Ever since Flint residents cut ties with Detroit’s incredibly expensive water system last year, the financially struggling community has been plagued with water that both smelled and tasted deplorable. Matters only grew worse when residents started experiencing negative side effects after they continued using the murky water being brought in from the city’s river.
As the people of Flint made the transition from disgruntled residents to active protesters, however, one activist overshadowed the cause with what many see as an exaggerated comparison that likens the dirty water troubles to the unspeakable tortures that Jews faced during the Holocaust.
Residents of the Michigan city are encountering one of the many harsh realities that Black communities all across the nation have learned—in America, you have to be able to afford to be healthy.
It’s a sentiment that usually reflects political views about health care, but more recently it’s become an idea that represents the realities of environmental racism.
The predominantly Black city (a 2010 report by the US Census Bureau reveals that the city has a Black population of roughly 56 percent) was essentially given an ultimatum that had them coming out on the losing end of the deal either way.
They could continue on with their costly ties to the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department as their prices were on a steady incline or seek independence from Detroit’s water system and draw their water from the polluted river that rushed through the community.
The city chose the latter in hope that a viable solution to the water woes would be easy to reach.
They were wrong.
Residents have captured photos of brown water spewing from their faucets and report that the water reeks of chlorine.
Meanwhile, residents are convinced that the murky water is leading to serious health concerns.
Following a string of boil-water advisories last year, residents who still use or consume the water say they are experiencing hair loss and serious headaches.
Tony Palladeno Jr, a 53-year-old resident of the city who drinks bottled water but still showers using the city water, insists that this is no case of paranoia.
“No matter what, if I go in [the shower], one time it’s going to be my eyes, or I’ll get headaches or my lungs,” he told the Associated Press. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s paranoia.’ No….I’m living this.”
As the community seeks justice, the city’s actions prove that water concerns are justified. But concerns for the residents are being washed away while officials remain concerned with pleasing corporations.
The reason the city’s residents have been forced into this predicament is because they needed to save money.
Despite the need for saving city funds, they have allowed the General Motors factory to go back to using water from Detroit. The move could cost the city more than $400,000 in lost revenue every year.
While city officials let the plant switch its water source, officials are still insisting that state tests show that the water meets federal safety guidelines.
While some citizens are urging the city to go back to using Detroit’s water, that decision would also cause the city to miss out on more than $4 million in savings.
Flint officials are hoping to complete a pipe to Lake Huron soon, which they believe will give residents the quality water they are looking for.
Until that happens, activists and protesters are showing no signs of putting a halt to demonstrations, but some have already taken a step back from Rev. Charles Williams II.
The Michigan Chapter president of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network caught some demonstrators by surprise when he claimed that Flint’s water is “almost as bad as gas chambers for Jews.”
He made the comment during one of the many water giveaways that have been hosted in the city.
The city of Flint fired back saying that it was “extremely disappointed” in the remarks that compared the water woes to “genocide.”
“We are extremely disappointed in Rev. Charles Williams’ comments but certainly understand—and share—his frustration,” the city statement says. “With that said, we find Rev. Williams’ accusations are a gross misrepresentation of the Flint water condition and a wholly inappropriate comparison.”
Williams tweeted that if officials are so upset by his claims they should use their “anger 2 make sure residents aren’t drinking death water.”
“Isn’t it extreme to knowingly sell residents contaminated water people in #flint forced to buy liver disease water? What is that? #Genocide,” another tweet from Williams read.
Residents don’t want the controversial comment to overshadow the fact that water quality in the city is indeed a very real and a very serious problem.
The residents have continued protesting the price, color, smell, and overall quality of the water.