Former Michigan Governor Charged in Flint Water Crisis

Image: Wikimedia Commons

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Yesterday, former Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, was criminally charged in connection to the 2014 Flint water crisis that led to 12 deaths, dozens of illnesses, and left hundreds of residents of the predominantly Black city without drinkable water. Several Michigan government officials have been criminally charged since then, including some that reported directly to Snyder, but now, it’s time for the ex-Governor himself to face the music. 

Why This Matters: Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician who first documented the extremely high levels of lead in the city’s water, says that justice is crucial to the healing process. “I have increasingly come to understand that accountability and justice are critical to health and recovery,” Hanna-Attisha told the Washington Post, “without justice, it’s impossible to heal the scars of the crisis.” She hopes that bringing accountability to the highest powers involved in the crisis will help bring the public some peace, a resource that had eluded the people of Flint even six years later. 

Despite new pipes and the restoration of clean drinking water to the most at-risk homes, Flint residents continue to live with the fear resulting from their ordeal. There’s a fundamental distrust among Flint residents of their government, and residents still don’t trust the water coming out of their taps. 

When the city switched to a new water source, the government ignored residents’ repeated complaints about health issues caused by city tap water. Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich recalls, “residents of Flint were repeatedly told they were crazy. They were belittled. They were harmed by the water physically, emotionally.”

Just last year, residents lined up in their cars to receive free bottled water for “World Water Day” simply because it came from outside of their own hometown. Ananich sympathizes, “I can’t tell somebody they should trust [claims that the water is safe], because I don’t trust them—and I have more information than most people.” 

Injustice Runs Deep: Flint’s predominantly white government has had longstanding tension with its predominantly Black populace. The population of Flint is 54% Black, compared to just 14% statewide. The dynamic only added to the pain faced by the residents of Flint, who felt that white politicians had left Black residents behind for the sake of saving money and ignored their pleas for help out of apathy for the local community. Nationwide, Black children are at a higher risk for lead poisoning, even in infancy.

In addition to Snyder, his health department director Nick Lyon and former adviser Rich Baird will also be charged. The exact details of the charges on the three men have not been made public, but already their lawyers have denounced the Michigan Attorney General’s decision. Lyon’s attorney claimed the move would be an “absolute travesty of justice” and Snyder’s representation called it a “smear campaign.” 

Nevertheless, many see it as a light at the end of the tunnel. Gina Luster, a community activist, expressed disbelief, “finally, after 7 years of fighting for justice.” Ananich affirmed her relief, “I’ve always said that I think criminal charges are important, because I think it’s criminal what happened to my town.” He believes the indictment will show the people of Flint that “no person, no politician, no one is above the law.”

 

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