Detroit residents on Thursday launched a direct action to halt the city’s mass shut-off of water to thousands of households, physically blocking a private corporation from turning off the tap.
Carrying a banner that read “Stop the Water Shut-offs,” ten city residents nonviolently obstructed the entrance to Homrich Inc.—the private company that was handed a $5.6 million deal from the city to shut off water services to residences that are behind on their bills, according to the protest organizers. They were surrounded during the civil disobedience by a crowd of over 40 supporters chanting “If the water don’t flow, the trucks don’t go.”
The protesters held the entrance for more than an hour and a half before all ten were arrested, Bill Wylie-Kellermann, a Detroit pastor who was among the arrestees, told Common Dreams. “We feel that it’s really time to intensify and escalate the resistance to the water shutoffs and emergency management,” Wylie-Kellermann declared.
“The only reason they are getting away with this is because this is a majority black city.” —Sarah Coffey, People’s Water Board Coalition & Water Rights Hotline
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced in June that it is escalating its disconnections of water services to residences that have fallen behind on their bills to 3,000 a month. In a city devastated by unemployment and foreclosure crises, nearly half of all residents are unable to pay, and the city’s continual increase in water rates is not helping. Thousands of people have already had their water turned off, including many who were disconnected long before this June escalation, and tens of thousands more are next.
Concerned organizations say that the shut-offs have so far unleashed a human rights crisis that devastates low-income communities of color. UN experts agree: in response to a complaint from a coalition of organizations, a UN panel condemned the city last month for violating the “human right to water,” with the UN expert on the right to adequate housing warning the shut-offs “may be discriminatory” against African Americans.
Sarah Coffey of the People’s Water Board and Water Rights Hotline put it succinctly in an interview with Common Dreams: “The only reason they are getting away with this is because this is a majority black city.”
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