— A Crisis in Flint: Callous Cause, Genocidal Effect —
Detroit, MI — During a recent March 25th presentation at the National Association of Black Social Workers, Inc. 48th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Cheikh Mbacké, a previous president of The Michigan Association of Black Social Workers, Inc (MABSW), said, “The Michigan Association of Black Social Workers, Inc has been affiliated since 1972 with the national and international chapters of the National Association of Black Social Workers, Inc. We believe that whatever discussion(s) generated about Flint must rightly call for the resignation of Michigan’s Governor and criminal prosecution of those having knowledge of or duplicity in the perpetuation of the horrific travesty surrounding what has become known locally, regionally, nationally, internationally, and universally [sic] as ‘the Flint water crisis.’”
According to Ella Green Moten, a previous President of both MABSW and the Flint ABSW chapter, “As Black social workers, the MABSW membership is constitutionally mandated to involve itself in human service delivery systems relative to the needs of Black people, and declare ourselves to be advocates of the Black community. As such, our finances, energies, and time is devoted to the development and implementation of programs and policies that reduce threat and enhance the growth of the Black community.”
On July 26, 2010, the UN General Assembly declared “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation to be a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” Prior to that declaration, the world had previously acknowledged rights to health, well-being, food, and freedom from political persecution, and much more. But not water and sanitation.
Anthony Harris, current MABSW President, states, “Access to a basic water requirement is a fundamental human right implicitly and explicitly supported by international law, declarations, and State practice. Governments, international aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local communities work to provide all humans with a basic water requirement and to guarantee that water as a human right. By acknowledging a human right to water and expressing the willingness to meet this right for those currently deprived of it, the water community has a useful tool for addressing one of the most fundamental failures of 20th century development.”
Harris and the MABSW contend that the United States, which has typically been a world leader on protecting and enhancing political human rights, has always had a flawed position on economic and social human rights, including the human right to water. It has long been a position characterized by bad logic and a narrow and inconsistent interpretation of human rights law. The United States chose to abstain from voting on the 2010 resolution and sought to justify its abstention by asserting that the resolution described a right to water and sanitation in a way that was not reflective of existing international law; and further that there was no right to water and sanitation in an international legal sense as described by the resolution.
Their disposition is this:
The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. The two elements of the crime of genocide include a physical and mental element, both having the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.”
In Article II of the current Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Those acts include killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Article III described five punishable forms of the crime of genocide: genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.
Whether intentional, inadvertent, or through failed oversight, the situation in Flint, by extension, certainly displays the clear absence of a moral compass. The situation in Flint visibly brushes against the physical and mental elements of the crime of genocide through its potential to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic or racial group. Was there conspiracy, or complicity. We say that is a question best suited for in an arena for criminal and legal proceedings.
Michigan Governor Snyder’s actions, concomitant with the premeditated actions of other state, county, and local government officials, effectively orchestrated the poisoning of Flint, home to a population of predominant (57%) African ancestry. The deleterious behavior of heartless politicians and their bureaucratic lackeys literally opened the tap permitting unsafe levels of lead and other toxins to flow unabated into Flint’s water supply.
State officials who tried to report this callous, reprehensible, and inhumane act were rebuffed or ignored. The discounting of those ignored concerns has led to irreversible brain damage in Flint’s children, in addition to the future potential for significant bodily harm to all of Flint’s citizens. While making an economic decision, Michigan’s Governor, members of his administration, and a host of others were instrumental in the April 2014 cut off of clean, Great Lakes water (Lake Huron via Detroit) to which Flint had long been privy.
Current Flint ABSW Interim President, Majorie Evans, says, “With 68% of residents having annual income (2010 U.S. Census) of less than $40,000 (22% less than $10,000, and 27% less than $25,000) Flint had already suffered through two bouts of emergency financial management upon suddenly finding itself in the cross-hairs of a tremendous water associated financial burden. In addition, long-term medical, psychological, and physical challenges loomed over Flint’s future due being forced to use water from the Flint River….an industrial dumping ground for numerous manufacturing, chemical and automotive entities for more than a century. The uncalculatable costs and devastating consequences of this debacle are and will continue to surface for generations to come.”
Today, over 50% of the world is found in urban cities like Flint. By 2040, it is projected that around 60% of the world’s population will occupy cities and will be confronted with major challenges, particularly the provision of clean, potable water. As with most disparities and inequities, the greatest impact will be borne by urban poor: typically disenfranchised, marginalized, and suffering long-term, chronic economic distress. Lacking reliable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, cities will require sustainable, equitable management of water resources and systems as a paramount priority.
Mistakenly, the purity of tap water is often taken for granted, placing people at considerable risk. Many U.S. water systems deliver drinking water that poses health risks as a result of pollution and deteriorating, out-of-date plumbing. Employment of pre-World War I-era water delivery systems and treatment technology exacerbates breakage in aging pipes, and seepage of contaminants into the water. Equipment designed originally to filter out or kill parasites and bacteria decades ago, are today incapable of managing many of the contaminants being introduced into the environment. As the highest elected Michigan authority, the Governor has ultimate oversight and bears the responsibility and obligation for insuring that Michigan water is safe, clean, and potable.
The Michigan Association of Black Social Workers, Inc. charges that a crime against humanity has been committed in Flint, Michigan. Although they are acutely aware that in the strictest sense the actions or inaction of Governor Snyder do not fit perfectly within the definition and charge of genocide, they do contend that the resultant outcome has proven to be no less grievous, must not be minimized, and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
For more details about the Michigan Association of Black Social Workers, Inc., visit www.michiganabsw.org