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No Justice for the People of Flint

— March 30, 2016

There will be no justice for the people of Flint. To expect otherwise would be to ask a thoroughly corrupt system to indict itself.

Last Wednesday, a five-member task force on the city’s water crisis released its 116-page report condemning the “culture” at Michigan governmental agencies and finding Governor Rick Snyder guilty of nothing worse than his reliance “on incorrect information provided by” the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). As pointed out by James Brewer on the World Socialist Web Site, the report assigns only “ultimate responsibility” to Snyder. This, Brewer correctly asserts, “lets Snyder off the hook.”

Brewer is incorrect, however, when he claims that the report “does not conflict at all with [Snyder’s] deceptive assertion that he was unaware of the lead poisoning until October” of 2015. In fact, in the “Discussion” subsection of the report’s section on the governor’s office, the task force explicitly states, that “[i]n mid-summer 2015, the Governor and senior staff discussed Flint water issues; lead was apparently part of those discussions.” Instead of inferring a degree of culpability on the governor’s part, however, the “Findings” subsection inexplicably implies Snyder’s ignorance of a problem of lead in Flint’s water, and in essence absolves his “only changing course in early October 2015 when MDEQ and MDHHS finally acknowledged the extent of the problem of lead in the public water supply.”

Finally, in its “Recommendations” subsection of the section on Snyder, the report recommends the Governor “[e]xpand information flow to the Governor so that information providing the foundation for key decisions comes from more than one trusted source—and is verified.” Thus, Snyder is exonerated, chided only for being too trusting of too few subordinates.

The report was presented at a press conference where Snyder played master of ceremonies, looking responsible and controlling the message even more closely. “If you go back to October of last year when I first learned that lead was an issue,” said Snyder, “one of the things I thought was important was that we start an independent group” that would “get to bottom” of the issue in an “unbiased way.” The members of the task force were appointed by Snyder.

In its section on the role of Flint’s emergency managers, the report is equally protective of the powerful.

While trumpeting the importance of assigning “accountability,” the task force once again allows accountability to fade to vapor, writing, “Trying to assign responsibility to an individual EM for the decision to use the Flint River is pointless—and the answer ambiguous.” The dizzying ambiguity referred to here turns out to be the fact that “[o]ne EM set it in motion, another presided over the actual event, and two EMs did not seriously entertain reversing the decision in the face of public protest.” This seems not ambiguous at all but is in fact a lucid summary of the criminal responsibility of at least three emergency mangers in the poisoning of Flint residents. That is, the individual, Darnell Earley, who presided over the actual event without insuring proper water treatment including corrsive controls, and the two emergency managers, one of which was also Earley and the other Jerry Ambrose, who obstructed any change back to the Detroit water system despite public complaints and more than enough cause to launch a thorough investigation into the Flint River water’s safety.

It is easy enough to decry the report’s failure to hold up to the light of day the Governor’s cover-up of the lead problem and the bald lies told by MDEQ officials to the EPA’s Miguel Del Toral. Those who knew of the possibility of lead poisoning in Flint, and this includes Governor Snyder, are guilty of criminal negligence or worse. They belong on trial in a criminal court and then behind bars. That will never happen, and in this way, the familiar way of corruption, the people of Flint will not see justice.

Less easy to see, but more important, is the larger justice that will be denied. That is, a financial system’s protection of itself. Even if the powers that be were to throw the odd agency official, or even the Governor himself, to the lions, the system of the wealthy’s pilfering from the poor would go on. The clean water that flows to Detroit homes has become too expensive. The cut-rate water that flowed to Flint homes was poisonous, though the impoverished residents of Flint pay some of the highest water prices in the country. But the money taken from the people of these two struggling cities flows to the banks and will continue to do so until the people decide that enough is enough. It is time for a people’s task force.

Sources: Flint Water Advisory Task Force Final Report “Flint water task force report leaves Snyder off the hook”

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