I strongly believe that there is. As a lawyer who has represented many thousands of families victimized by contamination of their air and water, I see the same things happening over and over again:
·Poor, inner-city minorities are disproportionately the victims of these environmental problems. To a far greater degree than their percentage of the population, poor minorities live near the factories, landfills and traffic that belch filth into their environment. And they don’t have the resources to move away from it to protect themselves.
·Sometimes, the pollution comes to these poor, minority citizens….in the sense that a city will be much more willing to, say, permit a power plant to operate near poor minorities than permit it to be located in a middle class neighborhood, or, God forbid, an upper class neighborhood. And other times, the poor minorities come to the pollution….because it’s just cheaper to find a home or apartment there. But, regardless of whether poor minorities come to the pollution, or vice versa, the two often wind up as “neighbors”.
·Poor minorities often do not have access to reliable information about what contamination may be in their neighborhood, and how it can hurt them. They are not being warned. And, unfortunately, they make the wrong assumptions about why they are not being warned. Like the overwhelming majority of pollution victims I have met over many years, poor minorities believe that, if their government is not telling them that they are in danger, then they must not be in danger. Often, this is wrong.
·Poor minorities often do not have access to the kind of health care necessary to help them understand how the pollution is damaging their health.
·The children are the real victims. Their immature immune systems do not efficiently process toxins, and so the chemicals stay longer in a child’s body, and do more damage.
In short, what happened in Flint, Michigan is not isolated. There are many “Flints” that just have not received the same intensive publicity.
A fair question can be raised about whether Flint and similar environmental problems prove discrimination against minorities, or discrimination against the poor.
My most immediate response would be that it does not matter. If you are a young Latino or African American parent raising your child in the shadow of a factory that spews so much soot into the air that it is damaging your child’s ability to breathe, and you don’t have any practical ability to move away, I’m not sure that you will devote a lot of thought to whether this is happening because you are Latino, or because you are poor. The point is that it is happening. You worry every day, and especially because you realize that the worry will not soon be lifted.
My further response would be that this kind of thing happens so much that it is impossible to escape the conclusion that our country believes that poor minorities deserve less environmental protection than others. And that at least part of this is because of their status as minorities.
Every bit of this is absolutely unacceptable, of course. But it will continue until we accept that breathing clear air and drinking clean water is a right of citizenship, not something you get only if you are wealthy enough to afford it, or white enough to be deemed worthy of it.