The Michigan Civil Rights Commission released a report on Friday suggesting “systematic racism” going back decades is at the core of the problems that caused a lead-contaminated water crisis in the majority Black city of Flint.
Time reports that while the 130-page report says that the commission did not unearth any civil rights violations and that nobody “intended to poison Flint,” the testimony of more than 100 residents, experts and government and community leaders led the commission to the conclusion that decisions would have been different had they concerned the state’s wealthier predominantly white communities.
“We are not suggesting that those making decisions related to this crisis were racists … (but the) disparate response is the result of systemic racism that was built into the foundation and growth of Flint, its industry and suburban area,” the report says. “Would the Flint water crisis have been allowed to happen in Birmingham, Ann Arbor or East Grand Rapids? We believe the answer is no, and that the vestiges of segregation and discrimination found in Flint made it a unique target. The lack of political clout left the residents with nowhere to turn, no way to have their voices heard.”
While under state control, the decision was made in 2014 to switch the city’s water supply from Detroit to the Flint River. The water from the river was used for 18 months without treating it to prevent pipe corrosion, and as a result, the water caused lead to leach from old pipes and into homes.
The commission’s report notes the local, state and federal action to help Flint that began in late 2015 but criticized the timing, noting that by that time residents “had been reporting heavily discolored and bad tasting water for well over a year.”
“Even after some tests showed there was a problem, decision makers questioned the tests, not the water,” the report said.
The commission’s findings build on a report released last year by a bipartisan task force created by Snyder that determined the crisis was a case of “environmental injustice.” This week, Snyder announced the members of a new Environmental Justice Work Group aimed at improving state guidelines and policy regarding environmental and health hazards.
The commission recommends replacing or amending the state’s emergency manager law to analyze the root causes of a community’s financial problems and allow for more local representation and oversight. The bipartisan task force and others also recommended changes to the law in the wake of the water crisis, but none has been made.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution, and is tasked with investigating allegations of discrimination, and if violations are found, it can order the violator to stop and take corrective action. According to Time, the commission pledges “to be more resolute” in its role in “giving greater voice” to residents to prevent such crises from happening again.
Hopefully this commission will actually do something to speed up the process to fix the water system that is causing lead poisoning to the residents of Flint, as well as make amends for what has been done to them.
(Article By Jeremiah Jones)