By Frank X Murphy
In April 2014 Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Flint Emergency Manager, in entrepreneurial consultation with the leading lights of Flint’s Karegnondi Water Authority, switched the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage System to the Flint River. Almost immediately People in Flint knew there was something wrong. The water was brown or yellow, it stunk and it was full of floaters. For People forced to live under these outrageous circumstances, this was the first stage of understanding the systemic evils that underlie Snyder’s administration.
As much of the nation finally knows now – thanks to the incredibly heroic activism of Flint residents, the intrepid, brilliant, relentless and engaged journalistic interventions of the ACLU’s Curt Guyette and Peoples videographer extraordinaire Kate Levy, and ultimately a couple of timely scientific studies by Professor Marc Edwards (lots of lead in Flint water) and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha (rising lead levels in the blood of Flint children) – Snyder’s evil administration succeeded in poisoning a lot of People in Flint and creating a disaster / crisis / scandal of major historic proportions.
Rick Snyder and his cronies have had several public reactions to these events, corresponding to stages in development of the now full-blown crisis:
First, from April 2014 until the end of September 2015, they blatantly lied, denied, and insulted the intelligence and integrity of everyone who was trying to call attention to the obvious visual, smell and taste evidence of what Snyder’s emergency management regime did.
Next, even after Prof. Edwards’ and Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s scientific thunderbolts hit them, they (briefly) tried to attack the credibility of these fine scientists and their data. Not coincidentally at this point the media environment and political ground began to shift rapidly under their feet.
Like the cunning finaglers and scumbags they are, Snyder’s crew then tried to shift with events, initiating a cover-up (“Flint Water Task Force”) that would soon distinguish itself for clumsiness and even more obvious lies.
In the midst of such a fiasco, much more drastic action was needed to make People believe that the Snyder administration cared about the People of Flint, understood their own responsibilities to clean up the mess they made and protect public health, or at least was “only” negligent and not outright criminal. The cover-up task force issued a scathing interim report – fingering the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as the primary scapegoat – a time-tested technique for trying to improve Snyder’s togs by throwing his DEQ director Dan Wyant and public relations flack Brad Wurfel under the bus.
But by this time, with Flint water still unusable and the public health and political accountability genies out of the bottle, their words and bizarre claims that this disaster occurred because they somehow misunderstood the technical requirements of the EPA’s lead / copper rule no longer held water. Public officials like Flint Congressman Dan Kildee drew a clear distinction between verbally admitting responsibility and acting responsibly by bringing actual emergency humanitarian resources to People in Flint they harmed: bottled water, medical care, engineering and construction projects to repair the ravaged infrastructure leaking poison into the water, and the like. Now it was time for Snyder to call out the State Police, the National Guard, FEMA and declare a state of emergency.
That state of emergency caused by ‘emergency management’ is the stage of unraveling Snyder’s evil administration where we find ourselves now. Meanwhile, at the extreme liberal and investigative point of corporate media inquiry, Detroit Free Press opinion columnist Nancy Kaffer is beginning to dig into the slowly emerging documentary record of this atrocity. In a column on January 12, 2016, Ms. Kaffer expressed continuing puzzlement about a critical part of the documentary trail:
“In a man-made public health crisis fraught with inexplicable choices, this is yet another decision point I’m still struggling to understand: An analysis, indicating that Flint’s water was safe that some staffers found flawed, was amplified, while a report that could have raised the alarm about the safety of Flint’s water supply was disregarded.”
This continuing mystery about judgment, credibility and human rights can be readily cleared up, simply by recalling the political and legal equivalent of the floaters, discoloration and (especially) the smell of Rick Snyder’s unprecedented, radically anti-democratic and cunningly racist ‘emergency management’ statutes.
We first saw this unjust, unconstitutional and (we now know for sure, after what happened in Flint!) insane legislation in early 2011. Almost immediately, many of us started sounding the alarm; uniting all local government powers, as well as the extraordinary powers to break contracts and violate local laws, in a single henchman accountable only to the Governor would harm, not help Michigan’s urban, predominantly African-American communities. Snyder’s crew re-enacted their ‘emergency management’ powers even after Michigan voters repealed his first statute by referendum in 2012. Corporate media and other notables decried the obvious injuries to democracy, but the ‘necessity’ of imposing right wing, corporate and white ‘fiscal responsibility’ on poverty-stricken working poor People carried the day. Flint’s lead-poisoned children are paying an obscenely heavy price for that triumph of ideological will.
Systems analysis of the Snyder administration’s political philosophy and naked power plays answers Ms. Kaffer’s question about the nature of their decision-making in Flint; whether the issue is voter suppression; public health; democracy; the rule of law; foreclosures; water; racial and economic equity; public education, or whatever, in every case, Snyder’s corporate cronies benefit and pursue their evil agendas, and our most vulnerable People get the shaft in order to produce that result. The pattern is completely clear. Ms. Kaffer’s struggle is with the ideological blinders of corporate media, because knowledge of the facts and systems thinking clarifies the issues.
It was completely foreseeable, foreseen and predicted by many, many knowledgeable and credible People that uniting all local government powers in a single, totally unaccountable gubernatorial appointee with the power to violate local laws and contracts would harm, not help communities like Flint and Detroit and our People. Because it was always clear, and at the expense of Flint’s children and others is now becoming more widely known, that such powers, granted in a political and social environment grounded on white supremacist, capitalist / imperial patriarchy, uncontrolled corporate power, deregulation, privatization, union-busting and all the other tricks and wiles of ‘the 1%’, would aide Snyder’s cronies and hurt their victims. This is the lesson the Flint River scandal and its scandalous, futile, continuing cover-up: Flint’s water crisis is also our crisis.
As we go forward in 2016 and beyond with the lifelong neurological injuries of Flint’s children, as well as the inflated claims of revitalization, renewal, restructuring and fabricated dominator reality around Detroit’s post-emergency management and bankruptcy, featuring mass water shut offs for tens of thousands of Detroiters, we will be better served if we keep this painful lesson in mind and in the forefront of our discourse and action.
Frank X Murphy is the pen name of a Detroiter seeking emergency anger management resources and opportunities.