Michigan’s Attorney General has criminally charged more than 50 people over the deplorable government behavior that stripped the families of Flint of their clean water from Lake Huron, and substituted dangerous, lead-contaminated water from the Flint River.
And now the Attorney General has just filed the most significant charges of all: he has charged the State’s Director of Health and Human Services (HHS) with felony manslaughter, and the State’s Chief Medical Executive with obstruction of justice. The HHS Director, when informed that the contaminated water might have led to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that ultimately took the life of an 85-year-old man, is shockingly alleged to have observed that, “everyone has to die of something”. And the Chief Medical Executive is alleged to have threatened to withhold funding from a community health organization if it did not stop searching for the source of the Legionnaire’s outbreak.
While criminal charges are obviously serious, and in all honesty very rare in environmental contamination cases, they are certainly warranted here, in my opinion, for these reasons:
(1) These two officials had a sacred trust to protect the health of the people of Michigan. They were supposed to be the leaders in that mission. At a minimum, this required them to take seriously any threats to the public’s health–not (allegedly) joke about a threat that could, and did, claim human life– and to not use their public position to (allegedly) threaten and bully organizations–like the community health organization–whose members were no doubt scared and searching to find the reason that so many were getting sick.
(2) The sheer callousness of the behavior. The statements and behavior attributed to these two officials shows that something is seriously wrong within Michigan’s health agencies. The behavior had to be challenged in the most serious way.
(3) Michigan had to send a message to officials within the State who might be tempted to not take seriously the right of all its citizens–including the right of its most vulnerable minority and children populations–to have access to clean water, and to have public health officials who will honor that right, not defile it with their behavior.
(4) To declare that the people of Flint are full citizens of the State. The deliberate governmental decision to fill Flint’s community water pipes with dangerously contaminated water gave Flint residents legitimate reason to question whether they were even valued as human beings by their own state. Someone from the State–like the Attorney General–had to step up and hold accountable the government officials who had so little regard for the lives and safety of Flint residents. Flint’s residents needed to see that happen.
So did the rest of the State.