Flint water crisis - Obama to visit as hearings on race are held

Flint Water Crisis: Obama To Visit As Residents Talk Environmental Racism At Civil Rights Hearings

President Obama will visit Flint, Michigan, this week as the city continues to grapple with the fallout from its ongoing water crisis. The presidential visit comes just after the first public hearing into racism and its role in the Flint water crisis was held this past Thursday.

As reported by CNN, it was a letter from an 8-year old girl that drew President Obama to make the trip in person. Mariyanna Copeny wrote to the president, calling herself “Little Miss Flint” and President Obama replied in the form of a letter posted to Medium, where he answered the little girl directly. He told Mariyanna that he would meet with her personally in Flint on May 4 during his tour. Parts of Mariyanna’s letter are quoted by CNN.

“I will be riding a bus to Washington, D.C. to watch the congressional hearings of our Governor Rick Snyder. I know this is probably an odd request, but I would love for a chance to meet you or your wife.”

While he is in Flint, the president will be personally briefed on federal efforts to help the troubled Michigan city deal with the water crisis. The president’s visit comes just after the first of several hearings planned on examining the role that race has played in how the Flint water crisis has unfolded.

Dozens of residents of Flint spoke directly to the eight-member panel of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission in the first planned public hearing held April 28, 2016. The panel was set up by Governor Rick Snyder as a nonpartisan body.

Among the major criticisms that were heard by panel members concerned the work of the state-appointed emergency managers, whose cost cutting priorities are at the root of what drove Flint straight into its water crisis. In order to save money, the city of Flint withdrew from the Detroit water system and began instead to intake water directly from the Flint River. The waters of the Flint River were more corrosive and ate away at the antiquated lead soldering on the city’s pipes, releasing the lead into Flint’s water system.

Many residents told the Commission panel that race played a definitive role in Flint’s water crisis. As reported in the Detroit Free Press, Eric Mays, a member of Flint city council, told the panel that cities like Flint, with a majority African-American population, were disproportionately inflicted with emergency managers in comparison to majority white communities. While some residents and Gov. Snyder disagreed with the notion that race played a role, the panel itself agreed with the charge of racism in its initial report.

“Flint residents, who are majority Black or African American and among the most impoverished of any metropolitan area in the United States, did not enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as that provided to other communities. Moreover, by virtue of their being subject to emergency management, Flint residents were not provided equal access to, and meaningful involvement in, the government decision-making process.”

Even after switching back to the Detroit water system, Flint water continues to see spikes in lead concentration. Additional measures have been put into place to help deal with ongoing water issues. Among other recent developments, Michigan state Attorney General Bill Schuette laid criminal charges against three individuals last week, including a water department employee and two state workers. AG Schuette promised that the charges were only the tip of the iceberg. He was quoted in the Detroit Free Press.

“These charges are only the beginning and there will be more to come. That I can guarantee you.”

There are plans for three more hearings before the Michigan Civil Rights Commission before the panel files its final report on the Flint water crisis.

[Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images]

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