By: Starr Davis
In a city of over 90,000 residents, Flint, Michigan is struggling to provide its citizens with clean and safe water, causing many to suffer from different illnesses such as lead poisoning, autism, and myriad diseases.
The nightmare began in 2014 when Flint’s local government decided to stop using the Detroit water system and switched to the Flint River to save money; little did they know they would be paying a high price. State regulators failed to require the city to properly treat the water. Back in October 2015, the city switched back to Detroit water, but the damage was already done, and it would take millions of dollars to replenish the water system.
People have named Governor Snyder and the State Department of Environmental Quality as the reason for what’s happening in Flint. Just like our neighboring town of Benton Harbor, the city of Flint has a city manager which the governor appoints; therefore, since he appointed the manager and, being aware of the problem, did not address the situation until after the fact, the blame, according to some, falls on Snyder. Others do not blame him; rather, they say that this issue has been occurring for years and years, even before Governor Snyder was elected into office.
Other people are questioning whether or not this would have occurred in a predominantly white city. Would those in charge settle for less even if it’s too dangerous to the “white” citizens who live there? As of 2010 Census, the racial makeup of the city was 37.4% White, 56.6% African American. So does race play a factor?
Pastor Jamel Dorsett, a student at Andrews University Seminary, went to Flint and particpated in the Flint Relief Effort. There he observed the people affected by the crisis. I asked him: “Is the Flint water problem a race or class issue?” Dorsett replied that it is both an issue of race and class.
“The people in Flint are poor and voiceless, and because of their economic plight, the prevailing powers committed the unthinkable when they disconnected their water source from the Detroit System and connected it to a local river. This type of malicious act would have never happened in a White affluent suburban community. Therefore, the indignant of the City of Flint are victims of a systematic system that has long plagued this country in light of racism and classism.”
Citing socio-economic factors, including income and education, Dorsett says “what the statistics teach us is that in affluent cities in America, which are “predominantly” white, these kinds of practices are unheard of. Everyone knows that Black communities are governed differently than others.”
And as far as who is ultimately responsible, Dorsett says both sides are: “For Flint to be in a Democratic State (MI), where is the advocacy on behalf of the city residents?”
The latest news coming out of Flint is that on Feb. 26, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a 30 million package in supplemental aid to help pay Flint residents’ water bills. Kerry Nelson, who is the city-council president said, “It would take at least $60 million to help, double the amount of the Flint Water Relief Bill.”
Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, said the bill is a step in the “right direction” but she also stressed the need for more resources to cover the city’s water bill debt. The good news is that victims will get a 65 percent credit on their water bills for paying for water they could not consume. The flip side of that is Snyder said “They must make arrangements to pay outstanding sewer and waste fees”, so if they are not caught up on the bills, they will not benefit from the relief bill, and they will be stuck in their situation since aid will not be available through that avenue.
With all of this crisis happening a few hours away, is it affecting our community here? And how do we respond to it?
As a student body, Andrews Academy came together and collected cases of water to help in this endeavor. It is nice to see students involved but do they really know about the crisis and has it made an impression on them?
Jasmine Fraser and Anaya Abdul-Haqq, AA sophomores both agree that the Governor and his administration should have done more, that they addressed the problem too late. Fraser and Abdul-Haqq said, “It is sad to see people rely on water bottles when the damage could’ve been avoided.”
Based on all the news reports and the stories which are coming out of Flint, it is becoming more obvious that this is truly a tragedy for many of the people who live in that city. Henceforth, as this story continues to unfold we will better be able to examine what groups of decision makers were ultimately responsible for this decision, which may have flowed the wrong way for the people of Flint.