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Thirsty for justice: Detroit protesters flood streets over water shutdown

Published time: July 19, 2014 11:26
Edited time: July 19, 2014 19:10
People hold a banner against the mass water shut-offs to Detroit citizens behind in their payments, during a protest in downtown Detroit, Michigan July 18, 2014.(Reuters / Rebecca Cook)

People hold a banner against the mass water shut-offs to Detroit citizens behind in their payments, during a protest in downtown Detroit, Michigan July 18, 2014.(Reuters / Rebecca Cook)

Hundreds of demonstrators paraded through Detroit, protesting the city’s decision to terminate water supplies to thousands of residents with delinquent accounts.

“Fight, fight; water is a human right,” the protesters chanted as they marched the city on Friday. Media estimated their number at 300-1,000 people.

Demonstrators protest against the Detroit Water and Sewer Department July 18, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department have disconnected water to thousands of Detroit residents who are delinquent with their bills. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Joshua Lott)
The protest was organized by the group National Nurses United, which says the termination of water supplies, in the middle of summer, could turn into a public health emergency. The group’s co-president, Jean Ross, called the shutoffs an “attack on the basic human right of access to safe, clean water.”

“What’s happening here is inhumane,”
Ross told WWJ news radio. “We know that you need water to sustain yourself and no one, no one should shut off the water to the people.”

Between March and June, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department suspended service to 15,200 customers, Greg Eno, a department spokesman, told the New York Times. About another 92,000 customers, who are at least 60 days late on their utility bill or more than $150 behind remain at risk of losing water supplies.

This week, Steven W. Rhodes, the federal bankruptcy judge handling the case, said the situation was damaging Detroit’s reputation and called on city leaders to better handle it.

In a statement released on Friday, however, Kevyn D. Orr, the city’s emergency manager, said that of the accounts where water was suspended, more than half were made current within 24 hours, and service was restored. He said that assistance was available for customers with “demonstrated financial need.”

Protestors hold a banner across a drive way to block trucks from coming out of the gate of a private-contractor company hired to shut off the water to residential customers with unpaid bills in Detroit, Michigan July 18, 2014. (Reuters / Rebecca Cook)
In March, about half the department’s customers, including businesses, had outstanding balances, amounting to $118 million in charges, the department said.

Joining the ranks of the protesters were United Automobile Workers President Dennis Williams and Congressman John Conyers.

“Water should be available to everybody,” Conyers told ABC Detroit. “It shouldn’t be something that only people who can afford it can get.”

A man holds a bottle of water as he joins other demonstrators protesting against the Detroit Water and Sewer Department July 18, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (AFP Photo / Joshua Lott)

Williams said turning off the tap on citizens’ homes proves that “there’s something wrong in America.”

“Right now in a household there is child thirsty who cannot have a drink,” Williams said. “Right now there is an elderly person who is ill that needs fresh water. There [are] children waiting to take a fresh bath and have clean water to drink.”

People gather to protest against the mass water shut-offs to Detroit citizens behind in their payments during a demonstration in downtown Detroit, Michigan July 18, 2014. (Reuters / Rebecca Cook)

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