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City residents rally against water shutoffs, but city officials maintain their necessity

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JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Don’t shut off our water! That’s what the dozens who have gathered at Baltimore’s City Hall are demanding for the over 20,000 residents who may have their water cut off for not paying their water bills. DAMIEN HENSON, BALTIMORE HOMEOWNER: About a month and a half ago I got a cutoff notice for $3720. So I was here today to tell my story and share my story, because we have a lot of unanswered questions. They don’t tell you anything. They just tell you, they’ll pretty much–yes. Pay the bill. They tell you pay the bill. They come out and read your meter, and the rest is on you. So I just wanted to tell my story, because I feel like it’s pretty ridiculous that I have a $3700 water bill. YASEEN ABDUL-MALIK, PROTESTER: I had my water cut off, and it–it wasn’t cut off, but my pipes have froze over and everything. So I personally know what it’s like not to be able to have water. It’s unsanitary. You can’t flush the toilet, you can’t wash your hands, you can’t cook. You can’t clean anything. NOOR: The city says the shutoffs are necessary as past due bills are costing the city some $40 million dollars. RUDY CHOW, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS: As we all know, nobody likes to have their water turned off. But it is an unfortunate fact that doing business, that some customers fall behind on the bills. Standard industry practices is to turn off those customers who do not pay. NOOR: They say about 150 households have had their water cut off each day for the past two weeks. But water is being reconnected for those that pay up. Accounts can be as little as $250 behind to face cutoffs. But city officials said while they are demanding corporations who are behind on their bills pay up, they have not begun turning off their water. CHOW: Commercial office, none of them have been shut off. And we continue to work on that. JULIE GOULDENER, MARYLAND ORGANIZER, FOOD & WATER WATCH: Well I think it’s, it says a lot. I mean if you were looking to balance the books, it makes sense to go after the accounts that owe the largest amount first. And yet Stephanie Rawlings-Blake went after her own constituents first. I think that’s– it’s horrible. I mean, it’s inhumane, it’s about as effective as trying to squeeze blood from a stone. You’re not going to make someone able to pay by turning off their water when they can’t pay. NOOR: At the protest, parallels were drawn with Detroit which went through its own water shutoff crisis. National outcry and the UN stepping in got a moratorium passed there, and some are calling for a similar measure here in Baltimore. KRISTERFER BURNETT, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: You know, one of the messages that keeps being reiterated is that the bulk of the bill, the water bill, the city’s water bill, is through big corporations that aren’t paying their fair share. And we’re now turning off the life source for so many people across the city. You know, even folks in my neighborhood who have been trying to fight and push to keep drinking water and ability to shower. The ability to keep their kids healthy. At the end of the day, it’s a human rights issue. And it’s a big deal. NOOR: The Real News will keep following the story. From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.