Over the summer, I was assigned to read the nonfiction novel “The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy” by Anna Clark. The book intelled history, economics, geography and emphasized environmental racism within Flint, Michigian. Environmental racism is a concept which developed throughout the 1970s and 1980s in the United States and was used to describe environmental injustice that occurs in practice and in policy within a racialized context.
Flint has been without clean water since 2014. Citizens and celebrities alike have voiced their concerns and donated thousands of dollars for the cause, yet to see any significant change. Now, Newark, New Jersey, is one of the cities with the worst tap water in the United States surpassing Flint, Michigan, according to Business Insider. Mayor Karen Weaver, who has dealt with Flint’s water crisis since her election in 2015, offered her support to residents of Newark, New Jersey, as the city’s water emergency reached new heights.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told NJ.com that he will not issue a state of emergency after New Jersey State Assemblyman Jamal Holley sent a letter to Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka pleading to take over management of Newark’s water and to dispatch the National Guard to handle the distribution of bottled water.
“It was not about pointing any fingers. If he declares a state of emergency, what it does is it releases funds, but it allows everyone to know that all hands are on deck,” Holley told NJ.com.
Junior psychology major and Newark resident Laeuna Chisolm felt proud of the community’s efforts to come together.
“They sent us a filter last year and then everything kinda blew up during the summer,” she said. “A lot of us are just trying to be careful with and doing a lot of water drives but I’m glad this is bringing a lot of the community together and making leaders out of the youth because a lot of young people have been coming together to start water drives.”
Chisolm hopes her fellow community memebers continue to unify their efforts.
Newark residents James and Shana Tyler spoke about their experience living on the southside of Newark.
“The lead is not in the water, its in the pipes [of the water system], the city said you can shower and wash clothes with the water but that is it. They were holding free lead testing at University Hospital for 4 weeks, checking your blood to see if it has lead in it,” said Shana Tyler.
“I order my water straight from Poland Spring because I did not trust the water. I order 5 to 6 cases of water and it lasts us through the month for $50. I feel like I should be compensated, I am paying for water I should be able to use in my home,” said Shana.
Last Monday, Newark held MTV’s 35th annual Video Music Awards at The Prudential Center raising questions of the cities’ priorities.
“They paid [The Prudential Center], not us. All it did was cause a lot of traffic delays and chaos. They closed down Mulberry Street, Market Street and Broad Street, people were told not to go to work,” said James Tyler.
Residents of Newark protested outside The Prudential Center demanding to be heard and holding signs saying “Get the lead out” and “Newark is being poisoned.”
“The residents of Newark are still going to look at celebrities, society today everyone talks about it and then it goes away. Look at Flint, Michigan, they still have bad water and no one talks about it any more.”
I tend to forget how much a necessity water is to properly govern your day-to-day life until you hear people surviving without it. What happens when the water you depend on is no longer safe to use? No longer safe to drink, to brush your teeth or wash dishes. Some citizens have no choice and because their resources are limited they risk illness and even death to obtain something that is considered a basic human right.
I do not believe with Flint, Michigan, Washington D.C., whose water has been contaminated with lead since 2004, and now Newark, New Jersey, that this is a coincidence. Typically urban and under resourced cities are poorly taken care of by their states and their country and to think it is now happening in our front yard.
Are we really going to allow this to happen again?