In April 2014, state officials switched Flint, Michigan’s public supply of drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River in order to save money. Shortly after, residents began seeing brown, unclean water and later discovered unsafe amounts of lead.
Because the Flint River water is so corrosive, it started to dissolve the piping, leaking lead into the public drinking water and causing lead poisoning for those who drank it. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause irreversible brain damage, especially in children.
Every Tuesday, the Thurgood Marshall Pre-law Society (TMPS) at Binghamton University hosts a general body meeting and discusses contemporary issues and how they relate to law. This past Tuesday’s meeting focused on the water crisis in Flint. Aminah Ali, the president of TMPS and a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said one of the reasons the Flint Water Crisis was discussed was due to its particular devastation on low income and minority populations.
“We started as a minority organization because some people on campus felt that there was no outlet for minority students interested in law,” Ali said. “So a lot of our issues deal with disenfranchised groups, and the Flint water crisis affects predominantly minorities.”
Amenze Uzamere, a senior majoring in chemistry, said the Flint water crisis is just another example of the economic and racial inequalities many face in the United States. According to her, because the area is predominantly home to low-income minorities, budget cuts were made there that were not made elsewhere.
“Flint, Michigan is just one of the many instances where people of color, especially people that are under the poverty line, have been disenfranchised,” Uzamere said. “Having something like this happen in the United States is despicable to me.”
According to Jermel McClure, a member of TMPS and a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law, 53 percent of the population of Flint is African-American, and the areas most impacted, having the highest levels of lead poisoning, are minority-heavy. Other pockets of the United States that have experienced unclean tap water, such as St. Joseph, Louisiana, have been predominantly low-income areas with high populations of people of color.
A discussion was held about the crisis, and they talked about what the consequences for the officials responsible should be, including Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Flint’s emergency manager, Darnell Earley. Although there was some disagreement on whether charges should be brought against officials, there was a consensus that race and economics played a role in the handling of Flint’s water.
Uzamere said she was surprised that so many people came to the meeting that were informed of the situation and plans to use her voice while hoping others do the same, by creating dialogue on campus and making sure people don’t forget and sweep this issue under the rug.
“People can help out in ways they never thought possible; everybody has a voice to do something,” Uzamere said. “We can actually be heard not only on this campus but out in the world.”
Ali said she was happy with the turnout of the meeting and hoped people would walk away with a new awareness about the crisis.
“This could happen to anyone which is why advocacy is important,” Ali said. “That’s kind of what the Thurgood Marshall Pre-law Society is about. Our whole thing is about advocacy, law is advocacy.”