Our Opinion: Context is all in Flint tragedy

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As the Flint, Mich. water disaster unfolds, its link to the Black Lives Matter movement becomes apparent. Its full horror can only be appreciated in that context.

The problem of drinking water contaminated with lead didn't spring itself upon startled government officials. The Detroit Free Press reported in October of 2014 that General Motors pulled an engine plant off the Flint River feed because the water was corroding its equipment. Yet, the city kept using the river as drinking water for its residents, 56 percent of homes are African-American. If the water was damaging machine parts one can only speculate about what it was doing to the brains of young children.

Emails released last week by the office of Republican Governor Rick Snyder included one from January of 2015 sent by a Flint resident who was told by a state nurse in regard to her son's elevated blood lead level, "It is just a few IQ points. ... it is not the end of the world." It is difficult to imagine a similarly callous comment directed at a white mother.

The roots of the disaster lie in the decision of Governor Snyder and a collection of "emergency managers" to save a few bucks by abandoning a safe water source and using the Flint water source without adding chemicals to cleanse it of lead. The state has so far allocated $28 million in emergency aid to Flint and faces a flurry of lawsuits. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Flint's Hurley Children's Hospital, who documented the spike in children's lead levels, is advocating for a long-term commitment of state and federal spending to help likely brain-damaged children, as well as a greater investment in Head Start, the federal preschool program and favorite Republican whipping boy, in Flint.

Michigan will pay dearly for this man-made disaster, but not as dearly as will the young victims.


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