Sponsored by 910 AM Superstation of Detroit, a group of radio talents, attorneys, and community leaders held a town hall meeting on the evening of February 2 in Flint to discuss the ongoing water crisis in the stricken city. Among those featured was Rev. Jesse Jackson, who in the past had called the city a “disaster zone.” Jackson spoke of the political and social ramifications of the leaching of toxic lead into the Flint’s drinking water, in an exclusive interview with Spero News. Jackson repeated criticisms leveled by local community leaders and progressives that it was the State of Michigan’s practice of mandating a city manager that contributed to the “manmade” disaster.
“There’s a human catastrophe in Flint, brought about by environmental recklessness. Those who have contempt for the Environmental Protection Agency will pollute the air, they will contaminate the water, they let the fields become brownfields, protecting industry at the expense of people. That’s what happening here. It is now a crime scene. For more than two years, they knew that the water was poisoned with lead, yet they covered it up. General Motors could no longer use it: it was too coarse for the automobiles. People’s water was smelly. It was brown. They held the people in utter contempt. Now the question is who knew, what, when. Meanwhile, children are drinking the water, they cannot bathe in it, they cannot use it for cooking, they cannot drink the water. It’s a real disaster.”
When asked which taxpayers should pay the brunt of the burden for restoring the water system in Flint, Jackson referred to Michigan’s emergency manager law, which gives the personnel assigned to cities by the state government broad powers over the local governments involved. “The state government. They usurped democracy,” said Jackson, “with the emergency manager, with his unilateral powers, he used that power to shift from good water from Lake Huron to Flint water. Since the government induced this crisis, and it has to pay for the crisis it induced."
He added, “One thing, is that people the government asked to pay excessively high water bills.” Jackson said that Flint water customers should be refunded for the contaminated water that was provided to them. When asked to review the political situation in Flint that led to the imposition of the series of emergency managers, Jackson said that Michigan cities such as Benton Harbor, Detroit and Flint are under emergency managers suggests a pattern. He said, “Fifty-five of Michigan’s blacks live under emergency managers. That’s unacceptable. That’s an ugly pattern and we must hope for the very best.”
Darnell Earley served variously as a city administrator in the early 2000s and most recently as emergency manager in 2013. He was called in, along with other state-appointed officials, when Michigan’s treasury department found “probable financial stress,” including recurring cash shortfalls, a structural deficit, and failure to follow state-approved deficit elimination plans. Earley was one of those charged in a November 2015 class action lawsuit filed by Flint citizens in the wake of revelations of the levels of toxic lead in the drinking water.
On February 4, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) said at a House committee hearing on the Flint water crisis that he was directing U.S. Marshals to find Earley and “hunt him down” in order to serve a subpoena for his testimony before Congress. Earley had been summoned to speak about the water crisis before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, but refused.