Posted on October 5, 2022

NAACP Says Jackson’s Water Problems Are Civil Rights Issue

Michael Phillis and Emily Wagster Pettus, Associated Press, September 27, 2022

In a federal complaint Tuesday, the NAACP said Mississippi officials “all but assured” a drinking water calamity in Jackson by depriving the state’s majority-Black capital city of badly needed funds to upgrade its infrastructure. The organization asked the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the state’s alleged pattern of steering money to white communities with less need.

The group said the state’s refusal to fund improvements in Jackson culminated in late August when the water system suffered a near-total collapse {snip}

NAACP president Derrick Johnson lives in Jackson and joined other local residents in filing the complaint with the EPA under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids anyone who receives federal funds from discriminating based on race or national origin. In the past, this part of the law has rarely been used on environmental matters, but the Biden administration has promised to step up enforcement {snip}


The group wants the EPA to make sure that from now on federal funds are distributed equitably.

The U.S. Justice Department is working to improve Jackson’s water system. If a voluntary improvement plan isn’t reached with the city, the department threatened Monday to file legal action under a different law, the Safe Water Drinking Act, which regulates harmful substances in tap water. The city has repeatedly violated this law in recent years.


Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, has blamed Jackson’s water problems on mismanagement by city leaders. Reeves declared an emergency for the water system in late August and brought in out-of-state crews to help make repairs. Before the city’s latest water crisis, though, Reeves expressed his own opposition to state funding for Jackson water improvements, saying he wants to hold down Mississippi’s overall debt level.


More than 80% of Jackson residents are Black and roughly a quarter live in poverty. About a decade after the public schools integrated in the 1970s, white flight began. Mississippi’s largest city now struggles with a shrinking tax base.

Denecka Samuels, a mother of six children, lives in one of the poorest parts of Jackson. {snip}


Samuels was among several people who spoke Monday evening at a Poor People’s Campaign protest to bring attention to Jackson water problems. {snip}

“I did not choose to be Black. I did not choose this life to not have no water,” Samuels said. {snip}