As we wrote yesterday, what happened in Flint to cause water contamination at such a mass scale was a failure at many levels of government. However, despite this systematic failure, Flint’s residents deserve for the people who willingly (or even criminally) stood by when they knew something was wrong to be held accountable. While Michigan’s former Attorney General Bill Schuette originally brought criminal charges against 15 people, as PBS explained, three years later, no one is behind bars. Instead, seven of 15 defendants have pleaded no contest to misdemeanors, some as minor as disrupting a public meeting. Their records eventually will be scrubbed clean.
This has rightfully angered Flint residents who feel as if culpable officials are getting away with it. Four of five people at the state Department of Environmental Quality who were on the front line of the crisis have struck deals. The remaining cases mostly center on a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease and early disastrous decisions to use water from the Flint River. However, as MLive reported a couple of weeks ago, Michigan’s new solicitor general says she has some work to do to catch up on criminal prosecutions related to the Flint water crisis and promised to fix any problems she encounters. “We will right the ship,” said Solicitor Fadwa A. Hammoud, who Attorney General Dana Nessel has directed to oversee the Flint cases. “I appreciate the work everyone has done. I respect everyone who wants to see justice.” In addition to this, House Oversight and Government Reform chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) says that he will reopen an investigation into Flint after former Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz closed the inquiry in December 2016 despite objections from then-ranking member Cummings who called the move premature and inconceivable. As the Detroit News elaborated, Cummings has been particularly interested in documents relating to when former governor Rick Snyder became aware of concerns relating to Flint’s outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a deadly form of pneumonia that killed 12 people and sickened dozens of others in Genesee County in 2014-15.
Why This Matters: This past election Michigan voters voted in a Democratic governor (Gretchen Whitmer) as well as a Democratic Attorney General who campaigned on an unbiased investigation of wrongdoing in Flint. It’s easy to point fingers at the other party during a crisis such as Flint but after a University of Michigan report concluded that former-governor Snyder “bears significant legal responsibility for the (Flint water) crisis based on his supervisory role over state agencies” as well as the fact that a major donor of his was appointed to lead the Flint investigation it’s easy to wonder why a Republican governor and AG didn’t act swiftly enough to expose and correct all wrongdoing. Either way, we must hold lawmakers accountable as providing safe water for their citizens is their duty. Flint is one of many communities in the United States that faces similar injustice and that’s why a legislative proposal like the Green New Deal, which prioritizes marginalized communities, is such a necessary part of our national dialogue.