The Flint Water Crisis, KWA and Strategic-Structural Racism

67 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2016 Last revised: 16 Sep 2016

See all articles by Peter J. Hammer

Peter J. Hammer

Wayne State University Law School

Date Written: July 18, 2016


Flint is a complicated story where race plays out on multiple dimensions. It is a difficult story to tell because many facts suggesting the State’s real complicity in the tragedy are still being revealed. That said, three truths about Flint, race and water are beginning to resonate strongly. The first truth is how the entire Emergency Management regime and Governor Snyder’s approach to municipal distress and fiscal austerity serve as a morality play about the dangers of structural racism and how conservative notions of knowledge-&-power can drive decisions leading to the poisoning of an entire City. The second truth is the role strategic racism played in motivating actors at the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), Treasury, DEQ and various Emergency Managers to disregard the lives of the citizens of Flint in seeking initial approval of the KWA pipeline and how these same players manipulated rules governing bond financing in a way that cemented use of the Flint River as an interim drinking water source as a predicate for financing the distressed City’s participation in KWA. The third truth is how the structural racism embedded in the first serves to enable and reinforce the strategic racism embedded in the second.

The hearings of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission are an effort to seek answers about what really happened in Flint and why. The water crisis in Flint needs to be understood from a perspective of strategic and structural racism. These perspectives substantially change how one thinks about the underlying problem of municipal distress, the tool of Emergency Management, initial decisions relating to Flint’s participation in KWA, bond financing for the KWA project, the financially driven decision to use the Flint River as an interim source of drinking water, and the political environment that failed to recognize and respond to the mounting crisis.

Keywords: Flint Water Crisis, Emergency Management, Fiscal Austerity, Structural Racism, Strategic Racism

Suggested Citation

Hammer, Peter Joseph, The Flint Water Crisis, KWA and Strategic-Structural Racism (July 18, 2016). Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 2016-17, Available at SSRN: or

Peter Joseph Hammer (Contact Author)

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

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