President Barack Obama is in the Motor City today for the the 2016 North American International Auto Show where he will tout his administration’s successful rescue of the auto industry as well as explain how he is helping Detroit recover post-bankruptcy under mayor Mike Duggan.
The President, according to the White House, was scheduled to have lunch with Duggan and invited guests before speaking at the UAW-GM center Wednesday afternoon in downtown Detroit. The conversation would be about the thousands of jobs that were saved when he intervened in 2008 during the near-collapse of the auto industry. The visit is overdue because it marks the first time Obama is visiting the auto show as a sitting president.
But not far away from Detroit is another troubled city, Flint, where the public health disaster of 10,000 children as young as four years old is at hand. Their lives are at risk for drinking lead-contaminated water in this majority African American city. For almost two years, state government did nothing to alert Flint residents and instead ignored warnings from independent studies as well as civic leaders and health officials who stated the water from the Flint river was not good for human consumption. So much so, that General Motors stopped using water from the Flint river 14 months ago after it was damaging vehicles parts.
What is happening in Flint is a disaster. It requires a presidential visit to experience first hand what is taking place in a city that exemplifies the urban crisis. Unlike George W. Bush who during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans only flew over the Gulf Coast in a helicopter, Obama, should use his visit to Detroit as an opportunity to drive the hour or so it takes to get to Flint and talk to residents. Nothing could be more of an emergency right now in Michigan than what’s happening in Flint, where the world’s attention and outrage is currently focused.
Before his Detroit visit, the White House announced earlier that the Department of Health and Human Services will be the federal government’s point of contact in the Flint crisis. At the same time Flint mayor Karen Weaver met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday as well as with senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and director of intergovernmental affairs Jerry Abramson to brief the administration about what’s been the emergency in her city.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder whose administration failed the people of Flint by ignoring warnings from citizens and experts to intervene in the lead crisis, apologized profusely in his State of the State address Tuesday night.
“I’m sorry and I will fix it. You did not create this crisis, and you do not deserve this,” Snyder said. “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level. We need to make sure this never happens again in any Michigan city.”
Unfortunately, his speech, which was initially billed as an address that would finally lay exactly what would be done to help the people of Flint, failed to offer a bold plan. Instead the governor continued the same remarks he’s already given in previous media interviews that efforts are being made to deliver thousands of bottles of water to daycare centers and other places that need clean water to operate. He announced the initial down payment of some $28 million towards the first step of addressing the crisis but fell short of explaining exactly how the crisis would be averted and solved.
Also, to the dismay of many political watchers last night, Snyder’s attempt to detail the history of the disaster failed to even mention the name of Darnell Earley, the former appointed emergency manager in Flint, who signed off on the plan to stop Flint from using Detroit’s clean water and switch back to using the toxic Flint river water all under the guise of saving money.
Many had expected Snyder to announce the Earley’s removal as the current emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools. Instead, Snyder announced a series of commissions that will be set to look into what happened in Flint, a signal of yet another layer of state bureaucracy.
Flint needs solutions, not bureaucracy. It needs the President of the United States during this trip to declare that he is standing with them. Every major disaster or catastrophic event in the United States gets a visit from the President. Whether it’s the massacre in Sandy Hook or the families of the shootings in Oregon, they are comforted by our Commander in Chief. In the case of Flint, the lives of little, poor Black children are at stake. Their intellectual and psychological development has been severely threatened or hampered with lead in their bodies. Their lives do matter and that should be echoed loud and clear by the nation’s first African American president who in just a short ride, can see for himself how these bureaucratic decisions have adversely impacted an entire community.