“Anti-Democratic.” “Informative.” “Sad.” “Overwhelmed. “ “Heartbreaking.” “Frustrated.”
These were some of the one-word reactions after 8 DJJ leaders and supporters watched the powerful documentary “I Do Mind Dying” by Kate Levy on Tuesday April 24, 2018 at the Breakers Covenant Church. (Just downstairs from the new DJJ office!)
The evening started pleasantly with popcorn and muffins and cheerful conversation. As the film began, the mood turned serious. No matter how much you know about water shutoffs in Detroit it is hard to watch it happen to real people. It was painful to hear Nicole Hill (now a water activist) describe how having her water shut off forced her to live "like an animal". Harder still was seeing the institutional response – everything from Homrich shutoff workers saying they are “just doing their job”, to officials claiming that the most important thing is the bond rating.
Particularly chilling was a scene that showed typewritten sheets of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rhodes’ decision against a requested moratorium for water shutoffs. First, he finds that, “the court must conclude that a customer whose water service is discontinued does likely suffer irreparable harm, especially if the service is lost for more than a few days. These harms include the risk of serious and even life-threatening medical conditions as well as adverse consequences in employment, in family and personal relations, and for children in their education. It cannot be doubted that water is a necessary ingredient for sustaining life.” “Right!”, I almost shouted at the screen. But no. The ruling further states that there is no legal right to affordable water and that the harm to the city if water stopped being shut off was significant by negatively affecting revenues. The legal message is that corporations and money are more important than people – especially if those people are poor and black.
From a Jewish perspective, another really important part of the film was Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization explaining how a cruel decision to shut off people’s water can happen. She started by using the example of German citizens in the 1930s. They were told so often that Jews were bad that when bad things started happening to Jews it was as if they somehow deserved it. It is necessary to de-humanize a group of people so that “good” people can then behave inhumanely. And so it is here in Detroit, where it is said that people would rather pay their cable bill than their water bill, or that the fault is corrupt City government or the high crime rate.
I’m so glad I saw the movie with the Water Team. It really helped to be surrounded by people trying to change things. Fortunately, you can watch this documentary too. Just go to www.detroitmindsdying.org. The movie can be found there as well as interviews, research and ongoing documentation. Painful, but well worth watching.