After a two-year investigation to determine which Michigan government officials were directly responsible for the poisoning of almost 100,000 Flint residents, announcement of the charges produced more vexation, deep anger and frustration.
Attorney General Dana Nessel told the embattled residents that justice delayed would not be justice denied. She promised that residents would receive justice in the end but seeing former Gov. Rick Snyder charged with two misdemeanors just added insult to injury, said former Mayor of Flint Dr. Karen Weaver.
Gov. Snyder is charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty. He pled not guilty during a Jan. 14 arraignment and faces one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. His defense attorney has described the charges as meritless and politically motivated, adding that any trial would essentially be a waste of taxpayer money.
“I’m left with anger, sadness and what’s new? It was very disappointing, a slap in the face again,” said Dr. Weaver, who served as Flint’s first female mayor from 2015-2019. “Snyder knew, he had time to warn residents and he had a hand in the Legionnaire deaths. I hoped the punishment matched the crime, but it did not fit. I expected justice to be served.”
During a recent interview in the Detroit Free Press, Mayor Weaver—who just landed her own talk show on 910-AM Superstation—went further.
“What charges? I feel about those charges like I feel about the ($600 million Flint water) settlement,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face to the people of Flint and it lets us know how little our lives are valued. We couldn’t drink our water.”
“It was a coverup. For 18 months, people didn’t know what was going on. You can’t poison a city and keep it quiet for 18 months without help. That’s a coverup. And people died.”
In addition to those who’ve died, there are tens of thousands of residents who “have been left to pick up the pieces,” residents and activists said.
“It has manifested in many, many ways. I know people with rashes, their hair falling out and other illnesses,” said Clair McClinton, a retiree, activist and member of the Democracy Defense League of Flint, a grassroot water advocacy organization. “The charges are certainly no match for what we in the city have gone through. I was so excited when we heard that he would be charged but it was like we got a new sheriff in town but nothing’s changed. We’re dealing with the same situation.”
Flint residents have sought justice for the man-made environmental tragedy that Flint residents have lived with and suffered through for the past seven years. While serving as governor in 2014, Mr. Snyder authorized Emergency Manager Darnell Early to switch Flint’s drinking water from the clean, freshwater of Lake Huron to the foul, dirty, corrosive and untreated water from the Flint River. Soon after, residents began complaining about the foul taste and color of their drinking water but the governor, his former spokesman, state and city officials—dismissive of the chorus of complaints—continued to insist that the water was safe to drink.
Gov. Snyder and other government officials stonewalled for more than a year before being forced to admit that there was a problem. Experts say the contaminated water led to the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water, which killed 12 people.
Audrey Muhammad, an occupational therapist, mother, grandmother and Flint resident, recalled the many issues she’s had with her water lines.
“I’ve had all types of problems with the lines, including bleach which has corroded the pipes. I have had to replace pipes and pipes have burst in my house,” she said. “I have a whole house filtration system and a reverse osmosis system to clean my food.”
“It’s been extra stress, scary, a burden. I wouldn’t use water from the tap to cook with. Right now, my hand is drying and cracked because I had to get the filter replaced. When the filters start getting bad, my skin texture changes.”
Ms. Muhammad said on any given day, her daughter and three small grandchildren are home with her.
“Whenever they go to the bathroom to brush their teeth, I have to make sure there is bottled water,” she said. “The state is no longer paying for bottled water. Gov. Whitmer ran on the backs of Flint. She made promises not kept. Water pods are closed and we’re getting nothing from the state. We also elected an attorney general who dropped all the charges and came back and slapped us in the face. City Councilmember Eric Mayes tried to subpoena Snyder but no members supported him.”
Of deep concern for Flint parents and other residents is the reality of the impact of the alarmingly high levels of lead on their children. Gov. Snyder and Mr. Early made the decision to switch waters sources and opted not to pay the $100 that would allow for the addition of corrosion controls to the river water which caused lead from Flint’s aging pipes to leach into the drinking water. That omission has left Flint residents to deal with the long-term consequences and fallout from a lead poisoning tragedy that could affect them and their children into the foreseeable future.
Problems associated with exposure to lead are irreversible. Lead is a potent neurotoxin which can cause memory loss, irreversible brain damage, impaired development, cognitive dysfunction, speech impediments and other serious chronic conditions, particularly in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, even marginal lead exposure can cause behavioral and cognitive problems, including an increased tendency to exhibit violent behavior. Moreover, children affected by lead poisoning are seven times more likely to end up as a high school dropout and are six times more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system than those not exposed to lead. The impact of lead exposure is irreversible.
Arthur Woodson, a Flint native, resident and activist, said he is elated that Mr. Snyder was finally being held responsible for his actions. On his Facebook page, he exulted that “this is a good January.”
“We expected this to happen,” said Mr. Woodson, who has led protests and engaged in other forms of civil disobedience in an effort to force city and state officials to fix and repair what is widely regarded as a man-made disaster. “The attorney general promised that she was going to charge them. She took the time, she and her team, looked over evidence and came up with the charges.”
“There’s more than just lead in the water. They dictated a narrative to make us think that it was only lead in the water but there is P5, E-coli, PTHM, all different types of things running through the pipes. We have people dying here. Genesee County has the highest rate of cancers in state. And inside, Flint also has the highest rate. I don’t know if I’ve been affected (by lead). Doctors said I have nodules on my lungs and it’s showing up in other people.”
Flint residents never stood still as the crisis played out. They challenged and fought city, state and federal officials, demanding that they be included in meetings, held their own strategy and information sessions, countered disinformation and false narratives and filed a number of class action and other lawsuits. Most of all, they never stopped pushing for accountability from Mr. Snyder and other state, county and city officials who refused to take responsibility for the man-made public health crisis.
“We’re talking now about the recourses we may have,” said Ms. McClinton, a labor leader who worked as an autoworker with General Motors for 30 years. “This was a moral failure on part of the attorney general and the new team. They have a moral obligation to ensure that justice is served. Being Black has a lot to do with this. This goes back to the emergency managers who came after major Black cities in the state of Michigan. This latest charge is a continuation of that. This charge is a continuation of the abuse, exploitation and the demeaning of lives of African Americans and poor people in this community and in this state.”
“The judge (overseeing the Flint Water settlement) is looking at laws and cases, and we’re looking at our lives. This demands a humanitarian solution not a legal solution. This was a crime against humanity. It was man-made. We’re not seeking a legal answer, we’re seeking a humanitarian solution. We’re appealing to her that she sees us as human beings. She has an opportunity to turn on that. We’re appealing to her humanity.”