Friday, March 13, 2015

Stop Detroit Tax Foreclosures -- Sign Petitions Today

MWRO is working with local organizations to defend the right to housing and stop the nearly 75,000 tax-foreclosures scheduled to happen this year in Wayne County, Michigan, where Detroit is located.

Please help us get out information to people at risk of home tax-foreclosure due to incorrect tax bills with exaggerated property assessments and disputed water bill liens. Here's how you can help:

(1) Sign and share the online petition to the Wayne County Treasurer against the tax-foreclosures at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50109/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15875

(2) Call MWRO at 313-964-0618 if you are in the Detroit area and want us to mail (or email) a hard copy of the petition form to you to collect signatures from families and friends.

(3) Share information about free tax clinics in March for person in need of information on their housing rights and payment plan opportunities BEFORE meeting with Wayne County tax officials. The tax foreclosure clinics are coordinated by community attorneys at United Community Housing Coalition and the Detroit People's Platform. See flyers below.


We will update this information as it becomes available. For more information, contact MWRO at info@mwro.org or Aaron at the Detroit People's Platform at HomesForAll@DetroitPeoplesPlatform.org

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

International Network ESCR files legal brief in support of Detroit residents against water shutoffs

For immediate release


International human rights network intervenes in case challenging large-scale disconnection of water supply to tens of thousands of low-income residents in Detroit

New York. February 9, 2015. The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), a global network of over 220 groups and 50 individual advocates from around the world working to secure economic and social justice through human rights, has requested leave from the U.S. District Court to be recognized as amicus curiae[1] in the case of Lyda et al. v. City of Detroit[2]in support of residents challenging the City of Detroit’s decision to cut off water supply to thousands of households unable to pay their bills.

As detailed in the plaintiffs’ complaint, by the end of August 2014 the City of Detroit had disconnected approximately 30,000 households of low-income persons and persons living in poverty from the municipal water supply and sewerage service, leaving them without access to drinking water and water for toilets and basic sanitation.

ESCR-Net, through its amicus brief, seeks to bolster the plaintiffs’ legal challenge by highlighting that the disconnections for inability to pay violate a range of legal obligations applicable to the U.S. under key international human rights treaties.

At the same time, ESCR-Net contends that Detroit’s City Charter, which includes a Declaration of Rights recognizing rights to water, sanitation and decent housing, must be respected. Pursuant to long-established principles of both U.S. law and international law, relevant domestic law must be interpreted consistently with treaty obligations. 

Chris Grove, Executive Director of ESCR-Net, said, “Access to justice is required for violations of human rights, and we welcome the opportunity to assist the U.S. District Court with material relevant to consideration of the issues at stake. These issues impact the health, security and human dignity of thousands of Detroit residents and implicate our vision of a just society.”

“A number of human rights are arguably violated by these disconnections, including rights to water, sanitation, adequate housing, health, life, freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, and non-discrimination. The international human rights obligations of the U.S. also apply to the City of Detroit, and these obligations require that denial of access to water be reversed immediately,” he added.

The City of Detroit’s water disconnection policy has shocked the international community and has prompted, among other reactions, the visit of two United Nations Special Procedures human rights experts to assess the situation in October 2014.[3] Despite the onset of winter, local groups report that the City has continued water shut-offs at the homes of low-income families, the elderly, and the infirmed.

It is hoped that the application of international human rights law will help the plaintiffs achieve a just and effective remedy, including renewed access to water and an end to any further disconnections.

A copy of the amicus curiae brief is available at http://bit.ly/1ESJLdW

About ESCR-Net
ESCR-Net is the largest global network of human rights organizations, grassroots groups and advocates working to build a global movement to make human rights and social justice a reality for all. Please visit http://www.escr-net.org

This action is being led by ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Working Group members Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia), the Global Initiative on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC), and the Social Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI).

For information regarding this amicus intervention, contact:

For information on the situation in Detroit or to speak with residents, contact:
Michigan Welfare Rights Organization http://michiganwro.blogspot.com
Marian Kramer, Maureen Taylor or Sylvia Orduño +1-313-964-0618



[1] An amicus curiae (or ‘friend of the Court’) is a person or organization who, although not a party to a case, is granted leave to submit material to the Court relevant to the disposition of the case and not already brought to the Court’s attention by the parties.
[2]Lyda et al. v. City of Detroit, Case No. 2:15-cv-10038-BAF-RSW, before Hon. Bernard A. Friedman in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rev Pinkney: "I am paying a debt to society which I do not owe"

Reposted from http://www.bhbanco.org/2015/01/i-am-paying-debt-to-society-which-i-do.html



The following statement is from Rev. Edward Pinkney, January 18, 2015:

The Berrien County Court system has undermined the respect and confidence of the community in its application of the law and the takeover of the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan.

The court system has stolen time from me.  I am paying time with my life, family life, and community.  I’m required to serve a sentence while several issues are being decided in the court — and paying a debt to society that I do not owe.

I have already raised substantial issues.  I am entitled to a directed verdict of Not Guilty based on constitutionally insufficient evidence under the Beyond a Reasonable Doubt standard.  I also assert that I am entitled to a directed verdict based on the issue that was resolved in favor of the defendant in People v. Hall (10/23/14).  

Under MCL 168.937 and based on due process, statutory construction, and the rule of lenity, a petition circulator cannot be subjected to a felony conviction and penalty when notice and warnings on the petition form, provided by the government, indicate that one may only be subject to a misdemeanor conviction and penalty.  

A misdemeanor conviction and penalty may only be imposed under a specific statue, MCL 168.544, specifically proscribed acts of falsifying election petitions.  For this reason, the convictions under MCL 168.937 must be vacated.  Due process also requires this result, as the rule of lenity is mandated by due process. 

This result is also required by the issue that the jury was not constitutionally adequate, based on the arguments raised in my motion for a new trial relating to juror Gail Freehling concealing information during the jury selection.

I am a political prisoner being held in Marquette Prison and I remain in great spirits despite the racist injustice that has landed me here.  This attack on me and on democracy in Benton Harbor shows that Whirlpool is determined to crush anyone who stands in its way.  It is part of a process underway across the US in various forms. Let’s confront the corporations that are destroying this country.

For more information about the miscarriage of justice against Rev. Edward Pinkney of BANCO, please read: http://sfbayview.com/2014/12/national-defense-campaign-building-for-rev-edward-pinkney/

Monday, November 17, 2014

Court Sanctions Emergency Manager Theft of Detroit

(reposted  from Michigan Citizen)

THEY PULLED IT OFF!

By Curt Guyette
Special to The Michigan Citizen

The grins stretched from ear to ear, and the hugs and back-patting were plentiful.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan and U.S. Judge Gerald Rosen — all were in a celebratory mode last week as they appeared at a press conference following the announcement by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Steven Rhodes that Detroit’s proposed “plan of adjustment” had been accepted, putting an end to the city’s journey through bankruptcy.
Gov. Snyder and Mike Duggan




Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan celebrated Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes’ acceptance of their Plan of Adjustment that cuts workers’ and retirees’ pensions and healthcare, and takes back earlier annuity payments from the city over the last decade. CURT GUYETTE PHOTO

Newspaper headlines announced the city had been “reborn,” and the final words of the ruling read from the bench by Judge Rhodes echoed triumphantly: “It is now time to restore democracy to the people of the city of Detroit. I urge you to participate in it. And I hope that you will soon realize its full potential.”
The irony, of course, is that it was the hijacking of democracy that brought Detroit to this place.

It began in early 2012, when lawyers from the Jones Day law firm, in conjunction with the investment banking firm Miller Buckfire, began secretly meeting with Gov. Snyder’s office and other state officials to figure out how to thwart the will of Michigan voters.

The concern was that a grassroots-effort to repeal a new state law giving unprecedented powers to appointed emergency managers would succeed. And so they devised their response, and were ready to act when voters went to the polls in November 2012 and rejected the law by a significant margin.
Within a month, the state’s Republican-led Legislature crafted a new law containing many of the same provisions as the one Michigan’s citizens — engaging in the democratic process hailed by Judge Rhodes — had just voted to repeal. Only this time, an appropriation would be attached to the statute, making it “referendum proof.”

So much for a commitment to the democratic process.

As a result, instead of having elected officials deciding Detroit’s fate, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and his former partners at Jones Day began calling the shots, as the city was shoved into bankruptcy.
From the outset, the primary target of debt-cutting was clear: The city’s retirees would be the ones facing the most severe sacrifices.

Again, Jones Day, which had some of the city’s biggest creditors as its clients, would play a key role. The firm’s lawyers laid the legal groundwork for using bankruptcy to go after retiree benefits in bankruptcy — even in a state like Michigan, which has the protection of pensions written into its constitution.
Casual observers of this drama will have heard that, as a result of the much-hailed “grand bargain” — an $816 million cash infusion from the state, private foundations and the Detroit Institute of Arts — the cut to general retiree pensions would be just 4.5 percent, and that police and firefighter retirees won’t get nicked at all.

What tends to get lost in the reporting is the true extent of the hit being taken by retirees.

Kevyn Orr


 
 
Kevyn Orr is all smiles at the press conference announcing Judge Rhodes’ acceptance of his Plan of Adjustment. CURT GUYETTE PHOTO



Both civilian and uniformed retirees will absorb massive losses thanks to deep cuts in future cost of living increases. For the general retirees, those yearly raises are being eliminated completely. Taken together, the two groups will give up a total of more than $1.3 billion in the coming years.

Cuts to healthcare benefits only compound the problem. Instead of being on a plan where the city covers 80 percent of healthcare costs, retirees are receiving a monthly stipend. For most, the amount is $125, leaving them to pick up the additional costs of insurance, which can be hundreds of dollars a month.

And then there’s the “clawback” of excessive interest rates the Jones Day attorneys argued was paid to people who participated in an annuity savings program between 2003 and 2013.

As one retiree observed, “I’m getting hit four different ways.”

Add it all up, and at least 75 percent of the estimated $7.3 billion in debt and obligations being shed in bankruptcy comes in the form of cuts to retirees.

Will that be enough to put the city on a sound financial footing?

Despite the media’s focus on Detroit’s supposed rebirth, there is real cause for concern that the fundamental factors that led to the city’s dire straits remain unaddressed. In a recent opinion piece, economist Peter Hammer — who’s also a law professor and director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University — warned:

“The perverse logic of fiscal austerity is creating dozens of second-class ‘minimal cities.’ The move to transition Detroit away from serving as a city, to a slimmed-down version with little to no municipal services, is part of the bankruptcy Plan of Adjustment that the city is pursuing, on a par with what the World Bank and International Monetary Fund pursued with Structural Adjustment Programs in much of the developing world. What we know from these SAPs is that they sucked the life out of countries forced to receive them.

“The same will happen with Detroit, especially given how out-of-touch managers are with the city’s history and context. The 226-page Expert Report, for example, on the feasibility of the POA and the reasonableness of the city’s revenue forecasts never addresses issues of race, racism, regionalism, segregation or foreclosure (all words that appear nowhere in the report). And poverty is only mentioned once. … We need alternatives to the dictates of fiscal austerity and structural racism.”

As for Judge Rhodes, this is what he told the people of Detroit:

“A large number of you told me that you were angry that your city was taken away from you and put into bankruptcy. You told me in your court papers. You told me in your statements in court. You told me in your blogs, letters and protests. I heard you.

“I urge you now not to forget your anger. Your enduring and collective memory of what happened here, and your memory of your anger about it, will be exactly what will prevent this from ever happening again. It must never happen again.”

Then he urged Detroiters to channel that anger into positive action by engaging in the democratic process.

For the next 13 years, however, the people of Detroit will have elected leaders, but it won’t really be a true democracy. That’s because an appointed, nine-member financial advisory board (containing only two Detroit officials) will have the final say over approval of major contracts and the budget process.
“It is your City,” Judge Rhodes told Detroiters.

But it is others who, though unelected and mostly living elsewhere, will be the ones with the final authority over crucial decisions facing Detroit for the foreseeable future.

Curt Guyette is an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan. His work, which focuses on Michigan’s emergency management law and open government, is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. You can find his reporting at aclumich.org/democracywatch. Contact him at 313.578.6834 or cguyette@aclumich.org.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rev Pinkney Victim of Benton Harbor Racism and Oppression

Reposted from: Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Michigan » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names


Rev. Edward Pinkney Convicted of Five Counts of Felony Forgery by Berrien County Jury

Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Michigan

by ABAYOMI AZIKIWE
An all-white jury in St. Joseph, Michigan has found Rev. Edward Pinkney guilty of five felony counts of forgery stemming from a recall campaign against Mayor James Hightower of Benton Harbor earlier this year.
The jury deliberated for nine hours and delivered the verdict on Nov. 3. The sentencing date has been set for Dec. 15.
Hightower was the subject of the recall campaign due to his refusal to support a local income tax measure designed to create employment for the people in Benton Harbor, located in Berrien County in the southwest region of the state of Michigan. Hightower is often accused by residents of Benton Harbor of being more concerned about the well-being of Whirlpool Corporation and other business interests than the people he is sworn to protect and serve.
During the five day trial not one witness said they saw Pinkney change any dates or signatures on the recall petitions. The prosecutor, Mike Sepic, during the opening arguments on Oct. 27 told the jury that they would not hear anyone say that they witnessed the defendant engaging in fraud.unnamed
The prosecutor’s case was supposed to be based on circumstantial evidence. Nonetheless, the tenor of the questioning by the prosecutor seemed to suggest that the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), the group Pinkney leads in Berrien County, was actually on trial for its uncompromising opposition to the role of Whirpool Corporation and its supporters within the political establishment in Benton Harbor and its environs.
Prosecution Witnesses Supported Recall
In the testimony of eight witnesses called by the prosecution on the first day of the trial, they all supported the recall of Mayor Hightower. The witnesses said that they never saw Pinkney change any petitions.
Prosecution witness Bridgett Gilmore told the court that she circulated the recall petitions for George E. Moon and had no contact with Pinkney during the process. While the prosecutor asked her about what appeared to be minor changes on the petitions she circulated, defense lawyer Tat Parrish pointed out that none of these pages in question were the ones which Pinkney was charged with altering.
Gilmore noted that two types of ink were used on some of the signatures because the circulation process took place during the winter and a pen would freeze requiring the usage of another one. When Gilmore turned over the petitions to Moon, Pinkney was not present.
“There were many people calling for Hightower’s recall,” she said.
Another witness called by the prosecution, Majorie Carter, indicated that she received the recall petitions from the City Clerk’s office. Carter supported the recall because she believed that businesses should pay taxes to create jobs in Benton Harbor, a majority African American city which suffers from extremely high unemployment.
Carter said that she was a registered voter and had campaigned for candidates before. She noted that she had run for City Commissioner in the past.
“I collected signatures for the recall from my apartment complex for seniors,” she said. “One signer corrected a date on the petition.”
Mable Louise Avant testified after being called to the stand by the prosecution. She said she had met Pinkney at a BANCO meeting.
“I had been living in New York and when I returned and saw how Benton Harbor had gone down, something needed to be done,” Avant said.
“People make mistakes,” she emphasized. “Rev. Pinkney had nothing to do with the mistakes. I turned over the petitions to Rev. Pinkney.”
The petitions that Avant circulated were not the ones that Pinkney was accused of altering.
Benton Harbor resident George E. Moon also took the stand for the prosecution and said he circulated petitions for the recall of Hightower. When asked by the prosecutor where he got the idea about recalling the mayor, Moon responded by saying that “My ideology is different than the mayor. People should be elected and not bought.”
“I am an activist,” Moon declared. He said he had spoken out in favor of the recall in the community.
Overall more than 700 people signed the recall petitions most of which were validated by the local election commission. A date was set for the recall election.
Nonetheless, after Pinkney was indicted and placed under house arrest for several weeks, the recall election was cancelled by a local judge raising questions about the signatures. Yet later, another judge certified the petitions and authorized the recall election to proceed.
The local authorities in Berrien County challenged the election that was scheduled for November 4. The Michigan Court of Appeals then cancelled the recall elections again.
Hightower remains in office and was called as a prosecution witness during the first day of the trial.
James Cornelius, a Benton Harbor resident, who sponsored the recall campaign against Hightower, took the stand saying that he got the petitions from Pinkney to circulate. “Hightower was not doing a good job,” Cornelius told the court.
Many of the prosecution questions related to the meetings, ideology, membership and leadership of BANCO. During the course of the prosecution’s questioning of witnesses numerous observers were ejected from the courtroom for various reasons.
One activist who traveled from Detroit was told he had to leave because he was “smirking.” Another observer from Detroit was asked to leave because they shook their head in disbelieve of the proceedings which she felt presented no evidence to incriminate Pinkney.
Rev. Pinkney Will Seek a Delay in Sentencing
After the announcement of the verdict, Pinkney indicated that he was disappointed with the decisions of the all-white jury. This is the second time within seven years that he has been convicted by a Berrien County jury.
In 2007, Pinkney was found guilty of tampering with absentee ballots involving another recall campaign against two Benton Harbor City Commissioners. He was sentenced to one year of house arrest and four years of probation.
However, in December of 2007, while under house arrest, Pinkney was charged with threatening the life of a Berrien County judge after he published an article in the People’s Tribune newspaper quoting biblical scriptures. He was sentenced to 3-10 years for violating his probation.
A national campaign involving the Michigan ACLU along with numerous community, academic and religious organizations resulted in a successful appeal that released Pinkney from a state prison after serving one year. He has continued to be a major critic of the authorities in Berrien County.
In 2010, BANCO opposed the transferal of land from Jean Klock Park to a privately-owned venture known as Harbor Shores Development. The park, which had been designated for free public usage in 1917, was turned into the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course on Lake Michigan.
Two years later in 2012, BANCO organized the “Occupy the PGA” to oppose the holding of the senior tournaments in Benton Harbor that year. Hundreds attended the march and rally drawing the ire of the local business interests and county officials.
On the most recent convictions for felony forgery, Pinkney said “I was in shock more than anything else because I could not believe they could find me guilty with no evidence at all. They have proven the fact you don’t need evidence to send someone to prison.”
Pinkney went on to say that “Sometimes somebody has to take a bullet and I just took one -it was in the leg though, it wasn’t in the heart. I’ve got about 45 good days and then we are definitely going to request a delay in sentencing.”
Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic said after the convictions that “Each of those felony counts carries a 5 year maximum, but he has at least three prior felony convictions. That makes him a habitual offender, which turns those five year maximums into a life maximum and actually elevates the guidelines that will be scored for him as well. I believe it will be either a lengthy jail sentence or prison sentence.”
Supporters of Rev. Pinkney are outraged by the jury verdict. Many of them are committed to working for an appeal of the convictions.
Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Berrien County
Berrien County is notorious for its racism against African Americans. Police brutality, large-scale home foreclosures, high unemployment and the systematic forcing of people from the majority African American city of Benton Harbor has been standard policy for years.
In 2003, after the police chased an African American motorcyclist resulting in a crash and his death, the African American community in Benton Harbor rose up in rebellion that last for several days. Although the-then Gov. Jennifer Granholm pledged to provide assistance for the improvement of conditions in Benton Harbor, no action was taken other than the privatization of Jean Klock Park and the appointment of an emergency manager in 2010.
Although Benton Harbor is ostensibly out from under emergency management, the city is subjected to the more powerful and predominantly white St. Joseph, where the county court system is based. The fact that an all-white jury was impaneled in such a racially sensitive case in an area with deep historical tensions, speaks volumes in regard to the lack of sensitivity existing among the county authorities and the corporate interests.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of Pan-African News Wire.

Friday, October 24, 2014

MWRO Statement on UN visit to Detroit to investigate massive water shutoffs--Part 1

This is the first of a two-part statement from MWRO on the United Nations visit to Detroit by two Special Rapporteurs on Detroit water shutoffs.

On Oct. 20th, 2014, United Nations representatives Catarina de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha met with Mayor Mike Duggan and part of his staff to discuss the recent mass water shutoffs plaguing Detroit.
U.N. Special Rapporteurs. Photo credit: theguardian.com

The meeting was very frank and at times contentious with the Special Rapporteurs (SR) asking questions based on citizen/resident reports they had received from what they refer to as “civil society” organizations and direct visits to residential homes. The premise of the meeting was itself historic in that this was a session to discuss best practices, shared by the SRs, relative to how decreasing revenues might impact water access, distribution and sanitation specifically in low-income households. The two special investigators have amassed a myriad of expertise over the years after visiting many countries that have faced dwindling economies and transient populations.

Amid a flurry of “denials” and veiled attempts to discredit the intention(s) of these two specialists, the SRs continued to press for answers about recent water shutoffs. The session went back and forth until Mayor Duggan stepped up and suggested he would be interested in receiving detailed information about any current residents without water. The Mayor placed a call at the suggestion of the MWRO rep to the phone center and was able to get right through to someone without a long wait. This single act proved the City’s case that new practices are being put in place to address resident complaints — the problem is that these procedures aren’t reaching the poorest and most vulnerable residents. Long waits on the phone to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. have been a frequent complaint and we hope, at least in this instance, progress is being made. In the end, what was suggested is that specific account information would be needed to examine any claims of denied water and the City would look into each case that was submitted.

Duggan and Wiley
Detroit Mayor Duggan with Alexis Wiley. Photo credit: clickondetroit.com


Since that historic session, several things have occurred. The City has issued statements that paint the Special Rapporteur’s visit as “nothing but a show.” One city employee, Alexis Wiley, the Mayor’s chief of staff, labeled their initial report as “sad” suggesting they were following a separate agenda that did not reflect the truth about water shutoffs in Detroit. Another City employee suggested that information gathered by talking with a few residents did not rise to actual truth, and that only through talks with the City were facts able to be put forward. Residential interpretations were not credible, in other words, and were not to be validated. There are none so blind than those who refuse to see!

In 2005, 2006, and 2007 — the Water Affordability Plan was submitted to the DWSD after is was tweaked and then accepted by the City Council and the then Mayor. Always, it is said there are legal reasons why this wonderfully crafted document can’t be implemented. And always when we ask, “Why not?” no credible answers are shared. The corporate interests that have lined up in great anticipation of receiving mega-infusions of cash is the logical place to search for the financial support needed to help shore up the City. Revenue sharing, unpaid commercial and corporate water accounts, so many places to look for untapped resources yet the then Emergency Manager’s only goal, it appears, was to inflict economic and physical pain on the most marginalized, most vulnerable, the poorest.

Over and over again, the City has suggested that those unable to find resources to help prevent shutoff or restore water already shut off were not truthful or that they were too dumb to find simple information. The old, tired, “people want free water” message was dragged out, a phrase that is repeated even though no one ever asked for that. It was revealed that the City has always practiced water shutoffs, and that was an established practice never before challenged. It was admitted that some 300,000 water shutoffs have happened over a period of years, a fact the City was not ashamed to admit. Must have felt the same rage and shock like those in the room in Nuremberg during that trial, listening to soldiers talking about how they were just following orders....
Shutting off water in Detroit. Photo credit: detroitnews.com

The Special Rapporteurs’ questions and the session ended in about 90 minutes, after which they traveled back to their hotel to prepare the press release for the media. Their specific UN conclusions are online, which include a strong recommendation that all residential water accounts be restored, which allows the City to investigate each address to determine if there are low-income families with children, the disabled, the elderly, or veterans living there who need supportive programs that structure payments they can afford. There are other recommendations the SRs offered, that have been published far and wide that address other ways of managing delinquent water payments that other nations routinely employ.

In closing, MWRO agrees with the basic, fundamental conclusion offered by our international guests. Because the population of Detroit has dropped, because the unemployment numbers have risen, because the good paying auto-industrial jobs have disappeared, and because many of the jobs available today are low-paying, the City still has a legal obligation to supply clean water and sanitation to all — even if only one resident is left! It is in fact a violation of international law to deprive residents of water if they are too poor to pay in the regular way. Ms. de Albuquerque and Ms. Farha were not daunted by Mayor Duggan and his staffs comments. Clearly, they don’t understand the UN reps’ mission.

This is not a popularity contest that is directed by who we like and who we don’t. It is patently wrong to disconnect water where low-income people live, and no amount of “American Exceptionalism” can alter that fact. There are millions of poor Americans who live in horrible conditions that are ignored daily while we act as if all is well; and Detroit has a large share of those families.

The responses coming from the City are at best shallow, defensive, ignorant, and at least, devoid of compassion. What kind of city is this and what kind of people are in charge who would countenance such demonic practices? Are our elected officials so drunk with power that they would choose not to find a way to keep the poorest residents safe and clean? Why didn’t someone in city government stand up when the emergency manager made this life-threatening recommendation and scream to the highest star how wrong it is and that as duly-elected officials, you would not force-march masses of Detroit residents into the crematoriums of poverty and torture?
Thousands march in Detroit against water shutoffs. Photo credit: michiganradio.org

Why did it take strangers, trained in recognizing violations against humanity, to shine a light on these dark-age practices and call them out for what they are? This is the best example of how the recognition of class differences have surfaced because we have different ethnic races of administrators, both men and women, both young and old who have been part of this sorry episode of residential infliction of pain. Our elected city officials would have found continued comfort in the torture of low-income people had they not had the covers of gross negligence pulled from them exposing what all knew but few had the courage to declare.

Along with our city officials stand many of the members of the clergy from all denominations, who have stood in silence while the torture of the most vulnerable has unfolded. The Spirit that many profess to serve has been waiting for you all to discover your courage or your voice or at least your crippled-hand gripped around a pen where you could author an anonymous note decrying what has been happening relative to these water shutoffs. I try daily to forgive your cowardice and hope only that when you make your transition to the afterlife, that the fires of “hell” are unkind to you.

We hope the legal violations identified by the two Special Rapporteurs find their way sooner as written charges to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and also to the U.S. State Dept. All nations should be alerted about these international violations so that sanctions might be discussed and even levied to make this practice stop. The U.S. government is ultimately responsible to secure the human rights of the most vulnerable and that task lies first with our ‘beloved’ mayor, then with the county executive, then with the governor, and lastly with all presidents.

As a field general in the army of social justice for vulnerable, low-income populations, it falls to me and mine to keep this battle in the face of all humanity and to take every opportunity to convince those in power that their salvation lies in distancing themselves from the “dark” side in favor of protecting, serving, and advancing the quality of life for all.

Maureen D. Taylor
State Chairperson, MI Welfare Rights Organization