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Eddie Conway speaks with barber Norman Booker and patrons about how the state-sanctioned use of contaminated water has impacted their lives

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EDDIE CONWAY: The water crisis in Flint Michigan continues to impact the city. A Frontline investigation found the death toll from the contaminated water there could be more than double the official tally. More than a dozen state and local officials are facing charges for the crisis. To learn more, I traveled to Flint to visit a barber shop to learn how the crisis continued to impact local residents.

NORMAN BOOKER: I feel the difference, and I actually taste the difference in the water.

EDDIE CONWAY: Are you drinking the water?

NORMAN BOOKER: No I actually brush my teeth before, and rinsed my mouth out with it. And you can actually taste the difference.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK, so how did the water crisis here in Flint affect you?

PERRIE WHALEY: It really affected me when I had a daughter, I had a newborn baby. And I didn’t want her to be affected by the water crisis, because the mayor was basically killing a lot of babies, younger kids or whatever, because they was forced to take showers and baths it. When I found out I had a newborn I actually moved out to Grand Blanc township so she wouldn’t be affected by it.

BEVERLY HARRISON: It affected the way I live. I mean, I don’t cook with it, I don’t drink it, I don’t brush my teeth with it. I have to shower with it, of course. But it does have a great impact. There’s no trust. The trust factor is gone.

NORMAN BOOKER: For me, I never really drunk from the tap water. But for the ones that was drinking it before that we were aware of it, they might have some lead poisoning or some lead contamination in their bodies they’re not aware of, if they haven’t been tested.

EDDIE CONWAY: What do you think is happening now in terms of treating people that’s been impacted by this, and repairing the damage and the homes?

NORMAN BOOKER: I guess you have to go and investigate and go to the doctor yourself, because they’re not coming door to door and saying let’s test you, or anything like that. I think they should come door to door and test you, you know, but they haven’t done that yet.

BEVERLY HARRISON: We don’t even know now what to believe. They tell us the water’s fine to drink, but I’m very leery of it, still.

EDDIE CONWAY: Are you intending, now that they’ve started doing all this stuff that they say they’re doing, are you intending to move back?

PERRIE WHALEY: Actually, they’ve been saying they were going to do something for so long, I’ve actually got family that’s still getting affected by it. But I mean, words is words. Actions speak louder than words. Really we ain’t seeing no change. Whatever we can see a lot of people coming around here, you know, making documentaries, movies or whatever, to get some credit off of it. But I mean, actions speak louder than words.

EDDIE CONWAY: Now, I understand Governor Rick Snyder withdrew the drinking water that was being distributed, declaring that the water system was safe. But apparently this is something that’s impacting the black community and the poor community more than anybody? Do you think this might be environmental racism?

NORMAN BOOKER: Like genocide or something? Now, I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t speak on nothing like that. But it’s definitely sad to say that we have to be in these conditions like this. You know, and it’s been more than four years already. You would think they would bring extra construction workers and extra workers to fix this problem.

I mean, Flint is not that big, you know, so it wouldn’t take too much. But I’m just speaking from the outside. I don’t know, maybe it’s way more than what I’m thinking. But I think they need to do a better job than what they’re doing.

EDDIE CONWAY: So this is putting a financial burden on a lot of families and a lot of households?

NORMAN BOOKER: Yes. Would you like to pay for poisoned water? For lead poisoned water? I don’t think nobody wants to. You know, we have to bathe in it. But we can’t drink it. So why would you take away our funds for the bottled water? That’s what I’m asking.

EDDIE CONWAY: Do you think this crisis is almost over with? Is it being resolved? Or if not, what would you like to see happen?

NORMAN BOOKER: I know it’s not over with, because the water hasn’t changed too much. But what I’d like to see happen is more grants for people, as far as the water. And maybe, I’m thinking if we get a good grant, we could have a discount, like 50 percent off on our water until it’s resolved. We’re going to have to go pay for the water, and pay for your house water. Something’s got to give, I think. You know, at least give us half off on our water bill. You know what I mean?

I just want to say to the ones who don’t live here in Flint, it would be very helpful to spread the word that Flint is still in the crisis, and we still need help.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. Thank you.

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Executive Producer
Eddie Conway is an Executive Producer of The Real News Network. He is the host of the TRNN show Rattling the Bars. He is Chairman of the Board of Ida B's Restaurant, and the author of two books: Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther and The Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO. A former member of the Black Panther Party, Eddie Conway is an internationally known political prisoner for over 43 years, a long time prisoners' rights organizer in Maryland, the co-founder of the Friend of a Friend mentoring program, and the President of Tubman House Inc. of Baltimore. He is a national and international speaker and has several degrees.