By Shea Howell
Flint emergency manager Gerald Ambrose is refusing to reconnect to the Detroit Water system. In a press release defending his decision Ambrose said that Flint’s water is safe to drink and “It is incomprehensible to me that seven members of the Flint City Council would want to send more than $12 million a year to the system serving southeast Michigan.” Ambrose said “Flint water is safe.”
The move to return to the Detroit Water System was lead by Flint Councilman Eric Mays.
I met Councilman Mays last Saturday. We were part of a group of about 100 people gathered in the Flint Youth Theater as part of the Healing Stories on Racial Equity sponsored by the Flint Strong Stones and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.
People took the stage to tell of fears of the police, problems with transportation and concern for elders in public housing. But the primary focus of everyone was the water crisis in the city. Since leaving the Detroit Water System in April, residents have had trouble with their water. Here is some of what we heard.
The first woman to step forward said that even her cat wont drink the water out of her tap. She had been taken to the hospital after drinking some soup made for her with tap water. She explained that she had gotten a bill for over $900. “So now I am paying for something I don’t drink and paying $150 for bottled water a month. I take a shower and I itch. I was dehydrated from soup. But I am not about to lose my home. I have to choose between property tax and water. I’m 72 years old and getting tired, and my cat only has three or four more lives left.”
Her concerns were echoed by all the speakers. Many spoke of the rashes, skin irritation, and foul smell and taste of the water. Several speakers brought bottles taken from their taps to show the audience the brown color and sediment floating in it.
Among the most moving of the stories was that told by the mother of an autistic son. He looked forward to his bath every day as a way to calm himself. Now she has to keep him away from the tub. She explained that if he bathes in the water “he gets sick, his eyes are blood shot. He has a rash and a cough.”
The last speaker of the day was a photojournalist who said that he had spent much of his time in Africa, where “the water is better.” He told the story of his hero, Gordon Parks, who had been challenged as a young photographer in the south to confront racial segregation. He had faced the question, “What are you going to do about it?”
The young man looked at the audience and said, “So I ask you, what are you going to do about it?”
Councilman Mays obviously responded, moving to reconnect Flint to Detroit Water. The only thing incomprehensible about this situation is why anyone, even an out of touch emergency manager, would refuse to act quickly to restore safe water to people.