President Obama was in Flint this week to address the terrorism- yes, terrorism- the city is still suffering from. After a full two years the President finally made it there. Why? Because we are a nation of cowards. We show courage when confronting crises and acts of terror committed by others but when we are the perpetrators, we rarely face the music we orchestrated. Beyond the obvious factors of race and class, this inability to own our transgressions helps explain why eleven days after 9/11 Congress created a $7 billion fund to compensate family members of the 2,700 victims. It also explains why two years into Flint’s crisis the 100,000 residents of Flint have only a proposal in the Senate; a mere $220 million aid package, tucked into a larger bill for water-related projects around the country.
The response to Flint differs tremendously, now that we are the terrorists. Bush was unapologetic when labeling Al Qaeda the enemy and going after them. Hell, we still have innocent people locked up at Guantanamo because we think they might know something. Still the Obama Administration has not found the courage to call a spade a spade, since we are the terrorists. Thus far, only a Flint city worker and two state workers are facing criminal charges in connection to the Flint crisis. The city manager and the Governor who appointed him are safe, although they bear ultimate responsibility. The EPA was made aware of the issue in February of 2015 and did little but no one from the Agency is being pursued, either. We’re all participating in some fantastic fantasy, pretending something terroristic and criminal has not happened to 100,000 American, tax paying citizens. I imagine that if Al Qaeda had poisoned our water supply we would be a bit more courageous.
We were tough after 9/11. Three days after the attack Bush visited Manhattan. Nine days later Bush addressed the Congress and in no uncertain terms, identified our enemy, made threats and laid down ultimatums. Again, two days after that the Congress came through with $7 billion for the families of victims. All of that was easy to do because we were not the terrorists–that was Al Qaeda. In Flint, however, we are the terrorists. The state government of Michigan and the federal government (in the form of the EPA) willfully subjected the people of Flint to biological terror and sat idly by as they suffered irreparable damage. Having acknowledged the problem, we still move at a glacial pace to rectify it. Indeed, the water is only safe for consumption after filtering (although small children and pregnant women are discouraged from doing so) and there is no clear plan to replace the damaged pipes that still put the people of Flint at risk.
Our actions toward Flint have been token, at best. The state of Michigan set aside $28 million in aid to help Flint residents cope with the after effects. The federal government has, to this point, made money available for some temporary employment opportunities, water, health services and a few other modest provisions. After 9/11, however, we simply handed checks to families, $2 million on average. Although our government never flew a plane into a building we showed the ultimate courage then. But our behavior now shouldn’t be a shock. After all, our response to Japanese Internment and other acts of terror we’ve committed are similar (we won’t mention slavery, neo-slavery or even housing discrimination that still persists). Flint has shown us once more that we simply refuse to own up to our own misdeeds. We are truly a nation of cowards.