Dear President Obama,
We write to you today as national organizers forced by our humanity to address the unmitigated disaster that is the Flint Water Crisis. We would have sent this letter to you personally, but we weren’t sure you would ever receive it. So we publish it publicly in hopes that the message finds its way to your desk.
With all due respect, your leadership on this government-caused public health crisis has been painfully neglectful. We all heard your passionate speech proclaiming “I know that if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids' health could be at risk”.
Well Mr. President – these ARE your children and WE are beside ourselves.
Why are you not in Flint, Mr. President?
Justice League NYC has been working on the ground in Flint for five weeks – the residents of this city are suffering - they are literally sick and tired. It is deeply disheartening to us, given the severity of the situation, that you have not put your feet on this soil. As volunteers, we, and many other organizations and individuals, have been traveling here week after week – using our own resources to do what we can to help what can only be described as a national disaster.
After spending weeks meeting with Flint families, faith leaders, policy makers, scientists, local organizers, national organizers and more, we can say without hesitation that the local, state and federal response and information system in the region is beyond criminal. Although we know a criminal investigation is under way, the people of Flint cannot be forced to wait for adequate aid. There is tremendous government-caused destruction at every level of this situation and the very people charged with addressing the crisis are the ones who caused it – exacerbating what’s already a dangerous health and human safety situation on the ground.
Here are just a few facts that are simply beyond comprehension at this point and time:
• To be clear – there is NO safe level of lead. The EPA sets a limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb), and classifies water tainted above 5,000 ppb as “hazardous waste”. VA Tech researchers found lead contamination as high as 13,200 ppb in Flint.
• Over the last two weeks, Water Defense’s lead scientist Scott Smith did a series of tests – in residences, the Flint River, and a local hotel – testing for a number of toxins including chloroform, lithium and manganese. Dr. Smith has stated that he is the ONLY scientist that has tested the water for anything other than lead and copper. As Dr. Smith puts it “if you want to know what’s in the water you have to test for it” – and quite obviously, the EPA does not want to know what’s really in the water.
• The Water Defense toxicology report released to the press on March 7 shows dangerously high levels of all three of the above neurotoxicants - and many others. So although the community has been dealing with the fact that their government poisoned them with lead – NOW they will be dealing with the reality that the lead may be the least of their concerns.
• For the record, chloroform can be absorbed by the skin.
• On Sunday, the Public Health Advisor, Division of Policy & Data, at the U.S. HHC, Office of Minority Health, CDR Tracy Branch, MPAS, PA-C visited a well-known church in Flint and informed the Reverend and staff that a) the water in Flint is SAFE to shower and bathe in (!!!) and b) the fresh and clean and safe showers that are being donated so parishioners can shower should be rejected because “it sends the wrong message that the water is unsafe”. Mr. President – we believe the water is 100% absolutely completely unsafe period. And IF WE ARE WRONG, it is incumbent upon the American government to do all appropriate testing to absolutely ensure and promote the general welfare of these United States citizens.
• The citizens of Flint are still being charged for their poisoned water! Though the Governor has passed multi-million dollar water bill-reduction legislation, residents must be up to date with their water bill payments to receive the discount. And thousands of residents have been issued liens on their homes for lack of water payments. (And why should they be charged one penny for poisoned water?)
• We heard testimony from second-graders that in some of the elementary schools in Flint, the free bottled water being donated from across the country gets stocked in the vending machines and sold to the children.
• Undocumented people could not get water for weeks because they were being asked for IDs. And even now their access to free clinics is limited to 3 visits per year – which is clearly unacceptable considering the magnitude of the health concerns.
• Elderly people can’t get water because regularly staffed distribution centers are only at three firehouses in town – and they only give one case per day. The elderly need people to bring them water (many don’t drive, or they can’t carry a case of water by themselves) – but their own families and neighbors are prohibited from picking up extra water for shut-ins. So the elderly, poor, undocumented and other impacted people have to rely on the inconsistency of pop-up distribution spots – which are rarely publicized due to lack of capacity.
• It’s been months since Flint was declared a state of emergency yet the pipe replacement - the only effort that will make the water safe again - has barely begun. According to the Mayor of Flint, there are only funds to cover 250 replacements. More than 20,000 Flint homes (which is likely understated) will require pipe replacements.
• Finally, here is just a small sampling of the horrific health consequences of the Flint Water Crisis on children and adults: hearing loss, vision loss, hair loss, memory loss, seizures, hypertension, painful rashes, painful urination and rashes on genital area of young girls, bleeding from the ears, a drastically-elevated suicide rate, direct correlation between lead levels and juvenile crime rate, alarming cases of Legionnaire’s disease resulting in at least 10 deaths, aggression, loss of cognitive function, liver damage, kidney damage, behavioral deficits in children, jaundice, and gastrointestinal distress. We have personally heard testimony of every single one of these afflictions – each linked directly to the water. The long-term effects of the contamination won’t be seen for years, but there is no question there will be elevated rates of Parkinson’s, dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders – for generations.
The bottom line is that this national disaster has been treated from the beginning as a Public Relations problem, instead of a Public Health crisis. The situation rivals that of a third world country. And as one local pastor told us, we need the United States, the richest nation on earth, to have a first world response to a third world crisis.
It is only our hope that with your history as a Community Organizer, you can relate to the sense of urgency with which we appeal to you today. You have been in these communities, filled with a sense of obligation to right the injustices of a broken system. So you will understand when we say to you that Flint is a catastrophe of seismic proportions.
Enough with the public campaigns, Mr. President. We demand you:
1. GO TO FLINT and assess the situation.
2. TEST THE WATER – have the EPA and independent trusted researchers perform ALL the chemical tests that Water Defense has done. Test for carcinogens, neurotoxicants, other toxins – the people deserve to know the reality of their health and the health and well-being of their families.
3. FIX THE PIPES – ALL of them. IMMEDIATELY. Why are you allowing a Governor and his woefully inept team of Emergency Managers to continue making decisions that further impact the lives of these victims? If they need $55 million or $195 million or $1.3 billion – get it done.
4. IMMEDIATELY DECLARE FLINT A NATIONAL DISASTER. No excuses, Mr. President, you wield the power of the Executive Order. No time for politics.
Clearly we are not the experts, Mr. President. But YOU are the Commander-in-Chief of ALL the experts. And YOU need to deliver for these still struggling and desperate people. We cannot allow another American city to be lost, nor this outrageous injustice to go unchallenged. Reports of lead are showing up in other cities across America, shouldn’t we learn from this now to mitigate the prospect of future similar tragedies?
The crisis in Flint needs human attention. We need – no, we demand – that you act with every power at your disposal to address this situation immediately. Because if we don’t fix Flint now, then Jacksonville, Mississippi is next. And Trenton, New Jersey. And Los Baños, California. And on and on and on and on.
For our part, Justice League NYC will continue traveling to Flint to distribute much-needed supplies like ready-made baby formula and baby food, diapers and skin ointment, while activating our network to build an active and ongoing protest movement in the streets. Our next stop is the State House in Lansing. And we promise we will not stop fighting for these people until they get the relief and recompense that they deserve.
Don’t take our word alone. There are numerous and incredible organizations doing work locally - like Flint Rising - who can provide you all the testimony and guidance required to act with urgency.
The people of Flint – the remarkable, tough, brave and beautiful “Flint stones” – are counting on you, Mr. President. And the rest of the country is watching to see how your administration will respond to these most vulnerable Americans. We can’t help but imagine what the response would look like if the same crisis had happened in the well-off Bloomfield Hills.
Mr. President, we urge you - go to Flint. Once you see the devastation with your own eyes, you’ll do the right thing.
Justice League NYC
p.s. if anyone reading this Open Letter would like to contribute vital supplies to the folks in Flint – please visit our Amazon “For the Love of Flint” Gift Registry. All purchases are shipped directly to our partner in Detroit and distributed weekly. See below for more information.
December 3, 2015 (New York, NY)--"We acknowledge those who express hesitancy toward our decision to escalate pressure on Mayor de Blasio today asking us to trust the process of the DOJ investigation. Movements toward justice require many strategies, players and tactics.
But let us be clear, just because we are young, does not mean we are naïve. The city of New York has stated publicly that it has the power to fire Officer Pantaleo, however, it chooses not to in light of the investigation.
It is completely rational for New Yorkers to have authentic concern and urgency around the lack of accountability this City has when police kill other people on our streets in broad daylight.
This is not new to us. All we have to do is look at what DOJ has not accomplished for Ramarley Graham and his dear mother Constance, who we love. It has been years and DOJ has delivered nothing. Are we supposed to wait years for Eric Garner as well? Pantaleo’s own lawyer stated the investigation could last five years. Is that the type of accountability we’re supposed to just sit back wait and let crumbs of change trickle down over time?
Simply—It does not take a year to investigate something the entire world watched.
Over the last year, it’s made clear that “investigation” is just a word used for law enforcement and elected officials to hide behind slug-paced complacency. The speed of investigations indicate the sincerity of law enforcement and elected officials to achieve justice.
Daniel Pantaleo doesn’t need to be paid by New York taxpayers for years while Mayor de Blasio opts to sit back and dismissively wait for DOJ’s investigation to unfold. Firing Daniel Pantaleo doesn’t impede the ability to investigate. Firing him is just a tiny gesture that the Mayor can do to demonstrate he is accountable to the people of our City, yet Mayor de Blasio made the deliberate choice not to. For us, this is neither the moral leadership nor the sound economic management that we demand of our Mayor. And that is why you’ll see us at Gracie tonight."
Justice League NYC
Reverend Adolphus Lacey, Bethany Baptist Church
Carmen Perez, Executive Director, The Gathering for Justice
Linda Sarsour, Executive Director, Arab American Association of New York
Tamika Mallory, Board Member of The Gathering for Justice
Members of the clergy
In December 2014, Justice League NYC, an initiative of The Gathering For Justice, presented a list of DEMANDS to the City of New York. #1 is the immediate firing of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo and all officers involved in the killing of Eric Garner. The NYPD's Patrol Guide clearly states that officers are not to use chokeholds.
In our meeting with Mayor de Blasio on December 19, we expressed our unwavering demand that Daniel Pantaleo be immediately removed from the NYPD payroll. In response, the Mayor stated that there is an ongoing investigation and Commissioner Bratton will make a decision based on the results of said investigation. We respect due process, however, as we've seen in New York and across the country, due process within a historically racist system frequently results in injustice. We the taxpayers, should not have to pay the salaries of police officers who kill unarmed members of our communities.
Justice League NYC is absolutely clear that the firing of one officer will not solve the problems of systemic racism that plagues the NYPD, but the officers involved in Eric Garner's death must pay the consequences for their actions. We need accountability and we will not stop until we get it. The Garner family deserves it. New Yorkers deserve it.
We won't just sit back and wait. We will track the days, hours and minutes until the investigation of the officers involved in killing Eric Garner is complete and to see whether Commissioner Bratton will do what is right. Nothing less than #FIREPANTALEO!
The Gathering for Justice was founded in 2005 by Harry Belafonte after he witnessed a news report of a 5 year old black girl being handcuffed and arrested in her Florida classroom for “being unruly”. The Gathering’s mission is to build a movement to end child incarceration while working to eliminate the racial inequities in the criminal justice system that enliven mass incarceration.
From its inception, The Gathering provided a safe environment for policy and model exchange, and dialogue between generations of activists, community members, formerly-incarcerated individuals, gang members and academics from all communities and cultures. In order to facilitate these intergenerational conversations, The Gathering enlisted tactical support from The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youth divisions of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, and the Congress on Racial Equality, among others.
This strategic planning led to years of Gathering retreats in communities all over the country including in Epps, Alabama with the initial Gathering of the Elders and Youth primarily from the black community, and Santa Cruz where we built with the Latino community, and to the Onondaga Nation to bring the indigenous youth into the conversation, and in Orange County, California where we engaged the youth leaders from the Asian and Pacific Islander community, and on to the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee, where The Gathering gave the white coal miners and those victimized by justice miscarried, the opportunity to instruct our black and brown communities and youth about the commonality of class experience and poverty across racial lines. These Gatherings revealed to the youth assembled that there were powerful parallels in their civil and human rights struggle in this country. And that message of inclusivity, that work of uncovering the common ground that unites peoples from diverse communities – that is the best work of The Gathering. And that work continues, and is more vital than ever.
In 2010, Carmen Perez became the Executive Director of The Gathering, moving the national office to NYC and forming a meaningful partnership with 1199SEIU by helping build their young workers program, called Purple Gold. From 2010 until 2014, The Gathering essentially was a one-woman shop with all the services (juvenile detention programming, international gang-intervention, organizing training) – provided by Carmen Perez. In April 2014, Carmen brought on a Director of Operations and the two set a challenging agenda for the next 12 months. While initially working with a fiscal sponsor, The Gathering incorporated in January 2015 and in April 2015 was awarded its 501C3 non-profit status.
Click an image below to learn more about the work of the Gathering:
Many of the photos appearing on this site were taken by our friend Alex Arbuckle during the historic March2Justice, a 250-mile journey where Justice Champions and Supports from all over the East Coast marched from New York City to Washington, DC to deliver the Justice Package to Congress. Alex joined us the whole way and snapped thousands of photos, some of which are displayed here. To see more of his work, please visit http://www.alexqarbuckle.com/