 million U.S. households (or 11.9 percent of all households) may find water bills unaffordable.”
The people of Michigan can take some comfort in the recent criminal charges brought against two emergency managers responsible for the disaster in Flint. This is the first formal acknowledgement that the poisoning of Flint is directly tied to the lack of democratic control. Former Emergency Managers Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley were charged with criminal conspiracy. These charges affirm what most people in Michigan know. Emergency Managers are a means of sacrificing public safety and health in order to save money. In the course of these savings, some well-connected businesses make money.Even Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has vigorously defended emergency management laws, was forced to admit that the irrational drive to make public decisions based on balance sheets is at the core of this disaster. During the press conference announcing the filing of criminal charges Schuette said, “There was a fixation on finances and balance sheets. This fixation has cost lives. This fixation came at the cost of protecting health and safety. Numbers over people, money over health.”
Excerpt: “The false pretenses charges brought against former emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose “are based on the Defendants gaining authorization to borrow millions using the alleged reason of an environmental calamity,” according to a statement issued by Schuette’s office.
“Without the funds from Flint,” the statement continued, “the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) Pipeline would have to be mothballed. However, as a bankrupt city, Flint needed the Michigan Department of Treasury’s approval to get loans.”
Earley and Ambrose face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted of false pretenses for the loan scheme—which, Todd Flood, special Flint water crisis prosecutor appointed by Schuette, described as a “classic bait-and-switch.”
Along with Earley and Ambrose, former Flint public works officials Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson were each charged with two felonies alleging that they helped obtain the loan under false pretenses. They are also accused of allowing the Flint water treatment plant to begin operation before it was ready to adequately treat the river water.”
Mayor Duggan has launched an aggressive initiative to improve life in Detroit’s neighborhoods. This past week he has touted new initiatives on employing Detroiters. He announced efforts to strengthen executive authority requiring some businesses to hire at least 51% Detroit residents for their workforce. Those who don’t meet this goal will be fined, the money used to fund training programs. He has ordered a tightening of controls on landlords who are not paying heating bills. Currently, some people have gone more than a year without heat in their apartments. These efforts are all part of Duggan’s “20 Minute Neighborhood” vision where any person should be able to walk or bike to almost everything they need within 20 minutes.
Today, something called the KIND Foundation, “through its KIND People Program, awarded a total of $1.1 million “to catalyze empathy and heal divides.” Six activist/healers have been awarded $100,000 and one (Doniece Sandoval) was given $500,000. These are straight-up gifts, as opposed to grants; recipients can do whatever they wish with the funds. Among the recipients? Our very own community activist Monica Lewis-Patrick, who we profiled in our “People” issue last year.
An excerpt from the profile in Metro Times: Today, she fights for the rights of Detroiters to have access to water, even if they cannot afford to pay their bills. With the organization We the People of Detroit, she’s firing on all cylinders. Among other things, We the People manages a water rights hotline so people can get emergency assistance, and oversees four water stations that will even deliver water directly to those in need if they cannot make it to a station.
“I spoke in front of the U.N. in September, another tremendous honor,” she says. And are there more political plans in her future? “I really like being a free black woman if there’s such a thing in America, without someone else’s time clock or agenda,” Lewis-Patrick says.
“Everyone here is aware that the fight is not over. The company will challenge the decision. Trump will try to reverse it. “The legal path is not yet clear, and the need to put financial pressure on the banks invested in the pipeline is more crucial than ever,” says Chase Iron Eyes, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe attorney and member (and a recent congressional candidate).
Nor does today’s victory erase the need for justice and restitution for the string of shocking human-rights violations against the mainly Indigenous water protectors—the water cannons, the dog attacks, the hundreds arrested, the grave injuries inflicted by supposedly non-lethal weapons.
On December 4, 2017 the Obama administration announced the department of the Army will not approve the Dakota Access pipeline easement to cross Lake Oahe. They will seek another route.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe “wholeheartedly support the decision.” Dave Archambault II, the Sioux Tribal Chairman said, “Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner – and that is how we will respond to this decision. With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well. We look forward to celebrating in wopila, in thanks, in the coming days.”
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was swamped this week with objections to its decision to allow Nestle Waters North America to increase its pumping of water from an underground aquifer. Nestle wants to more than double its current rate from 150 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute. This would amount to 210,240,000 gallons of water a year being sucked out and transported by truck to their Iron Mountain bottling plant. This bottled water is shipped throughout the midwest in little plastic bottles and sold for enormous profit.
Building Movement Detroit Central United Methodist Church, Rev. Edwin Rowe Change Agent Consortium Cities of Peace Citizens For Highland Park Public Schools Cooperative Economics Critical Moment Detroit Communicator Detroit Green Party Detroit Eviction Defense Detroit People’s Platform DPS Education Task Force; Library Committee Free Detroit / No Consent Feedom Freedom Growers, Creative Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit Hood Research International Socialist Organization James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership Keep Growing Detroit Michigan Citizen Michigan Forward Michigan Welfare Rights Organization Moratorium Now! National Action Network, Michigan Chapter National Lawyers Guild Project Save Detroit Raiz Up Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development Sacred Heart Church, Father Norman P. Thomas Simmons’ Hush House Slowdown First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit, Lee Gaddies, Social Justice Chair St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Detroit, Pastor Bill Wylie-Kellerman Sugar Law Center; Team for Justice Uprooting Racism Planting Justice We The People of Detroit