The Daily Illini

Understand the reality of Flint

By Alana Auston

Being from Flint, Michigan, used to be one of the greatest things I bragged about. The booming music scene, great food, family atmosphere — it’s a great city.

Then, the 2010s came and it all changed. The economy sunk, jobs and money plummeted, the police force downsized, and the crime rate rose tremendously. I used to think it couldn’t get any worse until 2014 — the year we found out our water was essentially killing us. I remember coming home from school and turning on the TV, only to see our water rich with lead.

People ask all the time if I was surprised at this. I tell them I wasn’t. The Flint River is green. Bodies and cars are pulled out of it regularly. Trash inhabits the water instead of fish. E. coli outbreaks have contaminated it since the water switch in 2012. None of this was a surprise.

The surprising part was the real reason why the switch happened. What would compel government officials to make people bathe, drink and cook with green water?

Money. The city said it was to save money, but Detroit water at the time was still the least expensive option. City residents, including myself, soon figured out this water switch was another ploy at gentrifying the area. Flint used to be a wealthy, prosperous city, but the descendants of the old money wanted it back.

New housing companies bought out the north side — where the money used to be — when the water switch was in its planning stages. These companies upped the ante when people were desperate to get away from all of the problems, offering tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the land back.

New buildings were built and sold at three times the average cost of living in the area, at minimum. Companies pressured people to move, with bribes being thrown left and right.

The north side of Flint contained the highest levels of lead throughout the whole, entire city. The infrastructure in the city is the same throughout, so many residents questioned why there was so much more lead in this area. To this day, we don’t know for sure.

Our lives fell apart in 2012, but we didn’t know why until 2014. Kids struggled to learn, the elderly battled death and infants entered the world with defects. Pregnant moms were losing their babies at an alarming rate. Kids were being put into the system because parents were deemed neglectful if they were not paying their water bills, ultimately having to cut the water off. But tell me: Would you pay an $8,000 water bill for water you can’t use?

Personally, I watched my little cousin lose his teeth because of the lead and the cleaning chemicals in the water. I’ve taken showers in water that smelled like a pool when I was home. I’ve watched people leave the city I wanted to stay in touch with forever. Many businesses I loved have closed down. The people who took a hand in raising me died before they could see me graduate and go to college because of the water.

I constantly ask myself, “How is this fair?” It’s not fair. It’s not fair knowing those who should be trying to keep us living in peace — also known as the government — wanted us to die. It’s not fair that people who should support us, either emotionally or monetarily, laugh at us because they aren’t educated. It’s not fair that we had to learn how to live without water. It’s not fair that my memory has gotten worse because of lead consumption. It is not fair.

People often wonder why I get so upset when I hear a water joke. This is why.

I didn’t watch from the suburbs as the water and government plagued my people and my family, I had a front row seat — no, as a matter of fact, I was in the play itself.

There is so much more going on, but the point is to have people ask me questions instead of immediately resorting to jokes. Sending me pictures of clean water is not okay. I know what it looks like; I had it at one point. The mainstream news will not tell you the information you actually need to hear, but I will: Stop making jokes, close your mouths, and open your ears.

What is happening in Flint can and will happen to any city in this country.

Alana is a sophomore in LAS.

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