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Flint Water Crisis And It’s Ugly Racist History: Why Rick Snyder Seems To Be Attacking Michigan’s Poor Black Communities

February 8, 2016

For some strange reason people like to pretend that racism no longer exists. People like to claim that there are no racist undertones to white police officers shooting black men, for black professors to be arrested by white cops on their own doorsteps when they imbibe enough to fumble with their house key, when a city that is predominantly poor and inhabited by black people is mismanaged by a white, Republican leader who deemed safe water procedures “too expensive” to implement and poisons black children. I wonder: how does racism not play into these issues?

Since April 2014, residents of Flint, a city that is almost 57 percent black and incredibly poor, have been drinking and bathing in water that contains enough lead to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of “toxic waste.”

The water crisis is not the first time a predominantly white leadership initiative, lead by good ole boy Rick Snyder, has said that maintaining a Michigan black community is not in the State’s best financial interest. I wrote about this before, when Rick Snyder initiated a children’s park takeover that resulted in turing a predominantly black neighborhood’s children’s park into a mainly white golf course community and marina. Take a look at Benton Harbor:

We also learn that one of the best parts of Benton Harbor is Jean Klock Park, donated by wealthy benefactors years ago with the stipulation that it be used for the public good and that it remain “the children’s” park.

We also learn that Whirlpool, in an effort to recycle some old manufacturing land on the shore of Lake Michigan, a brownfield, if you will, decided to build a $500 million golf course & residential development, Harbor Shores, on its land, part of which would heavily impact Jean Klock Park. Note that Whirlpool pulled its last manufacturing out of Benton Harbor in March of this year, driving the final economic stake into the heart of this otherwise depressed area.

We also learn that the Emergency Financial Manager bill (pdf) that allowed Governor Snyder to take over Benton Harbor’s government was sponsored by Al Pscholka. Al Pscholka has some interesting characteristics:

There is one dot, however, that Rachel Maddow did NOT connect. As I wrote about yesterday, one of the first things that Joseph Harris did was to fire a number of people on both the Planning Commission and the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority in Benton Harbor and replace them with people he hand-picked. These two commissions are the ones most intimately involved in decision-making about real estate development in Benton Harbor. They will decide who gets permits, what developments will look like and who gets to pick the ripe plums present in Benton Harbor. And they are now staffed largely by people chosen by the Czar of Benton Harbor.

This is where the rubber meets the pavement. If you are looking for motivations for Snyder and his Republican friends to take over Benton Harbor, watch who gets development rights of the Lake Michigan shoreline. They are already setting things up to ensure that it is not the local residents of Benton Harbor.

Notice that Rick Snyder followed the same pattern in the City of Flint.

  1. Remove local leadership
  2. Tell people local leadership, predominantly black, was corrupt and essentially wasting money.
  3. Hand-pick people who agree with Rick Snyder’s agenda under the premise of “balancing the budget,” under the guise of Emergency Financial Management.
  4. Allow corporate giants to abuse the local community that doesn’t have the money to be empowered (i.e. take away a children’s park to give to rich, white developers, allow water supplies to be contaminated (Dow anyone? Automotive industry. Coal powered plants.)
  5. Claim that in the interest of finances, the black community must comply.
  6. Injure the local population and claim no knowledge for said injuries.

It would have only cost about $100/day to protect those kids from lead poisoning. Why were those children not worthy of protection? Of that money?

First, governmental agencies allowed big business to pollute the predominantly poor and black communities, all in the interest of cost, of course, and then the same government forces those communities to drink the polluted water and poisons them. 

Since the 1960’s, the Flint river water has been documented as contaminated:

In 1966, Flint’s automotive industry was booming. Buick City, a 235-acre factory that produced Buicks for General Motors, churned out thick clouds of smoke, which floated over Flint’s poverty-stricken, predominantly black North End neighborhood.

At a state Civil Rights Commission hearing on the environmental impact of the plant, which opened in 1904, North End resident Aliene Butler testified to the horrid conditions residents faced.

“The houses in this district are eaten up by a very heavy deposit, something like rust,” she said. “You can imagine what we go through down there breathing when this exists on just material things.”

Butler, a throat cancer survivor who lost her husband to the same illness, had highlighted one way de facto segregation leads to environmental injustice.

That same year, Buick City dumped 2.2 million gallons of waste per day into the Flint River. The year before, the eight GM plants around Flint had dumped about 26.5 million gallons of industrial waste into the river each day.

The city used the Flint River for its water supply until 1967, when it began buying water from Detroit and treating it with an anti-corrosive agent. A December 1966 EPA study showed that the water quality in Flint was poor decades before people were talking about lead pipes and poisoning.

Flint’s river had documented pollution over for over 50 years, so why would Rick Snyder’s hand-picked manager force the Flint children to drink poisonous water? Are those children’s lives really that cheap for people like Rick Snyder?

Then, Rick Snyder claims he had no knowledge of these problems, even though he received emails about it, and even though the pollution of the river had been documented over 50 years ago? He is governor of Michigan and doesn’t know how to read email? I just don’t buy it. It comes across as a sadistic and racist focus on finance that allowed for the poisoning of innocent children. There is no justification for that.

I have predicted the lawsuit against the State of Michigan for a few months now, and a class action suit has been filed. The Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said that he will investigate whether this level of cover up and misinformation meets criminal negligence standards. It should. I don’t know if they will allow Snyder to sneak out of charges; however, the ray of sunshine, if one can be found in this situation, is that Bill Schuette is looking to replace Rick Snyder, and the only way he can replace an elected official is if that official, barring an election, is if that elected official is implicated in criminal charges. Maybe Rick Snyder will be found responsible for forcing the innocent to drink water that was documented as contaminated to “cut costs.”

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