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Flint Water Pollution

Genocide in Flint—Jamala Rogers

The water disaster will impact generations to come

In spite of his poignant and insightful documentaries, I never saw independent filmmaker Michael Moore as a radical or revolutionary. I saw a progressive with a strong handle on how capitalism is killing us all on many different levels. Then I saw his message to the public to stop sending bottles of water and to join Flint in “revolt.”

A radical gets to the root of the problem and Moore let us know that all the bottles shipped to Flint by the government, celebrities, churches and other do-gooders doesn’t come close to the 20.4 million 16oz. bottles of water that Flint residents need on a daily basis to cover drinking, cooking, washing, bathing, etc. Further, it’s a stop-gap measure to deeper issues.

The Flint water crises was born out of government / corporate decisions that believe black and poor people are collateral damage in the financial strategy to make the state of Michigan solvent.

Flint is poised to be one of the greatest examples of environmental genocide in the U.S. Political commentator Dorian Warren called it genocide. In his public statement, Moore likened it to chemical warfare. The city’s water supply was intentionally poisoned when a cost-cutting decision was made by city officials to not use the water from Lake Huron—the third largest fresh water body in the world—but to use the toxic Flint River. The consequences will be deadly and costly.

Flint residents have been drinking and bathing in poison water since 2013. Early last year, they complained about the smell, the look and the taste of the water. Flint officials lied and said the water had been tested, assuring residents that it was fine. Fine for who? Black and poor people?

The Flint water crises was born out of government/corporate decisions that believe black and poor people are collateral damage in the financial strategy to make the state of Michigan solvent. African Americans are about 60 per cent of the population; nearly 42 per cent of Flint residents are below the poverty line.

To add insult to literally injury, the utility company is still charging residents for poison water they cannot use. They are also being threatened with cut-offs and penalized with additional fees if they don’t pay.

Those of us in St. Louis who organized around our local lead problem find it gut-wrenching to see what’s happening in Flint, Michigan. We know what’s in store for them. We shout out that lead poisoning is irreversible.

For decades St. Louis city officials used the situation to hustle federal dollars but never really launched an effective campaign to eradicate lead-based paint in houses located in black, poor neighborhoods. Some of the money was put into testing, not prevention. By the time children were tested, it was too late for remedies. Tens of millions of dollars later, St. Louis kids are still testing positive for lead poisoning and our communities are reeling from the affects.

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In urban areas like St. Louis, Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit, one can trace high violence incidents among youth and high incarceration rates to lead poisoning. Yet the prevailing narrative is that black youth are inherently violent and prone to crime.

Lead poisoning in children affects the development of the brain leading to low IQs, learning disabilities, poor grades, test scores and behavior problems. Because lead is absorbed through the blood, it quickly concentrates in bones and organs resulting in a myriad of medical challenges and premature deaths for adults.

The human toll of the Flint water crisis is incalculable. The costs of increased spending on health care, special education and law enforcement will be staggering. And now the lawsuits are coming. What will Flint’s economic and social health look like over the next 20, 30 years as the metal manifests itself in the human bodies of virtually an entire city and the costs of short-term and long-terms mount?

Calling for the resignations of decision-makers is good but insufficient. Criminal acts have been committed and must be treated as such. That goes for everyone from EPA’s Susan Hedman to Governor Snyder—and all those in between. They all must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And if there’s no law on the books, one must be created.

Putting together a serious brain trust of scientists, psychologists, engineers and others to come up with solutions to the poisoning is crucial. However, laypeople must be involved with the problem-solving processes at every step so that they understand what’s happening and are in agreement with the steps to rectify the crises.

I’m also down with Moore’s suggestions that the government pay for Flint residents who want to re-locate as well as his suggestion for us to sign every petition out there calling for accountability. We must put fire to the feet of negligent decision-makers.

Radicals, revolutionaries and progressives must put water rights in the context of human rights and under the banner of Black Lives Matter. The problem is the racist policies and practices that affect our lives and our futures.

Organizing in Flint and in our respective cities against state violence in all of its forms must be heightened. Our communities must be empowered to control their destiny.

If you need a “flint” to move you from outrage to action, how about this one? When General Motors complained that the water was corroding car parts on its assembly line, the Governor gave the company the hook up (literally) to a special pipe system to the clean, pure water of Lake Huron.

jamala rogers

Clean, safe water matters. Black lives matter.

Jamala Rogers
Black Commentator