Michael Moore — Flint’s most famous native — is calling out the inherent racism of the policies that led to his hometown’s water crisis.
Michael Moore: “This is a racial killing.”
The result of a decision to switch water sources made under Snyder in June 2013, hazardously high levels of lead, copper, e. coli, trihalomethanes (which are toxic when inhaled, such as in a hot shower) and chlorine in the city’s water supply have created an epidemic of serious, long-term health problems in Flint. The alarming effects of Flint’s contaminated water were immediately apparent and known to public officials in 2014 when the switch was made, but were downplayed by political leaders for over a year.
Michael Moore, who posted a petition for Snyder’s arrest on his website Wednesday, tweeted last month that Snyder “knowingly poisoned a black city”, calling it a “version of genocide.”
This is a racial killing. Flint MI is 60% black. When u knowingly poison a black city, u r committing a version of genocide #ArrestGovSnyder
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) December 20, 2015
Moore held a rally in the city yesterday, where he accused political leaders of intentionally poisoning residents.
“This is not a mistake,” he said. “Ten people were killed here because of a political decision to save money… to risk the lives of people here in a city that is majority African-American, where 41 percent live below the official poverty line. That is what is going on here.”
Moore spoke on the racial disenfranchisement created by state policy in Flint. “It’s a crisis created by the Republican governor and visited on a city that is majority black and majority poor,” he said.
Flint’s water crisis is worse than imagined
The water crisis in Flint began in August 2014 when Snyder-appointed emergency financial managers switched the city’s water supply to save money. Instead of buying drinking water from Detroit, which originates from Lake Huron, the city began pumping water from the Flint River. Residents began noticing changes in water quality almost immediately, reporting foul odors and dark, rust-colored water flowing from their faucets, as well as growing ill and getting rashes.
After initially denying complaints that there was a problem with the water, the state eventually responded by dumping large amounts of chlorine into the Flint River. That water was improperly treated and had already corroded the pipes, meaning the chlorine only exacerbated the problem. Dangerous levels of bacteria began to breed and toxic amounts of lead, among other things, started leeching out of the pipes and into Flint’s water supply. Officials knew about E. coli and carginogens in the water as early as March 2015 and high levels of lead and copper by fall.
The most significant health impact was lead poisoning, which causes both long-term mental and physical developmental problems, especially in children. Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha’s independent study demonstrated that lead levels in Flint children had tripled since the water supply switch. Though Flint began buying water from Detroit again in October 2015, the damage by corrosion is already done and the lead will continue to leech into the water.
Snyder’s racist implementation of the emergency manager law
The state of Michigan has a history of racist politics that caused the current water emergency. Michigan has the most radical emergency management law, which allows the governor to supersede the democratic will of residents to appoint one person, an emergency manager, to take over financially troubled cities. Emergency managers existed before the current versions of the law, signed by Snyder in 2015, but they had more narrow authority. Now state-appointed emergency managers have extreme, unchecked power, including the abilities to override local laws, break union contracts and sell city assets. In addition, Snyder is using a legal loophole to work around the 18-month time limit on emergency managers’ terms.
The shocking racial disparity behind this policy lies in the racial breakdown of Michigan residents whose lives are controlled by appointed emergency managers. In 2013, The Atlantic’s Chris Lewis reported that “while the cities under emergency management together contain just nine percent of Michigan’s population, they contain, notably, about half of the state’s African-American residents.”
Last week, Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn reported for The Root that over the past decade only two percent of Michigan’s white residents have lived under emergency management, compared to over half of black residents.
The cities targeted by Snyder for emergency management reflect the state’s attitude toward the human and democratic rights of African-Americans. Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, discussed the racial composition of cities currently controlled by emergency managers with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! Friday, saying that “with the exception of one, they are all majority African-American. And they’re also all very poor cities. So this is a racial issue, and it’s a class issue.”
Gov. Snyder finally declared a state of emergency in the surrounding Genesee county on Tuesday, and reached out Thursday to the federal government for help in handling the city’s situation. Saturday afternoon, President Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Michigan, which allowed access to relief efforts by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as to $5 million in federal resources.
During her detailed report last month on the governor’s role in Flint’s lead-poisoning emergency, Rachel Maddow discussed the impact Snyder-appointed emergency managers have had specifically on African-American dominated cities in Michigan. Maddow cited examples such as a recent case that garnered national attention when Detroit’s emergency manager decided to shut off water to thousands of residents who were too impoverished to pay their bills. The latter incident resulted in such loud public outcry that it invited scrutiny from the United Nations (U.N.). U.N. officials Farha and de Albuquerque wrote of the mass water shutoffs, “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”
Yesterday Sen. Bernie Sanders joined many, most notably Michael Moore himself, in calling for Gov. Snyder’s resignation. Sanders charged that the Republican governor knowingly allowed the Michigan city’s water poisoning crisis to continue and worsen. “There are no excuses,” he said. “The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed [to] potential brain damage from lead.”