Friday, January 22, 2016

The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis

As a former Detroiter who now lives in Washington DC, my heart cries out for the residents of Flint. The blame lies at the incompetent state officials who prioritized cutting costs over providing healthy water to the people. Though the Obama administration announced $80 million in federal aid to the city of Flint, please spread the word about the crisis in Flint because the water is still unsafe to use. Let's be honest -- this preventable tragedy is an example of environmental racism where leadership is indifferent to the deplorable conditions in which poor and minority residents live. State officials would have never provided polluted water to wealthy communities.

From Diversity, Inc:

The city of Flint, with a population of nearly 100,000, is majority African-American — in fact, at 57 percent, its Black population is more than three times the national average. Additionally, more than 41 percent of residents live beneath the poverty line — nearly three times the national average.

The lead contamination occurred after the state decided to separate Flint’s water system from Detroit’s water line in spring 2014 as a cost-saving measure, switching Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River — which already had a bad reputation as a polluted water source. A class-action lawsuit alleges the state Department of Environmental Quality did not treat the water for corrosion, in accordance with federal law, and the improperly treated water from the Flint River allowed lead to leach from the pipes into the water supply.

From the Detroit Free Press:
In Flint, where lead-poisoned water has sparked international outcry, the image of Sincere Smith, his skin covered by severe rashes his mother believes are the result of bathing in the contaminated water, has become a symbol of the city's suffering.
UPDATE (02/24/2016):Ongoing Coverage of Flint Water Crisis (NBC News) and How to Prevent the Next Flint (The Atlantic>

UPDATE (02/20/2016): What e-mails have shown us about Flint water crisis and Timeline: How Flint's water crisis unfolded and Jesse Jackson in Flint: 'It’s time to fight back' (Detroit Free Press)

Related content in TIME Magazine and the New York Times:

Amid Deplorable Conditions of Detroit Public Schools, Teachers Stage Sickouts

Like the toxic water situation in Flint, Detroit is facing its own crisis. A decade of bad decision-making, privatization of services (e.g., maintenance and transportation), and emergency financial managers has not stopped the declining student enrollment, corruption (as with the federal indictment of ex-Chicago Public Schools superintendent and former DPS academic and accountability officer, Barbara Byrd-Bennett), and mounting debt in Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The school system is so inundated with debt that it lacks funding to focus on repairs to aging school buildings. Years of neglect and delayed maintenance has created a toxic situation where students and teachers are exposed daily to dangerous elements: water leaks, mold, falling ceiling tile, exposed electrical wiring, dead rodents, and other poor conditions. Students cannot use the gym because it is unsafe to use. Students have to wear coats in their classrooms because there is no heat in their building. Yet, the state leadership continues to be indifferent towards poor and minority children learning in inhumane classroom settings.

From Diversity, Inc:

Teachers in Detroit have been protesting the deplorable conditions of their schools and on Wednesday staged their biggest “sick-out,” where teachers refused to work to bring attention to the matter. This forced 88 of the city’s 97 public schools to close, according to the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) Facebook page.

Some of the problems schools face include significantly overpopulated classrooms, leaky ceilings, mildew, broken heaters, warped floors, bugs and rats. In addition to the poor building conditions, teachers are also protesting cuts in salaries and increased health care expenses.

Like Flint, Detroit is also a majority-Black city, with 82.7 percent of its population being Black. This greatly contrasts with the overall population of Michigan, which is 14.2 percent Black, as well as the U.S. Black population of 12.7 percent.

Related content:

Michigan Radio: In fight against Detroit unemployment, study finds "there is no silver bullet"

Detroit suffers from a high unemployment rate for a variety of reasons. I will focus on the distribution of jobs, in which the majority are located in the suburbs. Some suburbs do not have bus routes because a state law allows suburbs to "opt out" of bus service in their community. This creates a haphazard situation for people who rely on public transportation. If there is no bus service in the location of the employer, then the job is not accessible to the person who is most needy for employment. For example, this Detroit man used to walk 21 miles to get to work because he relied on public transportation in the region. This kind of situation is utterly unheard of in other metropolitan areas. But it is not unusual for anyone living in a car-dependent state like Michigan. Unfortunately, there is no regional support for a sustainable regional mass-transit system in Detroit.

From Michigan Radio:

A new study finds there are many challenges to Detroit residents accessing job opportunities.

The report, Detroit’s Untapped Talent: Jobs and On-Ramps Needed, was commissioned by JP Morgan Chase and Company and was compiled by Corporation for a Skilled Workforce.

Jeannine La Prad helped prepare the report.

La Prad says the Detroit unemployment rate is chronically twice that of the statewide unemployment rate. She found that factor has been compounded by an insufficient number of jobs in Detroit, a mismatch between the skills and educational requirements for what jobs are available, and a lack of support structures like childcare and reliable transportation.

Related content:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Daisy Elliott, Detroiter behind civil rights law, dies

From The Detroit News:

Daisy Elliott, an African-American civil rights advocate and former Michigan representative who helped push through a landmark law aimed at protecting against racial bias as well as other forms of discrimination, has died at age 98, friends and family announced late Tuesday.

The Detroiter spent 18 years with the Michigan House of Representatives, becoming “an effective and eloquent civil rights advocate, especially for workers, education, senior citizens, women, and minorities,” relatives said in a statement. But she perhaps was best known for authoring and co-sponsoring the historic Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

The Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act is Michigan's anti-discrimination law. Passed in 1976, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of "religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status" in employment, housing, education, and access to public accommodations. The law is named for its two primary sponsors, Daisy Elliott, a Democrat from Detroit, and Melvin L. Larsen, a Republican from Oxford. It was signed into law by Michigan Governor William Milliken on January 13, 1977 and went into effect on March 31, 1977.