Over 50,000 low-income homes in Detroit have had their water services terminated since 2013. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes dismissed a lawsuit that argued that terminating water services is denying individuals the right to life. Rhodes ruled that free or affordable water is not a “fundamental right.”
Furthermore Rhodes stated that the banks and bondholders of Detroit Water and Sewerage system have the right to charge whatever they choose for water. Rhodes stated that delaying payment collections would “endanger plans to establish regional control over the city’s water system.” However, as Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik report for Truthout, 55% of large businesses and banks are exempt from the shut-offs. Their article also revealed that city water prices are higher than in Detroit suburbs. Rhodes and corporate lawyers hired to support him are working in the interests of big banks and bondholders, literally at the expense of the city’s working class citizens.
The judge’s decision also has a racial/ethnic dimension: As Collier and Ptashnik report, African Americans populate the majority of the inner cities where the water prices are highest, yet the people are poorest. As some critics have observed, the water shut-offs can be understood as an intentional plot by business owners not only to profit, but also to suppress Detroit’s minorities.
The big business interests and the racial aspects of this story were completely ignored by Fox News, which reported that the Water Company shut off water services to 150,000 of their “delinquent users.” Fox also reported that the Water Company needs additional revenues to “repair the antiquated system.” This coverage omitted the fact that 55% of affected businesses have been exempted from the shutoffs.
Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik, “Protesters Gain Detroit Water Shut-Off Moratorium, Demand Investigation of Suspected Rampant Corruption,” Truthout, August 17, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/25605-democracy-in-action-in-detroits-water-wars-emergency-dictator-orders-moratorium-on-water-shut-offs-after-thousands-link-arms-to-protest-discrimination.
Jerry White, “Federal Judge Rules Detroit Residents Have no Fundamental Right to Water,” World Socialist Web Site, September 30, 2014, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/09/30/wate-s30.html.
Student Researcher: Samuel Lemley (Sonoma State University.)
Faculty Evaluator: Suzel A. Bozada- Deas (Sonoma State University.)