In the News: Flint, Michigan

There has been a lot of recent news surrounding the Flint Water Crisis in Detroit, Michigan. Early last year, the Environmental Protection Agency was made aware of the toxic levels of lead that had leaked into the water after Flint made the Flint River its primary source of water due to a financial state of emergency, but they made no effort to make the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality treat the water.

This led to poisoning, sickness, and the possibility of long-term neurological damage in children. African Americans make up a whopping 56.6% of the city’s population. The crisis is now being referred to by many people as both genocide and environmental racism, and several communities and leaders are calling on Governor Rick Snyder to be arrested.

Here are three recent updates on Flint:

1. Hillary Clinton has made Environmental Racism a Campaign Issue
At the Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 17, Hillary Clinton responded, “the Flint Water Crisis” when asked what issue the candidates felt had been neglected during the debate. The following day, on Martin Luther King. Jr. Day, she continued to voice her anger. At an event in South Carolina, Clinton stated, “We would be outraged if this happened to white kids, and we should be outraged that it’s happening right now to black kids.” While the media have debated whether or not Clinton is trying to capitalize on a political moment or rather to help the community to fight their battle and raise awareness to the issue, her outrage has sparked much-needed attention on Flint.

[Related: 5 Ways You Can Help the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan]

2. Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairman Urges House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Chairman to Have Governor Rick Snyder Testify During Upcoming Hearing.
On Jan. 28, CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield sent a letter to the oversight and government reform chairman, urging him to call upon Michigan’s Governor, Rick Snyder, to testify during the latest court hearing. The letter held, “The harm experienced by the residents of Flint is irreversible and multi-generational. The governor has admitted harm, numerous missteps, and seemingly has a blatant disregard for the care of the citizens of Flint. Governor Snyder has been a central figure in the decision-making process that led to the water crisis and, to that end, should be invited to testify before the Committee.” Earlier in January, the CBC also sent President Obama a letter, asking for a thorough investigation of all entities that had oversight in the Flint water crisis, in addition to urging for immediate funding to assist the city in its recovery.

3. National Society of Black Engineers urges officials to make things right in Flint.
Neville Green, the national chair of the National Society of Black Engineers, holds that cultural responsibility is extremely important, and that the elected officials in Flint, Mich., have failed the community, as well as threatening their safety. Who did this impact the most? Its youth. the NSBE is actively engaging in donations, educating the community on water safety, and coming up with new solutions with engineers. The NSBE is challenging all civil leaders, black organizations, and student movements to join in the support of the movement, removing the dangerous substances and restoring the community’s basic right of access to clean water.

A Conversation With John Kasich

Ohio Governor John Kasich

Ohio Governor and 2016 GOP presidential candidate John Kasich

In an election cycle dominated by vicious personal insults, alarming calls to bar people from the country on the basis of religion, and rampant sexism,  John Kasich, the two-term current governor of Ohio, has built his campaign on the message of unrelenting positivity. Literally referring to himself as the “prince of light and hope,” Kasich made his case for the GOP nomination by stressing the pragmatic productivity of his tenure as governor of Ohio.

BE Politics caught up with Kasich as he campaigned in New Hampshire to discuss his game-plan for minority outreach.

Criminal Justice Reform
We decided to start with a polarizing topic that has become a mainstay of the national conversation regarding civil rights: criminal justice reform.

[RELATED: Ohio Governor: ‘Blacks Can Come From The Streets And Own Businesses’]

Kasich is the governor of the state where 12-year old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by Timothy Loehman, who had been documented as unstable, and unfit for duty by his own department. The events that transpired were met with the disbelief and anger of criminal justice reform activists, and many of Kasich’s fellow Ohio politicians. One of those politicians was state senator Nina Turner, who urged Kasich to consider reform.

“She came and asked if we can get together and make sure we deal with the issue of community, police, and race” Kasich said. “We worked together and what we have done is be able to put together a statewide policy on the use of deadly force. We have four semetrics on hiring and training, recruiting.”

With the guidance of Senator Turner, Kasich signed into law an executive order to standardize police practices state-wide.

“We just want to make sure that we don’t bury our heads in the sand, and I think that there are people who have legitimate complaints, who feel the system not only doesn’t work for them, but against them.”

Refusing to fall back on a narrative that villainizes peaceful protestors currently favored by his fellow candidates, Kasich emphasized the need for all voices to be heard.

“They need to be able to have an outlet. They need to be able to have a voice. So we assembled all community leaders, clergy, law enforcement, and convinced them all that we need to work together. And Senator Turner was a vital one in terms of being able to reach good constructive conclusions. And this is ongoing.”

Small biz
In Ohio, African American unemployment rate is 16.7%, with African American households making an average of $20,000 less than the overall median income.

When asked how he would combat minority unemployment as president Kasich pointed to his efforts as Governor of Ohio.

“We have a set aside law where the majority community gets into a situation where they get 15% of all state contracts,” Kasich explained, referring to the Ohio Minority Business Enterprise Program, which was designed to ensure that a minimum of 15% of govrmentent contracts are awarded to minority-owned businesses. “And I voted on it 30 years ago. So I told all of my cabinet that we are going to meet those numbers. And we have.”

In 1980, Kasich, then a young state senator, voted in favor of the 15% minimum goal. The goal would remain unmet for 35 years, until Kasich, now governor, made headlines when he announced last August that Ohio had surpassed the minimum allotment, awarding an impressive 19% of state contracts to minority-owned businesses.

Under Kasich’s predecessor, Gov. Ted Strickland (D), only 5.1% of contracts had gone to minority-owned businesses.

“What we’re doing is telling people ‘Look, we want to have goals for our minority businesses to develop, to be participating in that economically.’ And we’re also providing some resources for the development of some small businesses in that area,” Kasich said.  “These are all things that we’re excited about and we’re carrying out for the first time in Ohio.

Kasich’s efforts were praised by several prominent Ohio black as a bi-partisan outreach to minority business-owners.

“I can tell you that when I first started on the issue of set aside some people in my cabinet didn’t understand it. ‘Well how will we do it? And how will it work?’ I said, ‘Just go do it.’” Kasich continued. “And now some of those people who didn’t understand at all, are some of the greatest advocates of  making sure that our minority community has, has economic opportunities. And I think it’s just great.”

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