Deliberate difference: the tragedy in Flint

Recent events have attracted widespread attention to a serious problem that has existed without much public outcry until now. Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan imposed an unelected city “manager” on the City of Flint several years ago. This unelected manager appointed by the Governor has largely run Flint on his own despite the presence of the Mayor and City Council elected by Flint residents. Such anti-democratic developments flow from a so-called emergency manager law recently passed with the assistance of the corporate controlled American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) and affiliated special interests.

One of the most destructive actions of the unelected manager has been the change to the water supply for Flint residents from Lake Huron, which is also the water source for Detroit residents, to the Flint River. Due to decades of pollution created by the automotive industry, the Flint River is replete with lead and other hazardous materials. The unelected manager nonetheless changed Flint’s water source to the Flint River to save money. The result has been a shocking upsurge in health problems for Flint residents. The lead levels in children also have skyrocketed, which has long-term and potentially devastating consequences for the mental and physical development of those children.

The adverse impact of the unelected manager’s choice to change Flint’s water source to the toxic Flint River was entirely predictable. The Flint River is widely recognized as heavily contaminated, so the unelected manager knew or certainly should have known that the water was not safe for drinking or even showering. The unelected manager’s conduct, then, presents yet another consumer protection issue and, moreover, a civil rights problem given that Flint residents are overwhelmingly people of color.

Only through the advocacy of whistleblowers, principled healthcare workers, and Flint residents has this tragedy come to light. The growing public awareness of the manufactured problem has forced the unelected manager to resign and the Governor to apologize. Much more action, however, is necessary. Although the unelected manager has left, he has moved on to “manage” the Detroit Public Schools in such a way as to create further havoc that has harmed still more vulnerable communities – despite the best efforts of Detroit teachers and their Union. Meanwhile, Flint residents still cannot drink or shower with their water. Making matters worse, Flint residents must continue to pay twice the national average – indeed, the highest rate in the country – for water that they cannot use safely.