The language of the rich is imperious. When crossed or challenged, the powerful assert their strength. “The rich do as they please,” the mighty Athenians tell the recalcitrant Melians in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. “The weak suffer what they must.” When the proud Melians decide to fight for their independence rather than submit to the will of Athens, the Athenians slaughter the Melian men, take the women into slavery and colonize the island of Melos with loyal Athenian subjects. Might does not make right, but right is irrelevant to the mighty.
On March 24, the city of Flint, Michigan filed a “Notice of Intention to File Claim” in order to keep alive its option to take legal action against the state. The notice was filed by Flint mayor Karen Weaver, who issued a statement this month stating, “As Mayor of Flint, I have every intention of continuing my efforts to work with Governor Rick Snyder and other state officials to seek resolution in all aspects of the Flint water crisis.”
The mayor’s statement goes on to say, “I have no intention at this point of having the City of Flint sue the state. However, the City of Flint would have forfeited its right to file a lawsuit in the future if I had not filed an official “Notice of Intention to File a Claim” by the March 25 deadline. As the elected leader of Flint, I needed to preserve the city’s right to pursue a legal remedy if it is determined a lawsuit is necessary in the future.” In other words, Weaver is doing her duty by preserving the city’s rights.
Predictably, imperial Lansing has responded with wrath. The notice “creates an unnecessary conflict between the parties that will damage ongoing efforts to resolve this crisis,” reads a letter sent by the governor’s office to Weaver. Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter released a thinly veiled threat via the Detroit News, saying, “I think that the mayor’s actions here could potentially blow up the state’s checkbook, and I think it’s going to have a real chilling effect on the House, as to providing any further resources in the interim.”
Mayor Weaver and her city have asserted their independence and as a result are to be punished. James Brewer, who writes perceptively about the ongoing scandal that is the Flint water crisis, views the vindictive response of Lansing as defensive. “The reaction of the Snyder administration,” Brewer writes in the World Socialist Web Site, “only underscores the fear by state officials that they could end up in jail for the criminal actions that led to the poisoning of Flint and the cover-up that followed. State Republicans are essentially threatening to carry out collective punishment against the residents of Flint if city officials even threaten to take any legal action.”
Just as Athens in its vicious punishment of the Melians acted ultimately out of fear, lest other small islands and cities follow their example by refusing the Athenians’ “protection,” so the Snyder administration’s alternately dismissive and cruel dealings with Flint are backed by a cold sweat at the thought of appearing in a courtroom before a jury of enraged Michiganders.
It is difficult to fathom, though, just what Snyder and his officials were thinking, decision after decision, as they brought such damage upon the people of Flint. The unelected “emergency managers,” who in the people’s eyes are hated colonial governors, unhooked the city from Detroit-supplied water and in its place tapped the vile Flint River. This move was intended to save the city $5 million over two years, money to be paid to its Wall Street creditors. But why did the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) tell Mike Glasgow, Supervisor of the Flint Water Treatment Plant, that there would be no need to use orthophosphates, the industry norm for corrosion control? One answer was provided by Mike Prysby of MDEQ, who told Glasgow that to apply the corrosion control would delay the switch, scheduled for April of 2014, by six months. Surely Prysby and other MDEQ officials understood the polluted condition of the Flint River and at the very least had reason to anticipate its corrosive effects on pipes. Was the health of the people of Flint knowingly jeopardized for a six months’ discount on water? If so, who was ultimately behind such a decision?
More disconcerting still is the stonewalling and covering up perpetrated by the Snyder administration, MDEQ and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once Flint residents began to complain about the discolored, foul-smelling and -tasting water coming from their taps. The denials and lies only mounted as residents reported hair loss and rashes, as EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral reported high lead levels in the water, and as Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha reported high blood-lead levels in her young patients. But why did the EPA vilify Del Toral? Surely the EPA had no stake in protecting Prysby and MDEQ.
Most importantly, why would the Snyder administration conduct an orchestrated cover-up of the lead issue if the decision to forgo corrosion controls originated with MDEQ? Snyder and his team ignored and lied about the issue even as they knew that the people of Flint were being poisoned with lead. It seems, though, that even cynical damage-control logic would have recommended acting as soon as they became aware of the lead problem by placing blame on Prysby and MDEQ. That the administration did not react in this way would seem to suggest that the decision not to use corrosion control on the Flint River water was not made by MDEQ. But if not, why not? That is, why would the governor’s office involve itself in a seemingly routine matter of water quality control? This much is clear: After a certain point in 2015, the government in Lansing unquestionably knew it was poisoning the people of Flint.
Leaving aside questions of motive, our shock prompts us to demand how these people could have done such a thing. Perhaps the best answer we can hope for comes to us from thousands of years ago. “The strong do as they please. The weak suffer what they must.”
Photo source: cnn.com