Lashaya Darisaw cautions against thinking the Flint Water Crisis is resolved, and against forgetting the true scale of the disaster.
FLINT, Mich.—Almost seven years ago, poisoned drinking water redefined Flint resident Lashaya Darisaw’s life.
That’s when a decision was made by Republican then-Gov. Rick Snyder to switch the water system of the city from running on Detroit’s network to drawing from the Flint River.
The shockwaves of that decision are still felt in the city today, for more than 100,000 residents.
Wednesday, the bill authorizing the $640 million settlement for the state’s role in the decisions that created the crisis was approved by the Legislature. But the ramifications of the crisis still linger.
“It’s a beginning, but it’s not going to make Flint whole,” said Darisaw. “This is deeper than a one-time payout. A one-time payout does not make my family whole. It does not help with the guilt people have felt for the behavioral issues that their children have had.”
The Flint Water Crisis became one of the defining events of the 2010s, sparking both philanthropy and outrage nationwide.
Before the crisis began, Darisaw was attending the University of Michigan campus in Flint, having grown up in the the metro area and deeply identifying with the city. She was planning to become a social worker, but the water crisis changed those plans.
Now, Darisaw is a clean water advocate, activist and political consultant.
And for Darisaw, the settlement headed for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature doesn’t settle the Water Crisis. What making the city whole looks like, she said, is a lasting commitment to righting the wrongs of the crisis.
“Something would be paying for the health care expenses for the families [affected by the crisis],” she said. She also mentioned stipends for people with documentation proving they were victims of the crisis and expanded child services for families like hers, whose kids were exposed to the toxic water.
State Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint), who authored the bill, understands that nothing can truly repay the debt Michigan owes the city’s residents.
“A settlement does not turn back the clock and it does not right these grave wrongs. No amount of money can do that,” Ananich said in a statement Wednesday night. “However, it is a powerful acknowledgment of the real harm done to us. It has been a privilege to lead this effort on behalf of the citizens of Flint.”
But Darisaw pointed out that the scope of the Water Crisis expanded well beyond the Flint city limits, and the focus on only people presently residing in the city is leaving out victims with the same burdens and trials as those within the city’s boundaries. People like her and her daughter, who lived five minutes outside the Flint city limits.
“Stop forgetting about the people who lived outside of Flint but worked in Flint and also were poisoned,” she said. “They try to act like that five minutes meant that it didn’t affect me and that’s not true. It did, very much so, and it affected my grandmother, if affected my classmates, it affected my daughter.”
Darisaw pointed to people attending university in the city, as she did. She also pointed to children who lived outside the city limits but attended school in Flint, as her daughter did. People worked in Flint, spent time with family in Flint, had babysitters in Flint. Those people deserve justice too, Darisaw said.
“Where is the compensation for them?” she asked. “What happens to these people that still were poisoned? They still were poisoned. It doesn’t matter if they lived in the city limits or not. The city did this to them. The state did this to them.”
A federal judge will hear attorney arguments for the settlement Monday, Dec. 21 and hopes to have it approved by mid-January. If the settlement is approved, MLive explained, a registration process will be launched for affected residents to claim their share of the compensation.
“We hope that this settlement … can begin the process of closing one of the most difficult chapters in the state’s history and believe it will provide some level of relief for the people of Flint who have suffered greatly,” Hunter Shkolnik, one of the attorneys appointed to head up settlement discussions for the various lawsuits, told the Detroit Free Press. “This settlement focuses on the children and the future of Flint.”
But for Darisaw, the settlement is just the start of atoning for what was done to her home.