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Criminal charges in Flint water crisis a first step toward justice

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Criminal charges in Flint water crisis a first step toward justice
By AFSCME Staff ·

The Flint, Michigan, water crisis sickened countless of the city’s residents, poisoned its children, and killed at least a dozen people, possibly many more. The untold suffering it has caused will continue for the foreseeable future and cannot be undone.

But criminal charges announced this month against former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and members of his administration are a welcome step forward on the road toward justice.

Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor, and faces up to one year in prison on each count if convicted. Seven other former state officials and one current official also face criminal charges – most of them more serious than Snyder’s – for their alleged roles in the crisis.

“I don’t know that anything can possibly bring enough justice for the generation of children and families poisoned in Flint,” said Larry Roehrig, president of AFSCME Council 25 and an AFSCME International vice president. “However, holding these officials accountable is a start. Elected officials cannot willfully endanger their constituents’ livelihoods to support austerity measures and their own partisan ideologies.”

The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. This was a cost-cutting move that was part of the Snyder administration’s championing of austerity measures, often at the expense of people’s safety and wellbeing.

As AFSCME President Lee Saunders put it in a 2016 opinion piece in Governing, “The poisoning of Flint's residents isn't some out-of-the-blue occurrence. It isn't a coincidence. It's a consequence of a governing philosophy that puts austerity first and people last. It's a consequence of letting our infrastructure crumble. It's a consequence of an economic ideology that regards public services as costly and unnecessary, as though a clean, healthy and safe community isn't the essential right of every citizen.”

In March 2016, Snyder testified before a congressional committee on Capitol Hill, acknowledging that the state’s emergency manager law had failed the residents of Flint but ultimately deflecting much of the blame for the crisis.

Later that year, delegates to the AFSCME International Convention passed a resolution calling on Snyder to “take full responsibility for the immoral actions of his administration and the Flint Emergency Manager and resign.”

Snyder neither resigned nor accepted full responsibility for his role in the tragedy. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him this month. But at least now, nearly seven years after the Flint water crisis began, he will be judged in a court of law.

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