While the criminal charges against the officials is an important first step, the root causes of the crisis – the system of emergency management – have not been tackled explains Rev. David Alexander Bullock of Change Agent Consortium
Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Six current and formal Michigan Flint officials were criminally charged on Wednesday, for their role in the city’s lead contaminated water crisis. The water quality is suspected of being responsible for the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, that led to at least 12 deaths so far. In announcing the charges, the state’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette, had this to say. Bill Schuette: Today I’m announcing charges against two new individuals, and additional charges for four others. Nick Lyon, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, has been charged with two felonies under Michigan law. Involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office. Mr. Lyon failed in his responsibilities to protect the health and safety of citizens of Flint. Sharmini Peries: The state’s Chief Medical Executive, Eden Wells, was also charged with obstruction of justice and lying to police. She allegedly attempted to withhold funding for programs designed to help the victims of this crisis. To discuss all of this, from Detroit, we’re being joined by Reverend Alexander Bullock. He is pastor of the Greatest St. Matthews Baptist Church. Welcome back here to The Real News, Reverend. Alexander Bullock: Thank you for having me. Great to be back. Sharmini Peries: So Reverend, let’s begin with your reaction to the charges laid against Nick Lyon, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the state’s Chief Medical Executive, Eden Wells, and the charges that are laid against her. Let’s get your reaction first. Alexander Bullock: Well I think this moves us in the right direction. Of course the wheels of justice moves slow, but they turn nonetheless. So I think finally now folks in Flint, folks in Detroit, Benton Harbor, and across the state, at least believe that there will be some justice for Flint, and folks will be able now to begin to move forward. But let’s remember here, Governor Rick Snyder, and the emergency manager are key here. I know Darnell Earley got charged, but he wasn’t the emergency manager, when a decision to switch to the Flint water was made, and ultimately all emergency managers report to the governor. Now Bill Schuette is both the attorney general, and the governor’s lawyer, so folks had been concerned about that. I think after yesterday’s announcement, what we really want is we don’t want a few people at the bottom to take the fall for the man at the top. We want to see justice continued to move forward and go all the way to the governor’s office. Sharmini Peries: Those demands that are being made by the community, where is that at, are they being heard? Alexander Bullock: Well at this point, unfortunately, they’re not really being heard. Obviously because Governor Rick Snyder’s term is coming to an end. Bill Schuette who was attorney general, may end up running for governor next year. There was a recall campaign that was started, in fact three or four of them, and the one that I was a part of, we fell short. But there still is a sense in Flint, where the pipes haven’t been replaced. In a place like Detroit where emergency manager destroyed pensions, Highland Park and Benton Harbor, were this system. It’s one thing for individuals in the system to finally be brought to justice, but the system of emergency management still needs to be brought to justice. Sharmini Peries: Reverend, President Trump visited Flint during his campaign and accused the Federal Government of causing the issues over job loss and crumbling infrastructure. But I understand that there’s actually Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education, in the middle of all of this, what was her role in passing the law that set the stage for the Flint water crisis? Alexander Bullock: Well you know, Betsy DeVos didn’t have a direct role in passing Public cat 436 or Public Act 4. But the DeVos family, obviously, are huge Republican contributors. They spend a lot of money in politics in Michigan. Spend a lot of money in politics nationally. Now she is the over the education department, and has a very very robust charter school, anti-public-school agenda. So if you look at say, what Trump has done since he went to Flint, he’s got Betsy DeVos. He’s got Ben Carson. He’s got Jeff Sessions. It really doesn’t seem like the Trump Administration has materialized into an actual team that can advocate for and help fix the Flint water crisis, or the unemployment crisis in Michigan. Sharmini Peries: Reverend, now we are still facing more than 80 cases of Legionnaires’ disease, including at least 12 that have died from it. What is going on in terms of assistance to the victims and their families, and helping the current situation on the ground? Alexander Bullock: Well very very minimal assistance. Of course the state eventually started passing out bottled water, but did not want to continue to have to pay to do that. There were a number of volunteers that donated water, donated medical care, medical services, in the city of Flint. But we must say on the ground, it still is a crisis. I mean, new mayor issues around a garbage collection contract. Now there’s a recall in Flint for the new mayor. So there’s a lot of distractions happening locally in the city of Flint, that help to compound the problem of the water crisis, and the need for resolution. I would say from Michigan’s standpoint, there really still hasn’t been the right kind of response to the Flint water crisis. People are still drinking bottled water. People are still washing in bottled water. People are still taking their medicine, and feeding their cats with bottled water. This is still a city in crisis. The cameras are gone, but the crisis is still there. Sharmini Peries: Add to that, one of the responsibilities for monitoring and looking at our water supplies, lay with the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, which is getting severely cut back by the Trump Administration. What impact do you think this will have on places like Flint? Alexander Bullock: Look, a 31 or more percent cut to the EPA, it is bad for Flint. It’s bad for the Great Lakes water basin generally. It’s bad for Detroit. It’s bad for Michigan. It’s just a bad move. I mean, we’re struggling with the invasive species of Asian carp, coming in and changing the ecology. We’re struggling with managing sewage and pollution, getting into the Great Lakes water system. Obviously the city of Flint, still looking for a water supply, if it’s not going to be Detroit over the long term, they’re gonna have to end up then getting their water from the Great Lakes. So the EPA is key. It’s a part of the line of defense to protect the water and the waterways, the environment, and the ecology. In this continued move of businessmen-turned-politicians, Snyder was a businessman, became governor. Trump was a businessman, became president. When the businessman becomes an executive officer, they run government like a business, but government isn’t a business. Profit isn’t number one. Citizens and people should be number one. This is a bad move by the Trump Administration to affect the budget of the EPA. It’s gonna spell disaster. Sharmini Peries: All right Reverend Bullock, we’re going to leave you for now, but as these charges get laid, and the cases begin, we hope to have you back. And have you reporting for us as to how the people are reacting to the unfolding situation in court. Thank you for joining us today. Alexander Bullock: Thank you so much. I look forward to it. Sharmini Peries: Thank you for joining us here in The Real News Network.