By Paul Rozycki
According to U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee (5th District), obtaining justice for the Flint water crisis requires that those responsible be “held liable for the damage, that the basic water infrastructure be repaired, that residents be charged a fair price for their water and the health issues of the community be addressed.”
Those comments came at the end of a panel discussion at the Flint Public Library Saturday hosted by WDET’s (101.9 FM) Stephen Henderson, as part of the station’s Book Club, and Henderson’s “Detroit Today” program.
The forum was inspired by Hurley pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha’s book on the Flint water crisis What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Hope and Resistance in an American City. The panel, which included Congressman Kildee, water activist Melissa Mays, and FlintBeat.com founder and publisher Jiquanda Johnson, covered a wide variety of issues related to the water crisis. Panel members took questions from an audience of several dozen people.
Most important goal: regain trust
Kildee said the most important harm in the water crisis was the loss of trust in many levels of government, and that the most important goal was to regain that trust. The impact is greater than just the water itself, he said, and the psychological and economic impact of the water crisis may be even longer lasting than the water issue itself.
One of the major causes of Flint’s problems–and many other cities– is the lack of state revenue sharing support, Kildee said, which has been declining for many years, adding that “we don’t fund cities at the basic level,” particularly cities facing declining population and resources.
He asserted the state, with its lack of support and its emergency manager system, was the primary cause of the Flint water crisis, and that the state had the responsibility to fix what it caused. The distrust that has grown out of the water crisis is “a danger to our system,” he said, and citizens need to support and establish the “basic elements of a civil society.”
Flint’s water issues reach beyond the city of Flint, he pointed out, adding that many other cities are or soon will be dealing with similar issues. In the northern parts of the 5th Congressional District. for example, communities are currently dealing with the PFAS contamination of their water.
Needed: more investigative reporting
FlintBeat.com publisher Jiquanda Johnson addressed the central role of the media in covering the water crisis, noting that the decline of traditional news sources left a gap in news coverage.
She said a number of new outlets are attempting to fill that gap, and that there is a critical role for the media in informing the public about the key issues in the water crisis. She said while the public “has a voice, they need a platform,” and in particular, there is a need for solid investigative reporting.
However, Johnson said the water crisis did lead to the development of new leaders and a greater level of activism in Flint.
Johnson also said she believes, as a journalist, her duty is not only to report the facts of a problem, but also to play a role in developing a solution to the problem. She cited FlintBeat’s role in trying support programs to reduce the level of violence and crime in the Flint community, in addition to simply reporting the facts of a crime or an arrest.
Those responsible “should go to jail”
Water activist and founder of “Water You Fighting For?” Melissa Mays, described the impact of the water crisis on her family’s health, and the struggle she’s had in gaining the attention of authorities.
In an animated presentation, she blamed the emergency manager law for causing much of the problem, but also said “it took many lawsuits to resolve some of her issues.” She said she feels that “we need to replace all the affected infrastructure, from the water plant to the pipes and faucets in individual homes.” Mays said she has lost her trust in “Ph.D experts who lied to her,” and that those responsible “should go to jail for what they did.”
At the end of the presentations, members of the audience asked questions.
Several audience members expressed their own anger and frustration with the crisis and described their own health problems caused by the water. Others simply asked for advice on what they and the community should do next.
Johnson said there needs to be a better way of informing the public. “We are still in crisis, and we don’t know the full extent of the harm that has been caused,” she commented, adding there should be more long-term studies of the issue and that Flint residents should have greater support for both their mental and physical health issues related to the water crisis.
Kildee added those responsible should be held accountable for their actions. He said he hoped the class action lawsuits–many of which are pending and were discussed in a town hall two weeks ago– would result in fair compensation for those harmed by the water crisis.
The discussion was part of WDET’s Book Club which is highlighting Hanna-Attisha’s book, in a number of cities in southeast Michigan. In the next two months, the station will have similar events in St. Clair Shores, Ann Arbor, Ferndale and Detroit, with different panelists, all responding to the Flint water crisis and Hanna-Attisha’s book. Hanna-Attisha herself and State Senator Jim Ananich will be the featured guests on the final program Sept. 10 in Detroit. The event was sponsored, in part, by Source Booksellers of Detroit, who offered Hanna-Attisha’s book for sale after the presentations.
Banner photo (from left) Dan Kildee, Stephen Henderson, Melissa Mays, Jiquanda Johnson (Photo by Paul Rozycki)
EVM political commentator and staff writer Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.