Last week, Michigan’s former governor, Rick Snyder, and several other officials were charged for their roles in the Flint water crisis. The charges ranged from misdemeanor counts of neglect to felonies of involuntary manslaughter. Snyder himself was charged with two misdemeanor counts of willful neglect of duty; each count carries a maximum fine of $1000 and one-year imprisonment.
The other officials charged include Snyder’s Chief of Staff, the former emergency managers, and the former Health and Human Services Director (you can find the full list of officials and charges here). The nine officials received a total of 42 counts in charges. These indictments come nearly seven years after a water source switch caused a water and health crisis in the city of Flint. Those in charge handled the situation poorly, with disastrous consequences. After years have gone by without accountability, these proceedings should come as a relief. But that depends on the outcome.
A quick recap on what happened in Flint: In April 2014, Flint began drawing water from the Flint River. This austerity move was to temporarily supply Flint while it connected to Lake Huron. It wasn’t long before residents began complaining about the water’s smell and look. Tests revealed high lead content in the water, but the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) disputed the results. But by September, doctors found elevated lead levels in kids, and only then did the state government acknowledge the issue.
It turned out that DEQ didn’t treat the water to acceptable anti-corrosive standards, which was causing the lead from the pipes to seep into the water. In the following years, several officials were charged with misconduct, tampering of evidence, and violation of safe water standards.
While officials were debating what went wrong, Flint residents were suffering the consequences. In 2014-15, there was an outbreak of Legionnaires disease; pneumonia’s more severe older cousin. The outbreak infected 90 people and killed 12. At least that’s what the state says. But reports and studies show that the effect of the poisoned water causes far more damage, and leads to health issues and deaths which plague residents years later.
What’s worse, the government only alerted Flint residents about the outbreak in 2016—after it had already happened. However, some evidence suggests that Syder may have known about the possibility of the outbreak months before it even happened.
As for the charges? In June 2019, prosecutors dropped all charges against the officials to start a new investigation. Hammond and Worthy, the new people, said that the previous investigation didn’t pursue all available evidence; private law firms had control over what information to turn over. The new team, they said, would pursue new evidence not previously investigated.
Basically, the investigation was getting a more comprehensive do-over. Which is a good thing. But it also meant another delay in justice for Flint’s residents. Last August, Michigan’s attorney general announced that the state had reached a $600 million settlement for parties affected by the water crisis. The settlement is designed mainly to aid the children— 80% of the budget will address claims made by minors.
But the next day, activists and residents gathered to express disappointment about the settlement and demand more for Flint’s residents. 5 months later, residents are still speaking out against the settlement. Arthur Woodson, a Flint activist, said that adults deserve more compensation. The settlement, which only allocates about 18% of the money to adults, doesn’t cover the fact that many adults also suffered many physical and financial consequences from the crisis.
It’s unsurprising that given the severity of Snyder’s mistakes, people expected harsher charges. On Tuesday, when the proceedings were announced, residents were optimistic that justice would be served. But by Thursday, that hope morphed into disappointment and anger upon learning that he would be facing only misdemeanor counts for actions that affected so many lives.
In America, a rich white man can poison 100,000 people and only get charged with a misdemeanor and fined ONE CENT per poisoned person… @MIAttyGen THAT IS NOT JUSTICE! #FlintWaterCrisis Day #2455 and counting. https://t.co/vicWuJ1xre
— Melissa Mays (@FlintGate) January 14, 2021
From the state’s negligence to fruitless investigations, and inadequate settlements, and now this—will Flint residents ever receive their dues? And will those responsible for the crisis truly be held accountable? One can only hope.
In the meantime, we can help by uplifting the voices of the city, and working to ensure that Flint residents have clean and safe water. Mari Copeny, more popularly known as Little Miss Flint, is raising money to provide water filters for Flint and other places with water crises. You can donate here. You can also donate to the Flint Kids Fund. The fund supports programs helping children affected by lead poisoning in Flint. Donate here.
This is what the water aisle at our local Walmart looks like. The water crisis is far from over. It’s why I fight to get my filters to people that need it to the most. #Flint #ThisIsAmerica https://t.co/JibpFmVE7s pic.twitter.com/OfWOkHFU8Z
— Mari Copeny (@LittleMissFlint) January 16, 2021
The Flint Water Crisis is far from over. And the consequences are far-reaching. These charges are a step in the right direction. So here’s hoping for more accountability and transparency in the Flint Water Crisis.
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