Flint, Michigan is in a state of emergency. And it is a crime scene. Now, President Obama is weighing in on the situation in that city — nearly 60 percent African American — where 4 percent of the children have been poisoned with lead from the undrinkable drinking water. The White House has issued emergency funds, and the mayor of this contaminated city, after waiting two years, says they require much more.
A reportedly incensed President Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint.
“I am very proud of what I’ve done as president, but the only job that’s more important to me is the job of fatherhood,” Obama said during a visit from auto industry representatives from Detroit, according to Vox. “And I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk.”
After declaring a state of emergency in the Midwestern working-class city, Obama met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver at the White House on Tuesday.
“I told her we are going to have her back and all the people of Flint’s back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy,” Obama said. “It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services we provide to our people and that we, together, provide as a government to make sure that the public health and safety is preserved.”
Further, in an interview that will be broadcast on CBS News on Sunday, President Obama said, “The notion that immediately families were not notified, things were not shut down — that shouldn’t happen anywhere.”
The action from the president brings $5 million in federal resources to Flint, far short of the $31 million requested by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, as the BBC reported. Classifying the water contamination as a natural disaster would have meant substantially more federal aid to the city.
Meanwhile, speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, Weaver said Flint requires more assistance to grapple with its water crisis, as ABC News reported.
“Our resources are being sent to Flint as we speak … but it’s not enough. We have to hold the state accountable,” Weaver said. “Resignations are good first steps.”
“People will ask, ‘Who do you blame?’” she said. “Well, we know the buck stops with the governor. We know that, but if we want to start pointing fingers, there’s enough blame to go all the way around.”
“We’ve been crying about this for almost — it’ll be two years in April,” Weaver said. “It didn’t take a scientist to tell us that brown [drinking] water is not good,” she added. “We have been crying about this for almost two years — it will be two years in April — and that’s what we want to know: What took so long?” she said, offering she does not know when people will be able to drink the water.
“It’s ironic when you live in the Great Lakes state,” Weaver added.
In 2014, the Flint emergency manager, appointed by Snyder to run the city finances, replaced the water supply from Detroit’s water source to the Flint River as a money-saving measure, causing lead to seep from the old water pipes. As the Huffington Post reported, in April 2014, local leaders, including then-mayor Dayne Walling (D), hailed the decision by toasting with drinking glasses filled with the new water source.
“It’s a historic moment for the city of Flint to return to its roots and use our own river as our drinking water supply,” Walling said back then.
Since that time, residents complained of headaches, rashes and bad smells and tastes emanating from the brown water. Meanwhile, state officials reportedly reacted to the very real complaints with indifference and condescension. As The New York Times reported, a Snyder aide called the people questioning Flint’s water “anti-everything group,” as other critics were accused of turning their complaints into a “political football.”
In January 2015, the city warned residents the water had high levels of disinfection byproducts, according to the Huffington Post. Further, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality failed to ensure the water was treated in order to deal with its corrosive quality. State agencies ignored all warnings of high lead levels in the water, and the contamination was not addressed. Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency did nothing as state officials rebuked its June 2015 memo sounding the alarm on the “serious concerns” over the lead-contaminated drinking water. Until late in 2015, state officials maintained that everything was fine and told people to relax.
In his Tuesday State of the State address, Snyder apologized to the residents of Flint, offering to assume “full responsibility” for this disaster and pledging to “fix” it, as calls grow for his resignation and even his arrest.
“Your families face a crisis,” he said. “A crisis you did not create and could not have prevented.”
The governor has released state government email messages — albeit heavily redacted — related to the Flint water crisis. For example, the following email message was completely censored using black lines to obscure the text:
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) January 20, 2016
“Those are some good first steps but Flint needs more help,” Weaver said of Snyder. “It’s a minority community. It’s a poor community. And our voices were not heard,” Weaver added.
And now, high-profile celebrities and figures are weighing in on the outrage coming from Flint:
— AJ+ (@ajplus) January 20, 2016
— Arsenio Hall (@ArsenioHall) January 21, 2016
— Chris Brown (@chrisbrown) January 19, 2016
Why we worried about the Oscars? We need to be worried about what’s going on in Flint and Chicago. Mlk didn’t die for shows and trophies.
— Young Jeezy (@Jeezy) January 19, 2016
As you all know, I’m from Lansing, MI, which is down the street from Flint and I can’t believe that this is happening in my home state.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 19, 2016
This is not a natural disaster, this is not a mistake, this is clearly some real dirty work going on! unacceptable! Explain Governor? #Flint
— Big Sean (@BigSean) January 19, 2016
— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) January 20, 2016
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 20, 2016
— Arsenio Hall (@ArsenioHall) January 20, 2016
We must ask how any city in the Great Lakes Region, with the vastness of clean, fresh water surrounding them, could ever want for water. But remember the war against Black people has not abated.