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Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital



If ever one wondered about the efficacy of a state government agency imposing officials on local governments, Flint has answered that question forever.

In April, 2014, the state-appointed emergency manager, in order to save money, ordered that the city’s water source be changed from Lake Huron to the notoriously polluted Flint River.

The switch unleashed a citywide disaster of disease, destruction, and death. Flint was a toxic river, rich in lead, a major pollutant that has devastating effects on brain development, speech and I.Q. levels in children. As soon as it was pumped into municipal water systems, the corrosive waters leached lead from the old pipes, and sped it to some 90,000 homes into the city.

Flint is now a poisoned city, because of its toxic water.

It also illustrates how officials from afar can cause a catastrophe at home. Now, tens of thousands of children who drank the water, and were bathed in the water, may suffer life-long problems – skin diseases, cognitive impairments, speech deficits and more.

The state, being penny-wise and pound foolish, has created a problem that may last for generations. The state’s emergency manager created an emergency.

The Michigan examples of the politics of austerity will cause problems that will cost billions of dollars to resolve.

The politics of ignoring the problems of the poor erupt like lava – demanding National attention.

Michigan, by the way, is named after the Chippewa words, mici gama, meaning “Great Water.”

Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, will be remembered, not for “Great Water” – but for toxic water.


From the beginning of human communal time, people built cities adjacent to rivers, for water, fresh water, was the source of life.

Cairo (and before it grew into Cairo, Fustat), relied on the Nile; London (and before that, the Roman colonial city of Londinium) was built upon the banks of the Thames; Paris (originally known as Par-Isis, or the House of Isis) grew from the flow of the Seine; Rome rose to become an empire along the banks of the River Tiber.

Cities feed upon, and grow from, the waters beside them.

Flint, Michigan is named after the Flint River, for the hard, dark flint stones that formed its river bed.

For decades, General Motors drew from it, and then poured into it, its chemical wastes and effluvium, until it became the corrosive, toxic brew that it is now. Indeed, after the waters became so acidic that it damaged automobile parts, GM bailed out, closing their operations there.

These are the waters that Michigan officials, under so-called emergency management powers, to save money, routed into Flint homes: waters that damaged and dissolved metals, were found fine enough to feed the population of human beings in a modern American city.

Thousands; tens of thousands of people, poisoned, for profit.

Why is that not a crime?

Why was it not a crime to poison a river in the first place?

For the same reason that it is not a crime today to order the poisoning of thousands of people for corporate and state profit.

Thousands of people – many of them children – poisoned in their brains, their livers, their kidneys, their lungs, their bones – for life, in many cases, and even the talking heads on corporate media outlets are speaking of lawsuits and civil damages – more money – that can’t cure.

When is a crime not a crime?

When corporations do it. When governments do it.

The U.S. government, through its military, committed genocide in Iraq, destroying one of the oldest civilizations on earth, based on lies, ignorance and arrogance. It tortured Iraqis in American-run hellholes, and busted a few low-life guards.

It opened up a torture chamber in Cuba, and suspended the Constitution – and called it justice. (Theirs’s actually a joint called Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay – I kid you not)

In a capitalist society, only capital matters. It’s all about the Benjamins – bucks over bodies. Profit. Period.

In Michigan’s prisons, there ain’t a single prisoner who committed a more vicious crime than the Governor of that state.

Their crimes, no matter what, were retail. The government, for a few bucks, committed crimes against thousands –wholesale.

But these are crimes of the powerful.

They don’t count.

These are crimes of capitalism.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of Writing on the Wall.

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