Detroit water shutoffs ‘racially’ motivated

After a class action lawsuit filed against the city of Detroit, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says that recent water shutoffs to Detroit residents were racially motivated.

Veronica Joice with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says, “That (the shutoffs are) being done in a discriminatory fashion; and they should at least take a look at whether there’s a better way to do this that doesn’t affect the most vulnerable citizens — the majority of whom are African American here in Detroit.”

Attorney Alice Jennings, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Detroit residents, said it’s a known fact that there are corporations that owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
“These companies are basically Caucasian companies,” Jennings said. “The folks who are being cut off are almost one hundred percent African American.”

Asked by WWJ’s Charlie Langton directly if this is a “racial issue,” Jennings replied: “It sure is! You bet it is.”

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department stopped service to about 7,200 homes and businesses in June, compared to 1,570 in the same month last year. Water was restored to 43 percent after customers paid or worked out payment plans.

At a bankruptcy hearing Monday, federal Judge Steven Rhodes asked the city for an update on the water issue, but fell short of ordering any action.

Talking to WWJ’s Sandra McNeil shortly after the announcement, water department spokesman Greg Eno admitted there’s no doubt that the department has been lax over the years, letting the bills pile up.

He said people who now owe more than they can afford are being asked to come in and apply for assistance through the Water Affordability Program.

Eno said, through, it’s not just free money.

“We don’t have, you know, a bottomless cup of funds,” he said, adding that’s why it’s important that affected customers come in as soon as possible.