Using the guidelines established by the United Nations, it's likely that the deliberate and continuous piping of lead-contaminated water to unsuspecting people qualifies as both a crime against humanity and actual genocide.
Heads should indeed roll... all the way to The Hague. The only trouble with that suggestion, of course, is that the United States has conveniently absolved itself from accountability before the International Criminal Court. America is an exceptional Third World nation.
At the very least, a special U.N. rapporteur should be appointed to go to Flint to collect the evidence, before it's destroyed or mysteriously misplaced.
Characterizing the poisonings as genocide is not at all hyperbolic, by the way. According to Article II (c) of the Genocide Convention, it is not necessary to prove actual intent to exterminate. It is only necessary to prove "constructive intent." In other words, since state and federal authorities knew or should have known that they were causing harm to Flint residents, their "mistakes were made" defenses won't wash. Ignorance is no excuse.
Put another way, the piping-in of water from the Flint River to save a few bucks was (and still is) a policy having a destructive, de facto exterminating effect. It doesn't matter whether the poisoning was inadvertent or unintentional, or whether it was incidental to another motive. (cost-cutting in the name of austerity)
That the poisonings in Flint also have a distinctly racist stench should give further impetus to the genocide charge. Unlike other means of culling the herd, this particular crime has a relatively short, very straight chain of evidence from perpetrators to victims. It also doesn't matter whether the victims die quickly, die slowly, or endure a lifetime of disability and pain before dying of old age. (not very likely, given all the kidney and neurological damage.)
Genocide is actually pretty broadly defined, albeit hard to prosecute. As Adam Jones wrote in Crimes Against Humanity:
"More recently the drafters of the (ICC) Rome Statute's 'Elements of Crimes' have declared their understanding that extermination can include 'deprivation of access to food and medicine,' resulting in death through protracted debility.... Other examples appearing in case law of the Tribunals include imprisoning a large number of people and withholding from them the necessities of life, resulting in mass death, and introducing a deadly virus into a population and preventing medical care, which results in mass death."The crimes against humanity in Flint look so outrageous because they and their victims are so visible to us. These crimes should not be hard to prosecute.
Run-of-the mill, garden variety lead poisoning cases, on the other hand, are rarely, if ever, prosecuted. They've been a silent, hidden epidemic for generations. Rarely do we see such acute, severe cases as in Flint, in so many people all at the same time. The lead in drinking water is usually invisible and tasteless. Symptoms develop insidiously, and they vary from victim to victim. The toxic metal accumulates in bone and body tissues over years, and can be passed down through generations, from grandmother to mother to child, ad infinitum.
No amount of lead is safe.
In poor black communities, lead poisoning is a common congenital birth defect. It is transmitted to fetuses long after the mother's exposure. Lead is an extremely stable element and degrades little over time. Ninety percent of lead dust in surface soil will still be present 70 years after contamination, according to the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.
Yes, it is racial, inordinately affecting black populations. And yes, it is ignored.
I used to write regular newspaper articles based on piles of health department inspection reports of slum housing containing lead-based paint in the poor Orange County, New York cities of Newburgh and Middletown. Children would regularly get poisoned by ingesting paint chips as well as from drinking water from lead pipes. Slumlords would get warned, again and again, referred for criminal prosecution rarely, and perhaps eventually get fined for failure to follow through on abatement orders. It's the cost of doing blacksploitation business. Moreover, ownership of substandard housing is often sliced and diced into lawsuit-proof LLCs. Immunity is built right in, as permanent as multiple coats of toxic old paint.
|Newburgh, New York|
After decades of public health reports and complaints, there is still lead paint in the same substandard Newburgh housing, at some of the same addresses on the same blighted streets. Law firms that specialize in lead poisoning cases are as common as flaking paint chips. Depending on your address, prenatal blood screenings for lead are not only recommended, they are required. It's estimated that least a third of all learning-disabled children in New York state are in special education classes because of chronic lead poisoning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 38 American children has lead poisoning. That's half a million kids. Violent crime and drug abuse are among the results of the socially painful, permanent brain damage caused by lead poisoning. How much easier that makes it for white bigots to blame black people for their own plights, for their own behavior. Lead within black bodies is conveniently so invisible that it can be ignored.
Meanwhile, federal funding for testing and treatment was slashed four years ago -- as usual, all in the name of bipartisan fiscal responsibility and austerity. Funding was finally, partially restored this year, despite the best sadistic efforts of House Republicans to cut it yet again, by a full third.
Newburgh happens. Detroit happens. Chicago happens. And then Flint happens. But just for once, what happens in Flint is not staying in Flint.
Whether it's fast or whether it's slow, genocide is genocide. Even in America. Are we waking up yet?
We need a super Super Fund for all the people that this country has hurt. We must put an end, once and for all, to austerity for poor people. We've had enough of the greed of the oligarchs. They're weighing us down like a ton of lead.