Today’s hearings in the Congress featuring the testimony of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will appear to most Americans to be still another case of government at all levels failing the American people. Not so.
ABC has a story with a headline saying “finger pointing” on a partisan basis at the Congressional Hearing will show blame should be widespread. That is patently false.
The Flint water crisis was entirely avoidable by the State of Michigan, and especially it’s Governor Rick Snyder. The public record continues to show, and will show for all time, that Governor Snyder knew that Flint water was contaminated and posed an immediate health threat to Flint residents for months, and did next to nothing. He even told Flint residents that it was safe to drink the water and that they should do so, despite the heavy odd coloration, smell, and known contaminants in that water.
Snyder could have picked up the phone, called the President of the United States to inform him that disaster aid and relief was necessary, and declared a Statewide Emergency as soon as he knew. He did not. Even when both the State of Michigan, and increasingly the nation became aware that this was a mess reflecting badly on Michigan and its government at various levels, Snyder waited a full two months before declaring that very necessary Statewide Emergency response.
Now, those of you who live in a predominately white, reasonably middle class, or above community, for Michigan– let’s say a posh suburb of East Lansing, can you imagine this happening to your town or city? If yes, you are lying to yourselves, prevaricating, or just plain numb to reality.
A white community would have roused the majority white population of Michigan and threw Snyder right out on his ear post haste. They would be prosecuting him for criminal negligence right now and rightly so. Give yourselves credit for not being that stupid.
There is even a memo where the Governor himself laments that they need to avoid having this thing get too big, since it will appear that he and his administration were too involved in it. No shit Sherlock. This is unfortunate, since in a non-partisan sense Snyder’s record is of a more than competent governor of his state. This memo, and his personally telling Flint residents to drink the water, when he and his people knew it was unsafe for them to do so by other e-mails and memos now in the record, is and ought to be highly exculpatory legal evidence for Snyder’s prosecution, and those most involved around him.
Republicans, in a purely partisan manner, are making the EPA the principal villain in this tragedy. That too is patently false, but way too many white Americans will be quick to believe that as the EPA, a Federal agency, does have ultimately more power than a State in protecting our environment. The key word here is ultimately.
What would be lost on most of us of all backgrounds, since it is an internal method of operating under our environmental laws, is that the EPA acts in partnership with the States, and its institutions designed to follow those laws and monitor health and safety threats posed by air, soil, and water pollution among other things.
When EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told the committee today repeatedly that EPA should have pushed harder and sooner she was and is right. But she and her agency’s staff can hardly be blamed for this reason, and it is key: any EPA official would naturally expect that any State when confronted with the fact that it is permitting a group of its residents to be consuming drinking water with high levels of lead, e-coli bacteria, and other heavy metals due to Flint’s long association with the auto industry and metal working industry in general, would act rationally upon learning these facts. The Snyder Administration did not. McCarthy noted in retrospect that she and her agency should not have been “so trusting of the State for so long.” She anticipated Snyder to act, upon the clear information he and his water officials possessed, but he and they did not!
EPA’s local water quality specialist, Miguel Toro alerted State officials. A college professor studying water quality environmental issues sounded his alarm. Flint residents, mostly black, were already sounding their collective alarm. Susan Hedman, the Regional Director of EPA who has resigned months ago, even though she is not principally responsible at all for the tragedy alerted EPA head Gina McCarthy. She too got her staff working on this.
But the State of Michigan and its government led by Governor Rick Snyder were not rational actors in this drama. In point of fact, they were unbelievably cruel and heartless in their response. Why?
Well, it is simply that Flint, Michigan is a predominantly, black community, whose white element fled when the auto industry folded there in the 1970’s , and less affluent blacks were left to try to continue on. Yes, I have now injected race and white privilege into this. Why? Simply because it is directly implicated in this entire tragedy, and others waiting to happen at this very hour.
Governor Rick Snyder came into office with a principle belief that government ought to be operated with the efficiency of business and with business methods. So when blighted cities struggling following the white flight of the 1960’s, and the great meltdown experienced by U.S. manufacturing, and especially the auto industry were no longer able to meet their financial obligations, Snyder and the legislature put into law a measure permitting him to appoint a city manager that supplants all of local represented democratic government in those cities. There is on the surface, much to see as reasonable in this measure and Governor Snyder’s response to them, whatever we liberals might feel about it.
The experience of the State of Michigan on the contrary since, has shown the clear deficiencies of these appointments. City managers appointed in such places as Benton Harbor, Detroit, and yes Flint, have come from business backgrounds and are not only unelected democratically, but are ill equipped to see the human costs of their decision making. They are only accountable to the Governor—not the people of the municipalities they serve.
When we further see that white communities don’t get emergency managers with any frequency at all, we see that black people are having their citizen rights in our republican and democratic form of government superseded, and race plays a major part. Can you imagine our nation’s founders supporting any of this stupidity for any reason? Of course not. And you know it since you are a red- blooded Americans no matter your skin pigmentation.
In the Flint water crisis and tragedy, and in others occurring right now, we must conclude that:
BLACK LIVES MATTER.