U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes decided that the poor do not have a right to water, and allowed the water shutoffs in Detroit to continue. The ruling comes in response to a plea to ban the shutoffs for six months. In the land of the allegedly free, this is just one more way to punish the poor for having the audacity to be poor.
According to The Detroit News, Judge Rhodes worried that turning water service back on to customers who can’t pay would hit Detroit’s revenues too hard. “The last thing Detroit needs is this to hit its revenues,” he said. He appears to be concerned about the overall welfare of one of the country’s poorest metropolises, which would be commendable, except a city like Detroit can’t get back on track by punishing its poorest residents.
Detroit’s downfall came as the result of several different factors. It’s a very complex problem that does not have one single solution (even the get-more-money-now solution won’t work well for very long). So, by all means, punish the poor for being poor and for being unable to find halfway decent work in a city that doesn’t have any halfway decent work anymore.
This is about more than whether punishing these people is in the interests of the greater good, though. Judge Rhodes actually issued a ruling in direct opposition to the U.N.’s position on water as a human right. According to The Huffington Post, the U.N. officially declared water to be a human right, and U.N. experts called Detroit’s water shutoffs a violation of human rights, because these people genuinely don’t have the ability to pay. Catarina de Albuquerque, the special Rapporteur on the right to safe water and sanitation, specifically said:
“Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying. In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections.”
Judge Rhodes also didn’t take into account the long-term problems associated with keeping people’s water shut off. The HuffPo article also mentions what U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) thinks the water shutoffs could lead to. He said:
“Actions that deny residents the ability to bathe, hydrate, or prepare meals for themselves and their families create costly long-term public health challenges. These water cutoffs are not only inhumane but economically short-sighted.”
There are allegations out there that the water shutoffs, and the crackdowns on people who can’t pay, are Detroit’s pathetic attempt to make their water utility more attractive to investors and buyers. Detroit’s residents have seen their water bills more than double over the past 10 years, possibly as Detroit tried to meet its growing bills while businesses fled the city, and outsourced their work to Mexico and Asia. What Judge Rhodes has done sets a dangerous precedent, and ultimately creates more problems for Detroit that they don’t need. They have to pay down their debt, yes. They have to cut their deficit, yes. They have to get their financial house in order, we get that. But they have to find better, and more creative ways to do all that, without kicking their hurting residents while they’re already down.
h/t Daily Kos