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

Anya Wassenberg

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."

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.

"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."

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

[Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images]