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Toxic Cities: Neoliberalism and Environmental Racism in Flint and Detroit Michigan

January 2019

Teressa A. Benz


In this article, tinged with moral outrage, Benz details the flawed outcomes of neoliberal policies in Michigan. In particular, she uses the city of Flint (with its lead-poisoned water) and the heavily polluted neighborhood of Boynton in Detroit to showcase how neoliberalism in Michigan has created a hierarchy of value that places corporations at the top and poor people of color at the bottom. Throughout each case study, she views potential solutions through the lens of Alan Freeman’s victim and perpetrator perspectives on justice, arriving at a conclusion that Michigan’s (and America’s) courts and regulatory agencies must be restructured to ensure that all people, equal in the eyes of the law, have the same opportunity at a healthy life.

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Policy Implications

Benz’s account of neoliberal policies suggest a stunning, upsetting relationship between industry and Michigan government in recent decades. To take her findings seriously is to acknowledge that environmental racism is not only real, but a defining scourge of public health in the 21st Century. Consequently, some policies that reasonably stem from her conclusions include eliminating the governor’s ability to install emergency managers in his or her state, new legal and regulatory frameworks which mandate a just distribution of environmental hazards, and investments in new priorities like public healthcare instead of corporate tax incentives. In short, Benz calls for a radical transformation of Michiganian society, one that would place the health and welfare of people over corporate profits.

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