After the recession hιt, the unemployment rate in Detroit skyrocketed to 50 percent. Currently, the mostly African-American city is undergoing a massive bankruptcy and restructuring, but that hasn’t stopped city officials from turning off water to past due citizens by the thousands. This has the NAACP Legal Defense Fund accusing city leaders of racism.
“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,” said Veronica Joyce of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Attorney Alice Jennings has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Detroit’s residents, CBS Detroit reports. She points out that there are corporations that owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in past due water bills but haven’t had their water shυt off.
“These companies are basically Caucasian companies,” Jennings said. “The folks who are being cυt off are almost one hundred percent African American.”
Water department spokesperson Greg Eno said the city bears some responsibility for allowing water bills to run up over the last few years, but that the city can’t just give away free water.
“It also teaches them, or works into their budget, monies that would be dedicated to their water bill, because they have to make a contribution every month,” he explained. “This is not a program where you get everything given to you and you contribute nothing.”
He continued: “We don’t have, you know, a bottomless cup of funds.”
In a statement, the United Nations called the water shutoffs a viοlation of human rights.
“Because of a high poverty rate and a high unemployment rate, relatively expensive water bills in Detroit are unaffordable for a significant portion of the population. … The households which suffered unjustified disconnections must be immediately reconnected,” read the statement.