Coalition takes direct action against city contractor
12,000 Detroiters shut off so far; assault connected to city bankruptcy
Charity Hicks, first to be arrested protesting water shut-offs in her neighborhood in May, passes after weeks in coma in NYC
By Diane Bukowski
July 10, 2014
Complete videos of protest and arrest by Demeeko Williams at end of story.
DETROIT – Members of the Detroit Water Warriors, the Detroit Water Brigade, Call ’em Out and others today put their bodies on the line to stop Homrich Wrecking trucks from shutting water off to the people of Detroit, the poorest major city in the U.S.
At least 10 of many protesters blocking the gates to the facility at 2660 E. Grand Blvd, including religious and community leaders, were arrested and brutally treated by police, said Demeeko Williams of the Water Brigade.
“We are making a statement to Detroiters that the shut-offs are not their fault, but are their fight,” Williams said. “When the Water Board did not meet our demands to stop the shut-offs, we took the battle to the streets. A lot more Detroiters need to stand with us against this outrageous assault, and also to demand the departure of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and an end to bankruptcy proceedings.”
He said that during the arrests, police grabbed and twisted the arm of Michigan Citizen editor Teresa Kelly despite her statement that she would get up, and came down hard on Agnes Hitchcock, leader of the Call ‘em Out Coalition, as she lay on her stomach on the ground. (The two can be seen in the video above, Kelly with white hair and Hitchcock in scarf.)
Others arrested included Pastor Bill Wylie-Kellerman and his wife Denise Gruebler, Father Tom Lumpkin, Sister Mary Ellen Howard, Detroit School Board member Elena Herrada, and Pat Driscoll, an activist with Detroit Eviction Defense. Herrada said they were charged with “disturbing the peace” and face a court hearing July 21 at 8:30 a.m. in Detroit’s 36th District Court.
“We will not stop until they stop,” Herrada told VOD.
“This morning I participated in an act of civil disobedience,” Sister Howard said in part. “With several others, I peacefully held a long banner blocking the driveway to Homrich Co. headquarters on East Grand Blvd. so that their employees could not get in to work and their trucks could not leave to do the shutoffs. We arrived at 6:45 am, and the cops arrived at about 8 am. Although we were peacefully demonstrating, they attacked us; it was quite violent. I was arrested with nine others. We were handcuffed together and taken to Mound Correctional Facility to be processed.”
Howard said police threatened to jail them until their July 21 hearing if they didn’t stop singing, “Wade in the Water,” but that in the end they posted bond and were released.
“Several of my co-criminals want to request a jury trial which they say is the last vestige of a democratic society. We are meeting Sunday night to decide together what we want to do. Water is a human right, and as the UN has said about the Detroit situation, to deny water to persons who cannot afford to pay for it is a denial of a human right.”
Williams also announced that Charity Hicks, the first to take action protesting water shut-offs in her neighborhood in May, passed away July 9 after being in a coma since May 31 in a hospital in New York City. Hicks was policy director for the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC). She was the victim in NYC of a hit and run driver as she attended a national conference in the city.
Hicks told VOD shortly before that accident that a Homrich employee assaulted her when she asked him to give her neighbors time to collect water for their needs. Detroit police arrested her instead after she reported the assault, and threw her into the Mound Road prison for two days to endure “conditions that are meant to shame you, demoralize you, criminalize you and break you down.”
Those included being kept in a holding tank with one toilet housing hundreds of women.
Hicks said earlier regarding the water shut-offs, “Your human dignity shouldn’t be truncated because you’re priced out of the commodification of an essential resource.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
The Detroit Water Board approved a $5.6 million “Water Shut-Off/Turn-On Project” contract with Homrich Wrecking, headquartered in Carleton, Michigan, April 24. The contract is costing more than delinquent bills, according to some sources.
Despite the city’s announcement, after protesters’ repeated demands, that it will begin shutting off delinquent corporations, it has not stopped shut-offs in the poorest neighborhoods of the city. At least 12,000 Detroiters have been shut off, including elderly citizens, families with children, and disabled people.
The shut-offs, ordered by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, are taking place during ongoing bankruptcy negotiations in New York City with Detroit Water and Sewerage Department lenders.
Bankruptcy documents list $5 billion in secured DWSD bond claims, most “unimpaired.” That means the city will pay the entire debt while it raises water rates, shuts water off, lays the groundwork for privatization and regionalization of DWSD, and attacks city workers and retirees, under the bankruptcy “Plan of Adjustment.”
The water shut-offs have engendered publicity across the world. In many countries like Great Britain, water shut-offs, even by private entities like Thames Water, are illegal since they are considered a threat to public health and safety.
When Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, under pressure from suburban interests, ordered mass water shut-offs in 2002, media came from as far as Britain and Australia to film the events. After a long delay, the Detroit City Council finally passed a “Water Affordability Plan” that was originally supposed to gear rates toward customers’ incomes.
It was substantially altered, then administered by the city’s Human Services Department, which was wholly shut down last year by Mayor Dave Bing, despite being nearly 100 percent federally funded.
In the interim, DWSD has raised Detroiters’ sewage rates much higher than those of suburban communities, allegedly to compensate for delinquent water bills in the city.
The city also attaches unpaid water bills to residents’ property tax bills, subjecting them to possible tax foreclosure and actual loss of their homes along with their water. The State Department of Human Services, through its Child Protective Services workers, frequently removes children from homes affected by utility shut-offs instead of providing assistance.
Demeeko Williams said groups are spreading out through the city’s neighborhoods under the leadership of well-known activist Monica Patrick and others. He said residents can call 1-844-42WATER and volunteers will be dispatched to their homes and those of their neighbors. The Detroit Water Brigade’s website is at http://detroitwaterbrigade.org. Leaders of the brigade can be reached by calling 313-279-0608.
SIGN PETITION TO WATER BOARD TO STOP THE SHUT-OFFS
I’m Joe Dinkin of Working Families, and I started a petition to James Fausone, chairman of the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners , which says:
3,600 residents in Detroit are already without water. Why? Because they have bills of $150 or more, or are 60 days past due on bills in a city that is bankrupt. Soon, half of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s 323,900 local residents will be out of water. It is unacceptable to withhold our citizens’ basic needs like clean running water.
We need to call attention to this unacceptable violation of human rights, and quickly — before more homes run dry.
Sign our petition to demand that the Detroit Water and Sewage Department restore running water to the residents of Detroit.
This petition was created on MoveOn’s online petition site, where anyone can start their own online petitions. Working Families didn’t pay us to send this email—we never rent or sell the MoveOn.org list.
COMPLETE VIDEOS OF PROTEST AND ARRESTS BY DEMEEKO WILLIAMS
Demeeko: Dude the police was very out of order. They put my friend Baxter Jones under panic attack when he was assaulted by being pulled out of his chair.. a few reports have claimed that they seen Baxter out of his chair. Anybody who messes with the disabled is heartless.