In the ongoing effort to "right size" the City of Detroit's budget, public officials have begun a draconian effort designed to further extort resources from residents with the least ability to afford them. They've increased water rates, and begun to threaten those who are behind with shut-off notices, prompting Detroit activists to petition the United Nations.
There are already a few really good pieces that put this in perspective. The attempt to take a public resource, like water, and in effect privatize it, is nothing less than part of the ongoing neoliberalization struggle. It's a struggle that has two goals:
1. To replace democracy with non-democratic expert driven forms of "governance".
2. To privatize public goods and resources.
With the end result being significant increases in inequality, and significant decreases in the ability of people to come together as a public to determine how to reduce and reverse this process.
In the US and elsewhere black bodies and the cities they populate tend to work better at accomplishing these aims because black people are deemed to be incapable of democracy and not deserving of public goods. The image of black poor people suffering from lack of water tends to evoke derision and disgust in the majority white population (and increasingly in blacks as well) rather than empathy. This causes people to put more blame on black poor people themselves for either not being able to ration their water usage, or for not being able to choose the proper political leadership in the first place.
As opposed to, for example, questioning whether the same types of strategies are used on corporate entities also behind on their bill. Or more broadly, to question whether there should be circumstances under which water and other public goods should be used to generate profits in the first place.
A few years ago a classmate of mine contacted me about a documentary he helped produce about water politics in his hometown of Highland Park (one of two cities that sit squarely within the City of Detroit's borders, Hamtramck being the other). He sent me a copy, and it fit my Urban Policy class perfectly.
Years before the City of Detroit was forced into declaring bankruptcy, Highland Park was placed under emergency financial management. And in trying to get the city OUT of efm status one of the first things they considered was privatizing the water.
As soon as I saw this documentary I immediately placed an order with my library. Until we have more substantive work on Detroit (and it'll take years for this) The Water Front is the best available to help understand what's going on in Detroit.