Would Flint crisis happen in wealthier, whiter community?

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2016 file photo, Michigan State Representatives Shelton Neeley, left, and Phil Phelps, right, address people during a rally to talk about the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Ever since the full extent of the Flint water crisis emerged, one question has loomed above all others: Would this have happened in a wealthier, whiter community? (Sean Proctor/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP, File) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Ever since the full extent of the Flint water crisis emerged, one question has persisted: Would this have happened in a wealthier, whiter community?

Residents in the former auto-making hub — a poor, largely minority city — feel their complaints about lead-tainted water flowing through their taps have been slighted by the government or ignored altogether. For many, it echoes the lackluster federal response to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Our voices were not heard, and that’s part of the problem,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said this week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., where she also met with President Barack Obama to make her case for federal help for her city.

The frustration has mostly been directed at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed an emergency manager to run Flint. That manager approved a plan in 2013 to begin drawing drinking water from the Flint River, and the city began doing so the next year. But officials failed to treat the corrosive water properly to prevent metal leaching from old pipes.

Snyder, a Republican in his second term, was blasted by Hillary Clinton in her remarks after the recent Democratic presidential debate.

“We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population, which is poor in many ways and majority African-American, has been drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water. And the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care,” Clinton said.

Snyder “had requests for help that he had basically stone-walled. I’ll tell you what: If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would’ve been action.”

Flint residents complained loudly and often about the water quality immediately after the switch but were repeatedly told it was safe. They didn’t learn the water was tainted until the state issued warnings a year and a half later. Now families fear for their health and especially for the future of their children, who can develop learning disabilities and behavior problems from lead exposure.

Snyder, who has apologized for the mishandling of the situation, declined a request by The Associated Press for an interview Thursday. But in response to Clinton’s remarks, he said the former secretary of state should not make Flint a political issue.

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