Jesse Jackson: 'Flint is a crime scene'

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Sunday added his voice to the growing chorus of people upset about Flint’s water crisis.

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks during a rally about the water crises at the Heavenly Host Church of the Harvest in Flint.

“We should have .. tape around the city because Flint is a crime scene,” the national civil rights leader said Sunday to a packed house at Heavenly Host Baptist Church in Flint. “The people of Flint have been betrayed.”

Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency Jan. 5 in Flint over the crisis, which was caused by the city switching its drinking water source from the Detroit water system to the Flint River.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality admitted it didn’t force the city to treat the water with corrosion controls, which caused old lead connections to leech, exposing residents to lead contamination.

“We do not yet know the impact this will have on pregnant women with children,” Jackson said Sunday.

Resident Melissa Mays, 37, said she suffered rashes and hair loss shortly after the water supply was changed. She said it’s also had an effect on her children.

“I’m going through a slew of health problems,” she said. “My children get sick every time someone sneezes. As a mother, I’m angry. Every day I have to keep my kids safe from the tap.”

Mays was among the original group of residents pointing out problems in the water. “We found high levels of copper and lead in April,” she said, adding that she printed flyers and went door-to-door, “to warn people about this problem.

“The citizens worked with Virginia Tech to do the testing,” Mays said. “They called us crazy. They called us liars. They said we were just a bunch of bored moms who needed something to do. The message here is, listen to your citizens.

“Everyone has a story. These stories need to be heard. All this boiled down to, we were poisoned because the Emergency Manager took democracy away. We are not disposable people. The people who did this need to be held accountable”

On Saturday, water response teams visited 4,000 Flint homes providing residents with free bottled water, filters, replacement cartridges and water testing kits.

Beginning Monday, about 70 National Guard members will hand out supplies at area fire stations.

Mays said the efforts are appreciated, but not enough. She said the entire infrastructure needs to be replaced.

“Bottled water is a Band-Aid,” she said. “As much as we appreciate the donations, we can’t shower in bottled water.”

State Rep. Woodrow Stanley, D-Flint, drew raucous applause Sunday when he told the crowd: “Somebody needs to go to jail.”

“Right now, the water issue is the cause célèbre,” he said. “Everyone wants to come to Flint because it’s on the front page. But it’s not always going to be on the front page. Flint is a city without a safety net. We had failing schools before we had a water crisis. We had high unemployment.

“This is going to leave the front page, and we need to make sure we hold people accountable for what happened here,” Stanley said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson appears with pastor Neal Roberson at the Heavenly Host Church of the Harvest in Flint.

Community activist Quincy Murphy, who filed a petition to recall Snyder, said it’s a slap in the face for residents to get billed for contaminated water.

“They need to stop charging us for water we cannot drink,” he said. “We need our money back.

“My niece is pregnant. What’s going to happen when she wants to give her baby a bath?”

Flint's water crisis only qualifies for federal emergency status — not natural disaster assistance — since it was a man-made disaster.

“Declaring an emergency does not bring enough money,” Jackson said. “Whether it’s man-made or natural, it’s a disaster. When people cannot bathe or drink, it’s a disaster.”

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