Flint, America, and environmental racism

Editor’s Note: This older post, since unpublished, comes from my my radical friend, only calling himself Sir Moneypants. Still a good post, regardless. Put here as something for further discussion.

Flint, Michigan has been in the news due to the poisoning of the population by a toxic water supply. I haven’t followed this story as much as others, so I read a recent six-page article in Time magazine by Josh Sanburn (“The Toxic Tap: How A Disastrous Chain of Events Corroded Flint’s Water System–And The Public Trust”) with great interest. This post aims to analyze Sanburn’s article and provides a critical perspective about the recent events in Flint.

Sanburn’s article 

The article starts with the story of a 37-year-old mother, Melissa Mays, who was poisoned by toxic water, and that she wasn’t alone. Sanburn writes that since April 2014, when Flint began drawing its water from the local Flint River instead of from Lake Huron by buying it from Detroit, “residents in this ailing industrial city began complaining of burning skin, hand tremors, hair loss, [and] even seizures.” Despite this, the article notes that for almost 19 months, Flint River water corroded the city’s old pipes and leached lead into the water but Flint’s mayor and a spokesperson for the top environmental regulator said that people should relax about the water. If that wasn’t enough, the city’s unelected emergency manager who was appointed by the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, overruled a vote to return the city to Detroit’s supply of water (he later resigned from his position “as emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools”). Since September 2015, when researchers in Flint reported the effects of lead contamination in the blood of children, officials began to acknowledge the scope of the crisis, presidential candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties have weighed in, along with President Obama, and “the wheels of government…creaked into action.” Sanburn also noted that despite the sudden spotlight on Flint has “done little to offset more than a year’s worth of neglect” and that the government failed in its job, in Sanburn’s view, for two reasons: (1) “a disastrous combination of bad policy, shortsighted decisions and bureaucratic malfeasance” and (2) in the view of local residents, their differing political views (mostly Democrat-voting), socioeconomic position (low-income), and race (mostly black), was why the governor and governor-appointed emergency managers didn’t care about them.

Sanburn’s short article goes on to make a number of other observations about Flint. He notes that the idea of the “American Dream” has disappeared in a once thriving city where General Motors (GM) and the United Auto Workers union started, with the latter jump-starting “the modern labor union in the U.S.” In Sanburn’s matter-of-factly reflection, “as automobile-manufacturing jobs moved overseas,” Flint began its decline with better-off families escaping for the suburbs and the tax base hollowed out (giving it $15 billion in debt), giving the governor the justification he needed to appoint emergency managers. The article also noted that after Detroit raised rates for municipalities using their water, Flint’s city council voted to build a pipeline directly to Lake Huron, but, in the mean time, the emergency manager proposed that the city use the local river as a interim source while the pipeline was being built. The decision of the emergency manager, Ed Kurtz, to sign a contract to make this interim source a reality, as Sanburn observed, was subject to “no public referendum or city council vote” but it was welcomed by many local leaders. This jubilee of saving money would be short-lived since the Flint River water wasn’t treated with an inhibitor for corrosion meaning that it picked up toxins from the city’s lead pipes. Even in August 2014, the city’s officials recommended that people boil the water before they use it and, in October, GM announced it wouldn’t use municipal water anymore because it was damaging engine parts.

Sanburn goes on to tell the story of certain people who spoke out about such toxic water. These include a Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters who asked the city to test her tap and went to state agencies, along with the EPA, and a EPA water specialist, Miguel Del Toral who warned that Flint’s water “contained toxic levels of lead because the state had failed to ensure it was properly treated for corrosion.” In response, Walters’s results were dismissed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) because she used a filter and Toral was dismissed by the same agency as a “rogue employee.” While some officials realized that there were issues at play, even those in the highest levels of government, it was not until researchers found that lead poisoning in Flint neighborhoods had increased that action was taken, including Genesee County issuing a public-health emergency and asking residents to not drink the water.

The rest of the article talks about the results of this toxic poisoning. Sanburn writes that “for almost five years, Flint has been effectively run by a series of unelected officials appointed by the governor” while noting the official response of a task force appointed by the governor and that some think that the DEQ thought that it could run out the clock until Flint was directly connected to Lake Huron. Then there’s a quote from the state’s Governor where he acted like he didn’t know anything, claiming: “I knew there were water issues in Flint. But did I know there were unsafe blood levels? No.” Beyond this, Sanburn, almost sadly, says “earning back the trust of city residents may prove impossible” and that there is an unknown future for certain children, with some families moving to other states in order to minimize their risk. Still, Walters, currently living in Virginia, says in a powerful quote at the end of the article: “We still don’t drink the water. We still have a five-minute shower limit, even in Virginia. I will never again drink water from a water source because we’re told to. Never again.”

A reflection on Sanburn’s article and beyond

While the Time article was interesting and insightful, it easily aligned with a government-blaming approach common in our current neoliberal times. This meant that corporate elites, a.k.a. the capitalist class, weren’t on the hook for engaging in outsourcing of jobs and hollowing out of the American Midwest, such as Michigan, as they should have been. Still, it is evident that there was government malfeasance. However, the article NEVER construes the toxic poisoning of Flint to be environmental racism or environmental racial-classism, to be more exact, even though it notes, almost in passing, that the city is mostly poor and black. Even liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who was born in Flint, says in a opinion piece, on the same page as the last page of Sanburn’s article, that this is “a racial crime. If it were happening in another country, we’d call it ethnic cleansing.” Moore also argues that the city, after 1980, when General Motors decided to move of its jobs from Flint, to the non-unionized American South and overseas, this began “a three-decade economic and social assault” on Flint.

Celebrity Left personality and famed writer Shaun King has written a number of articles on this subject. In an article written three days ago, he declared that what people are finding on the ground of Flint should “be treated as a national emergency” and that the simple consumer-grade filters on their faucets to reduce lead in the water “are not working.” King also declared that while some are “pledging thousands or even millions of dollars…what we are looking at is a multi-billion dollar problem…[people] are going to need 360-degree support to find their way through this crisis and it seems like they are getting pamphlets and trinkets instead.” King also said that “it could be that the entire water system in Flint is damaged beyond repair,” that people need industrial-grade filters, and that “a new crime is happening every single time someone turns on a faucet. This feels like genocide.” Those are strong words, even for King. However, it seems he is hesitating in calling the poisoning of Flint residents a genocide almost with the tone of “this can’t happen in America!” Article II of the Genocide Convention of 1948 defines genocide as the following:

“…genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III then says that the following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

There is no doubt that the poisoning of the water caused “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” in this case Flint residents, and killed at minimum ten individuals. In a legalistic sense, it could be hard to find the smoking gun and prove that officials committed these acts “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part” the black community of Flint. [1] Still, I’d say these actions are still a form of racial genocide, environmental racial-classism, and criminal behavior.

This brings us to another article by Shaun King in which he declared that a water crisis like this would never happen in a white and wealthy community. King wrote that, according to health experts, exposure to the poisoned water “is likely to cause brain, liver and kidney damage across the population” and that people in Flint are “extremely frustrated” along with being “emblematic of an economic, leadership and public health crisis being faced by the entire state of Michigan.” King then noted that undocumented immigrants in Flint are struggling to get fliers and bottled water that is being handed out and he declared that “this type of prolonged environmental and humanitarian crisis would never happen in the few wealthy white communities left in Michigan.” He also declared that this is “the worst case scenario of what happens when race, class and politics meet the essential public works” and that Michigan residents being denied clean water “isn’t simply an error, it’s criminal.” While this is arguably true, it can’t be seen as “the worst case scenario” as this implies that the events in Flint are the worst scenario for an environmental crisis in the United States that negatively impacts humans and/or non-human animals. A number of environment crises and disasters show King’s conclusion to be incorrect. These crises and disasters, in the United States, other than Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. The 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill: “an ash dike ruptured at an 84-acre (0.34 km2) solid waste containment area at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant inRoane County, Tennessee, USA. 1.1 billion US gallons (4,200,000 m3) of coal fly ashslurry was released…Although the land surrounding the power plant is largely rural rather than residential, the spill caused a mudflow wave of water and ash that covered 12 homes, pushing one entirely off its foundation, rendering three uninhabitable, and caused some damage to 42 residential properties. It also washed out a road, ruptured a major gas line, obstructed a rail line, downed trees, broke a water main, and destroyed power lines…In response to a video that showed dead fish on the Clinch River, which had received runoff from the spill, he [a TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) spokesperson] stated “in terms of toxicity, until an analysis comes in, you can’t call it toxic.”
  2. The 2000 Martin County coal slurry spill: “…the bottom of a coal slurry impoundment owned by Massey Energy in Martin County, Kentucky, USA, broke into an abandoned underground mine below. The slurry came out of the mine openings, sending an estimated 306,000,000 US gallons (1.16×109 l; 255,000,000 imp gal) of slurry down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. By morning, Wolf Creek was oozing with the black waste; on Coldwater Fork, a 10-foot (3.0 m) wide stream became a 100-yard (91 m) expanse of thick slurry. The spill was over five feet deep in places and covered nearby residents’ yards. The spill polluted hundreds of miles (300 – 500 km) of the Big Sandy River and its tributaries and the Ohio River. The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated, and all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek was killed.”
  3. The 1948 Donora smog: “a historic air inversion resulting in a wall of smog that killed 20 people and sickened 7,000 more in Donora, Pennsylvania, a mill town on the Monongahela River, 24 miles (39 km) southeast of Pittsburgh…Many of the illnesses and deaths were initially attributed to asthma. The smog continued until it rained on October 31, by which time 20 residents of Donora had died and approximately a third to one half of the town’s population of 14,000 residents had been sickened. Another 50 residents died of respiratory causes within a month after the incident. Hydrogen fluoride and sulfur dioxide emissions from U.S. Steel’s Donora Zinc Works and its American Steel & Wire plant were frequent occurrences in Donora.”
  4. EPA superfund sites: They “are the nation’s worst toxic waste sites: 1,305 are scheduled for cleanup on the National Priorities List (NPL). About 11 million people in the U.S., including 3-4 million children, live within 1 mile of a federal Superfund site and confront potential public health risks. Scorecard profiles the risks these sites pose to public health and the environment. Scorecard ranks sites by how high they scored in EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, and states and counties by number of Superfund sites.”
  5. Hanford site: “The weapons production reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, and decades of manufacturing left behind 53 million US gallons (200,000 m3) of high-level radioactive waste stored within 177 storage tanks, an additional 25 million cubic feet (710,000 m3) of solid radioactive waste, and 200 square miles (520 km2) of contaminated groundwater beneath the site… Intermittent discoveries of undocumented contamination have slowed the pace and raised the cost of cleanup. In 2007, the Hanford site represented two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste by volume Hanford is currently the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup.”

There are a number of others I could mention here (like this, this, and this) but it should be evident that it is silly to say that what happened in Flint was “the worst.” That doesn’t even make sense as a value judgment as it downplays other environmental disasters have negatively effected Americans and the nonhuman world.

Shaun King isn’t the only one to comment on the Flint water poisoning. In the recent Democratic presidential debate, a moderate imperialist who is falsely cast as a socialist, Bernie Sanders, declared that “one wonders if this [Flint] were a white suburban community, what type of response there would have been.” While this is a valid point and is similar to what Killary Clinton mentioned not long ago, it does not take into account class as much as it should. Race and class are both realities that should be taken into consideration when thinking about Flint or any other “bombed-out city,” as some call it, which has been ravaged by the process of deindustrialization.

Reason magazine endorses water privatization

The most far-out response is from Reason magazine, which is published by the Reason Foundation with capitalists as trustees, including none other than David Koch of Koch Industries, and has a libertarian viewpoint by working to, in their own words, “advance a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.” The article in and of itself shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they publish an annual privatization report, which gloats about what parts of United States have been privatized in the past year. Before getting into the article itself, it is important to note that, according to information gathered by the liberal organization Media Matters, the Reason Foundation has received gobs of money from the Koch Foundation, Donors Trust, Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking, and the Searle Freedom Trust, among others.

This article, by the Vice President of Policy for the Reason Foundation, Adrian Moore, is titled almost triumphantly with the title “Here’s How to Fix Flint’s Water System: Privatize It” and claims in the subheading that a “privately-run water system is more accountable to the people.” [2] Moore argues that “maybe shame will at last lead state and local officials to look at how to fix the water utility…When things go wrong—as they did in Flint—bad political and management decision are to blame.” This claim highlights part of the reason why articles such as one in the Time magazine, that began this post, are problematic: they play into this narrative. The article claims that “it is clear that state and local officials papered over the crisis as long as they could…officials knowingly chose a more expensive approach widely predicted to experience delays…the utility managers who were supposed to ensure the water coming out of taps was safe, and the state regulators who oversaw them, botched the job.” Even though that is arguably correct, Moore makes the argument that “it is very unlikely any of this could have happened if Flint’s water utility had been private” and then claims that Walmart, Coca Cola, Pepsi, and other companies donating “massive amounts of bottled water to Flint residents” are doing so out of the goodness in their hearts.

If I’ve learned anything from the Simpsons, what Moore is saying is untrue. In one scene from the 2007 Simpsons movie, three people come to meet ruthless capitalist C. Montgomery Burns to use some of his electricity. Dr. Hibbert says that “the hospital’s generator is about to give out. Lives will be lost,” and chief of the police, Wiggum, “We got a convict we were gonna fry tomorrow, but now we can’t,” the latter which Mr. Burns finds “tempting.” Then, the convinence store owner, Apu tells Mr. Burns “look, all our reasons mean nothing. Just look into your heart and you’ll find the answer” which Smithers shows with his hand motions is the wrong answer. As a result, Mr. Burns releases the hounds, which chase them out of his mansion’s ground. You could say that this is a silly Hollywood movie, however, it makes the point that rich people, capitalists to be exact, aren’t going to be doing things out of the goodness of their hearts. There is always a profit motive available, even if Reason claims that the donations by multinational corporations bring up the question of “whether the private sector supplanting government functions is actually a bad thing” rather than companies promoting their product so that people will see them in a positive light and whitewash their exploitation, along with crimes that they have committed in the past.

Moore then goes on to claim in his article that almost 75 million people in the US get water from a private utility and that “most probably don’t even know it.” But I am sure that if those people did now it, they would be pissed. It is also possible that people do know and resist it but Moore doesn’t want this in his article. At one point hilariously Moore cites that Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency was in favor of privatizing water, despite the fact that Clinton is seen as a nice, happy, liberal by some, and claims that the government’s rules led to a a number of communities privatizing “their water utilities in order to get them into compliance with EPA safe-drinking-water standards.” If that isn’t enough, Moore gives the supposedly successful example of privatized water in Milwaukee, Wisconsin starting in the 1990s. What the author fails to mention is that the water in Milwaukee is NOT privatized at the present despite a proposal by the mayor of the city, Tom Barrett, who ran against unionbuster Scott Walker in 2009, and numerous other forms of opposition (see here, here, and here) by the general population. You’ll never see an article in Reason about the private wastewater company, United Water, literally flushing untreated wastewater into Lake Michigan! Some wackos even think that this privatization isn’t enough and they should go further. Moore also doesn’t mention that after the events in Milwaukee there was a “strong contingent of citizen groups fighting for improved wastewater management.” I doubt any of these groups thought privatization was a great idea.

Even United Water was dropped as the manager of the city’s wastewater in 2007, but strangely the city’s water agency only said that “the District operates two water reclamation facilities through a private contract operator that serve 411 square miles and 1.1 million people in 28 communities” but does not say the name of this operator. A report by the the city’s water authority noted, in 2007, there was the expiration of the contract with United Water and there was a “second ten-year contract…with Veolia Water Milwaukee (VWM) effective March 1, 2008…[to] provide…the District with the lowest cost option to maintain, operate, and manage the District’s water reclamation facilities, collection, and conveyance system.” Another thing Reason won’t mention is that VWM received $320,000 in “three performance bonuses for 2015,” and that it was “paid an extra $1.4 million for services…that were outside the scope of the company’s 10-year contract with the district.” It is worthy to note that next year the city’s water service will decide if to continue this contract or to take charge of the system themselves. Reason will never mention that to their readers.

Moore’s article goes on to argue that the “key difference between public and private water utilities” is oversight, claiming that if Flint’s water utility was private “it would not have been allowed by state regulators to provide toxic water to citizens.” This is just absolutely mindless, a conclusion that no reasonable person could ever come to unless they had neoliberal logic implanted in their head. Who says that private utilities couldn’t do the same thing? With a private utility there is LESS accountability than with a public institution even if that institution is very bureaucratic in its overall nature. Moore then goes on to claim that private utilities “have every incentive to build them [water pipelines] fast and keep costs down” and for a municipal utility “it is a long and painful political process,” which is something that means that such an agency would not be accountable, at least in my view. Moore finally claims that “private utilities are also much more accountable to the customers,” that 90% of “100 communities that have privatized their water system” have kept their privatization, and that “these folks are obviously much happier with their private water utility right now than Flint citizens are with their government-run one.”

All in all, the article is ridiculous. There is NO mention of the city’s emergency manager in the article. Searching on Reason‘s website, there are a few articles that mention the term emergency manager but it is either mentioned in passing, defending the emergency manager from blame (also see herehere, and here) and so on. Now, let us consider what the public interest group, Public Citizen has to say. They note that “cost-cutting by United Water, the U.S. subsidiary of French conglomerate Suez, was blamed for system failure that allowed more than 100 million gallons of raw sewage into Milwaukee area waterways” and that “there are many forms of privatization, ranging from outright ownership of water, the pipes, pumps and other infrastructure to perhaps operating but a single component of a community’s water system under a contract,” the latter of which Reason would even agree with. The report also notes that “officials with Veolia subsidiaries or affiliates have also been convicted in connection with bribes and kickbacks elsewhere” and that “the private water companies have an infamous record of browbeating, undercutting and eliminating employees.” Readers can chuckle and judge the article by Moore itself.

Before finishing this section I think it is appropriate to consider what Moore has also written. These include a defense of for-profit private prisons, laughably calling a proposal to put high-speed rail in California “a little bit too much of a religious kind of project” (criticizing it elsewhere), saying that it makes no sense for transit union workers to go on strike in San Francisco and call for wage increases while implying they are greedy (the video along with this actually is pretty funny at how wacky the responses are), and anti-union statements such as this. There are a number of other articles he’s written, so this is just a sampling, but I mention these articles because it challenges the reader of Moore’s original article to adopt a more critical approach.

A honest conclusion

I could propose a solution to Flint’s water poisoning which was (and is) an act of racial genocide, classist discrimination, and criminal behavior. It is important to reject the politics of neoliberalism which would further ravage Flint, Michigan from its status as a town that was harshly deindustrialized, starting in the 1980s, with measures taken by capitalists of GM and elsewhere who only cared about short-term gains and not the people living in the town itself. People such as Moore in Reason magazine can call for water privatization and others can use articles like the one in Time to call out government bureaucracy, saying that private business will do what the government cannot. Lest us not forget on that neoliberalism in our current world and age has already won. There have been victories against privatization and other neoliberal measures for sure. However, the project as a whole, which began in the 1970s based of the ideas of Fredrich Hayek and numerous others, has been a success despite opposition from the general population. Still, there is room to resist such neoliberalism by rejecting the TPP-TISA-TAFTA nexis, efforts to make water a commodity, patenting of non-human lifeforms such as GMOs, and so on. There is still hope in world that seems at times without hope, dark, and depressing. There is room to fight back.

Putting this into a broader context is important. In terms of responsibility for the poisoning, the government of Flint is less responsible than the Michigan state government which appointed an emergency manager (also see here and here), or little local dictators as they should be called, like in other cities, as part of a Republican initiative .There are even some, such as the staff editor of reason.com, Robby Soave, in an article which calls for “large swaths of the city” of Detroit to be privatized, who disgustingly shrug off the reign of these little dictators by literally saying the following:

“Okay, democracy has been suspended. Meh?…I look forward to the day when neither the state nor the local government has much say over how city affairs are conducted…left-leaning critics of the emergency financial manager law…aren’t too concerned leaving Detroit to rot under the corrupt tutelage of [Detroit’s elected officials who he calls “crime lords”]…as long as precious democracy is maintained (in this case, at least).”

Still, it is not worthy to play the blame game with Michigan Republicans blaming the Obama administration, Bernie and Killary calling for federal rescue measures and possibly having a presidential debate in the city, and Democrats blaming Republicans for the mess. Others say that the EPA is even at fault. There is something deeper. The capitalist class shares some the blame as well as they have let Flint stay its current state, after GM mostly left the town in the 1980s, with measures such as the downgrading of city’s credit rating. There is also the presence of racism and classism in place in Flint with a number of commentators and presidential candidates only noting the latter, but not the former, forgetting that race and class are closely intertwined and inseparable. This is undoubtedly the case with other areas of the country with water poisoning such as towns in New Jersey, south Florida, and Ohio. At the same time, in Flint, there has not been a “crisis of democracy,” a term that some use when social movements are too strong, but there has been a crisis of a lack of democracy. If there is one thing that Flint can do to improve its well-being it is the expansion of democracy in the city with efforts for community control and other actions so people don’t become utterly hopeless. This hopeless nature is likely alleviated more by plumbers installing water filters for free in Flint homes than one measly Red Cross volunteer going to the city. [3] In the end, let us remember what African nationalist and anti-capitalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote in his his book, Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism, “history furnishes innumerable proofs of one of its own major laws; that the budding future is always stronger than the withering past.”

Notes

[1] A recent set of articles revealed that officials knew of the risk that the water would poison residents but they didn’t do anything about it. The Associated Press reported in an article by David Eggert and Ed White (“APNewsBreak:Officials warned of water, Legionnaires’ link”) the following:

“…high-ranking officials in Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration were aware of a surge in Legionnaires’ disease potentially linked to Flint’s water long before the governor reported the increase to the public last month…emails obtained by the liberal group Progress Michigan…show Snyder’s own office was aware of the outbreak since last March…The outbreak was also well known within state agencies, according to emails obtained separately by the AP and other news organizations. Together, the emails offer more evidence that some state officials were dismissive of county health authorities who raised concerns about the safety of the community’s drinking water…Legionnaires’ disease is a pneumonia caused by bacteria in the lungs. People get sick if they inhale mist or vapor from contaminated water systems, hot tubs or cooling systems. There were at least 87 cases across Genesee County during a 17-month period, including nine deaths, but the public was never told about the increase…The back and forth behind the scenes occurred while residents were complaining about poor water quality…The emails reveal tension between the county health department…and the city and state about how to investigate the disease. The emails also show some angst in the Snyder administration over the controversy…Janet Stout is a Pittsburgh microbiologist and expert on Legionnaires’ disease who has researched links between Legionella bacteria and public water supplies. She believes the Flint River caused an increase in Genesee County Legionnaires’ cases…The state said it cannot conclude that the Legionnaires’ surge is related to the water switch, nor can it rule it out, in part because of too few case specimens from patients.”

This was followed up by an article in Reuters the same day by Mary Wisniewski and Ben Klayman (“Michigan emails show officials knew of Flint water disease risk”), noting the following:

“Emails between high-ranking Michigan state officials show they knew about an uptick in Legionnaires’ disease and it could be linked to problems with Flint water long before Governor Rick Snyder said he got information on the outbreak…Emails obtained by the group show Snyder’s principal aide, Harvey Hollins, was made aware of the outbreak and a possible link to the use of Flint River water last March…State officials on Jan. 13 announced the spike in the disease resulting in 10 deaths possibly linked to the water crisis…Flint, a city near Detroit, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched the source of its tap water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in April 2014. The city switched back last October after tests found high levels of lead in children’s blood samples. The more corrosive water from the river leached more lead from the city pipes than Detroit water did.”

These articles seem to indicate that there was intent in giving the water to residents, hence making it a form of racial genocide. Still, even if it turns out that such intent did not exist, there is no doubt that this poisoning is a racist and classist crime.

[2] In a recent Democracy Now! show, one of the hosts, Juan Gonzalez noted that in terms of policy “…talk about the privatization efforts that have been occurring,” so countering this push for privatization is vital.

[3] The article about the Red Cross notes that “the local chapter of the American Red Cross is deploying a volunteer for ONLY two weeks to help local residents in Flint, Michigan who have been dealing with a water crisis,” a volunteer who will “join a team of volunteers from the American Red Cross to help distribute fresh water and other supplies at various resource sites with government partners,” the same sites where the government was asking people for IDs with water which is not surprisingly making undocumented immigrants afraid to ask for water. Nice move, Red Cross. Not. Even if one thought this was fine, the fact he is only staying for two weeks makes him almost like Deray since 2013, never staying in one place, going from one flashpoint of action to another on his magical money, apparently his own, from who knows where. Beyond this, the fact the town has over 99,000 people according to Census estimates and the American Red Cross only sends ONE volunteer shows how their organization is a load of crap. Seriously, they can only send one person. Gosh, that’s just utterly pathetic and sad.

Update:

In response to this post, some say I was “spitting fire,” and VNGiapaganda gave the best praise, saying “great left critique of media perspectives on Flint’s racist,murderous water crisis, esp if u haven’t been keeping up.” The best challenge was a tweet from B. A. Drugge (@bdrugge) about the toxic poisoning in Flint, saying “it’s actually more #environmentalclassism than the former,” with the former referring to environmental racism. I admitted that I hadn’t “heard that term before” but that “maybe its just best to say there’s environmental racism and environmental classism.” @bdrugge replied that “that was implied in my comment. Great write-up. Thanks for keeping on top of this,” a comment which I appreciate. As this hashtag shows, there are people who have used the term environmental classism. In a broad global sense this could definitely be used since it sometimes requires more digging if one id not familiar with the ins and outs of a culture to know what the “races” are. Still, in the US context it may be best to call it environmental racial-classism or just ethnic classism for short. That way it is clear that race and class are intertwined in the way that the term is used automatically. Or perhaps one could use the term “racial caste” which has been used by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, by Peter Levy in Civil War on Race Street, which is disliked by some, but is overall a term used by many authors. Due to this, I have changed the phrase “environmental racism” to “environmental racial-classism” or qualified it in the two times it is used in this article. However, I don’t intend to change the title of this article to reflect that as it is a fine title as it is.

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