Friday, January 22, 2016

Hands Up, Don't Poison The Water

massively revised and sent to the New Mexican, 2/7/16


"...The newly released emails show that members of Mr. Snyder’s administration consistently mocked and belittled the complaints of Flint residents and the evidence gathered by independent researchers..."--NY Times Editorial

Usually, we hear about acute lead poisoning in the form of bullets when it comes to blacks, minorities, and poor whites and especially with those in our failing cities. Trymaine Lee reminded us of that once again in the weekend New Mexican. As Charles Blow recently told us in the New York Times, over eighty percent of black gun deaths are homicides while almost eighty percent of white gun deaths are suicides. Small wonder we keep dropping the ball on the gun violence problem, since so many in the gun debate are talking past each other, unwilling to help others, or too busy guarding their own turf.

In the case of Flint, Michigan, lead poisoning has been the slow, chronic kind. The City of Flint, MI, under state receivership due to bankruptcy, had been fumbling and bumbling its way towards an ill-advised short term goal: finding nominally cheaper municipal water.  It created a toxic brew of lead-tainted water along the way, which was fed to the public.

Abandoning more expensive Detroit municipal water in favor of a cheaper system of its own led to a project to use Flint River water.  But Flint River water chemistry is corrosive to pipes and other metal surfaces; no one tested or treated the new source of water for its corrosive behavior. That would have cost money. What followed, inevitably, was the water attacking the ancient municipal distribution pipes and leaching out lead. There is a jarring video on the Times site of brown water coming out of a tap. Children now have high blood lead. Such high levels lead to brain damage. Apologies by the Governor and EPA and after the fact fixes will not help those kids.

There are roots to the gun violence in our cities that go beyond guns. The cynical poisoning of Flint residents by an indifferent and incompetent bureaucracy, focused only on the tax burden's short term bottom line, is only one of many examples. Getting guns out of the hands of gang youth and others intent on malevolence may keep people from shooting each other. It will not keep people from being slowly and systematically poisoned by government and societal indifference, incompetence, greed, and racism. Plus, short term savings on the Flint water system will now result in staggering long term costs to fix the infrastructure and cope with human damage. Indeed, the failed or failing cities within the US pose the same risks to our nation as failed states elsewhere.

Until we stop pitting people against each other on hot button issues (including gun control), and ask that we work together to solve each other's problems rather than circle the wagons, we will neither solve the problems nor end the violence. Thinking that gun control will make the US a vastly better place is a tad optimistic--ask the folks in Flint. As far as gun violence, we should make our existing laws more effective; two examples are obtaining state compliance with the Lautenberg Amendment (that disarms those with permanent domestic violence restraining orders) and making background checks universally available when making private sales; there are other examples. But we have to fix what is broken: those problems that drive people to pull the trigger in the first place. That means offering a helping hand rather than a pointed finger.

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