Russell Simmons draws hundreds to town hall meeting in Flint

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Chants of “Clean water now!” and “Flint lives matter!” rang throughout the First Trinity Missionary Church in Flint, Mich., where hundreds of people gathered for a town hall meeting with Russell Simmons Monday afternoon.

Photo: Russell Simmons via Instagram.
Photo: Russell Simmons via Instagram.

“This is so dirty and so wrong,” Simmons said of Flint’s contaminated drinking water. The hip-hop mogul, who said his prepaid debit card company, RushCard, donated 250,000 bottles of water to Flint, called on larger corporations like Time Warner to contribute to the relief effort.

“We’re late,” he said from behind a podium surrounded by a tower of water bottles. “But it’s better late than never.”

SLIDESHOW – Water crisis in Flint, Michigan >>>

Simmons personally delivered cases of bottled water to a number of Flint homes Monday morning before joining Baltimore pastor Jamal Bryant and National Bar Association president Benjamin Crump, and hundreds of Flint residents at the packed church.

Photo: Russell Simmons via Instagram.
Photo: Russell Simmons via Instagram.

“This is intentional manslaughter,” said the booming Bryant, who followed Simmons with an impassioned call to action. “That you would put 95,000 people’s lives at risk suggested that you didn’t think our lives matter.”

Bryant, the social media-savvy head of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple AME megachurch, said that Monday’s event, which was slated to begin at noon, got off to a late start because of meetings with local representatives to discuss a proposal for state legislation to sue the Flint water department.

The goal, Bryant explained to rousing cheers and applause, is to refund the people of Flint “for every dime you’ve spent on water over the last two years.”

Flint has long had some of the highest water utility rates in the county, and even since the contamination of the city’s water has come to light, residents have continued to receive huge bills for water they can’t use. 

Russell Simmons talks to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver at a town hall meeting Monday Feb. 1, 2016. (Photo: Jeremy Drummond)
Russell Simmons talks to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver at a town hall meeting Monday Feb. 1, 2016. (Photo: Jeremy Drummond)

Bryant admonished state officials for the potentially irreversible damage the leaded water might have caused the city’s “9,000 predominantly black children” because, he said, “the state of Michigan doesn’t wanna see black babies go to college — they want to see them go to jail.”

Crump, a Florida-based attorney known for his pro-bono work in high-profile cases such as those of slain teens Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, vowed to petition U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate which elected officials should be held responsible for the water crisis, pointing to the Watergate scandal as precedent. 

"This is way worse than Watergate," Crump said. "People didn't die from Watergate. This is our children's lives at stake." 

Also in attendance at the rally were Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who helped first expose the crisis with her report on elevated lead levels among Flint children. 

“I was just doing my job,” said Hanna-Attisha, clad in a Flint Lives Matter T-shirt. “My job is to make sure every one of our kids has the brightest future possible. … I commit to you that our job has just begun.”


Simmons has been a vocal critic of Michigan’s state and local officials, insisting last week on the talk show “The Real” that Flint’s water was poisoned as a result of “environmental racism.”

“We need the governor’s hands in cuffs. If this happened in Beverly Hills — first of all they would’ve found out in two minutes, and everybody would’ve been in trouble,” he said on the show. “You can’t poison the whole community. Almost every kid may have brain damage. It’s worse than what people are saying. We gotta dig deeper into this.”

Simmons reiterated this argument on Detroit’s local Fox News station Monday morning before he arrived in Flint.

“It has to do with sending less fortunate and people of color less services,” Simmons said. "In this particular case, they were voters who didn’t vote for the governor. They’re underserved community members. ... The fact is, no one black voted for this governor, and I think they’re less important to him.”

First Trinity pastor Ezra Tillman doubled down on this idea Monday, arguing that the water crisis is proof of the dangers of political apathy. 

“We are here because we didn’t vote,” Tillman said. “From this point on, we need to vote.”

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