THE BLOG

Flint and Katrina: Poor People, Poor Treatment and Water

01/17/2016 09:38 pm ET | Updated Jan 17, 2016
  • Benjamin A. Davis Professor of Broadcast & Digital Journalism, Calif State Univ Northridge and author of 'The Digital Media Pyramid'
ASSOCIATED PRESS

When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans a little more than ten years ago it was a category three storm that left a lot of property and death in its wake. At least 1,200 people died directly from the storm and the floodwaters it created. The most memorable thing about Katrina was how it revealed an underclass of people, mostly African-Americans who could not or would not retreat to safer ground.

Thus, within days America was witnessing the tragedy of people -- poor people -- suffering from lack of water and food. Many were stuck on rooftops waving down rescue helicopters, but a vast majority thought the government had provided shelter and food at the New Orleans Superdome. Well, the government let them down.

The bureaucrats in Washington working for President Bush shared the same attitude that many Americans had at the time.

Oh those black people are suffering, but they always suffer. They are used to it. So let me get back to my life.

That was the attitude until endless television images of dying and thirsty people embarrassed the U.S. around the world. Shame woke people up, not compassion. The U.S. could not provide something as simple as fresh bottled water to the people at the Superdome for days. Water.

Shame appears to be the only reason government officials in Flint, Michigan decided to pick up their pace helping the people of Flint. Flint is 37 percent Caucasian and 56 percent African-American.

The median family income for Flint is $24,000 while it is $48,000 for the rest of the state. Forty-two percent of the people in Flint live below the poverty level while state wide just 17 percent are below the poverty line.

In Flint, water, safe water was all that residents needed. Instead, the local government authorities provided them with poisoned water. The authorities starting with Governor Rick Snyder down to the Flint city council neglected a basic need of people -- clean, safe water. For nearly two years no government body did anything to prevent the consumption of poisoned water by the community. Flint was neglected because it was not affluent and filled with high roller taxpayers.

The Flint city council chose to take water from the Flint River in order to save on the money they were paying for Detroit's water. Not only was that Flint River water poisonous it was so ridden with toxins, which damaged the water pipes to the point that the lead in them was exposed and started flowing it into the faucets in homes. Complaints started coming in immediately after the switch in April 2014.

Now every child, about 9,000, in Flint is assumed to have lead poisoning. The costs associated with the problems these children will face in the future are many times higher than any savings the city would have received from switching water sources. The Governor acknowledged that an outbreak of Legionnaires disease killed at least 10 people in the Flint area and it is strongly believed to be related to the poisoned water.

But who cares about the complaints? We are talking Flint here, not Ann Arbor. Flint is not your bucolic little community with soccer moms roaming around in SUV's.

As in New Orleans government officials in Michigan took an attitude of those poor people are used to suffering, right? In Flint state officials delayed and delayed solving a water crisis even when credible scientific studies, like the one done by Virginia Tech, showed the residents were being poisoned.

Now, well beyond the eleventh hour responsible government is coming to the rescue of lower income people who were betrayed and taken for granted by their government. President Obama has declared a federal state of emergency in Flint. That comes a couple of weeks after Governor Snyder belatedly declared a state of emergency.

Maybe in this campaign season another Poor People's Campaign like the one started by Martin Luther King in 1968 should be initiated. King's campaign was ill fated and interrupted by his death, but the idea of fighting for the concerns of those below the poverty line is still one worth pursuing.

The poor are dumped on at every opportunity -- because they are poor. They need politicians who actually fight for their interests and safety instead of heartless bureaucrats who seek savings above safety.

This Blogger's Books and Other Items from...

CONVERSATIONS