Let’s Make 2016 the Year of Justice: A Call for Environmental Justice Milestones

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Dr. Robert Bullard.com

Let’s Make 2016 the Year of Justice: A Call for Environmental Justice Milestones

An important struggle is underway to save Mossville, Louisiana, a 225 year old black community founded by former slaves, that’s now threatened to be wiped off the map by a giant South African chemical plant.

In 2014, the nation commemorated some important milestones in our historic march toward justice and equality for all Americans.  We marked the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision (May 17, 1954), 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964, and 20th anniversary of  Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton on February 11, 1994.

In commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the EJ Executive Order, a call was made in 2014 to lift up the accomplishments and milestones of the Environmental Justice Movement over the past five decades 1964-2014. A lot has happened since February 2014.  That’s why we are now collecting environmental justice accomplishments, victories, news, celebrations and important events for the period 2014-2016 for an update of the EJ Milestones.

For example, in March 2015, the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Selma March or “Bloody Sunday.” The same year, Dumping in Dixie, the nation’s first environmental justice book published in 1990, tuned 25 amid rising income and racial inequality.  Race is the “elephant in the room” when it comes to the growing inequality gap.

There's something in the air...

Clearly, in 2016 we still need to focus on environmental justice and shine a spotlight on environmental racism now more than ever.  The Flint water crisis unfolding before our eyes today provides a textbook case for why we must build justice and equal protection into environmental decision making.  The Flint disaster was caused by government officials placing profit over people. It’s time for justice in Flint.  The NAACP has offered a 20-point plan to address the disaster.  Flint is not an isolated case as much of America still has the “wrong complexion for protection.”

In 2016, we have an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate some important environmental justice milestones and work on finishing other struggles.  An important struggle is underway to save Mossville, Louisiana, a 225 year old black community founded by former slaves, that’s now threatened to be wiped off the map by a giant South African chemical plant.  More than a dozen chemical plants encircle this tiny black community and have stolen the residents’ health.  And now an unfair industry buyout is threatening to steal their wealth, their homestead and their history.

This year also marks the 150th Anniversary of the Turkey Creek, MS community, a community founded in 1866 by former slave.  Turkey Creek and North Gulfport residents face a range of environmental, health and economic challenges, including flooding, industrial encroachment, discriminatory land use planning and zoning, and unsustainable infill development of the Turkey Creek watershed. The “battle for Turkey Creek” is an American community’s quest for justice.  It is ironic that Mossville and Turkey Creek founders survived slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow segregation but their descendants today may not survive the assaults of toxic racism. It’s time to stand with Mossville, Turkey Creek and other endangered communities.  Black health, Black communities and Black lives matter.

It was 35 years ago Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management, Inc., a 1979 lawsuit filed on behalf of African American homeowners in Northeast Houston, became the nation’s first legal case to use civil rights laws to challenge the siting of a solid waste facility; the 1979 Houston Waste and Black Community Study (published in 1983 Sociological Inquiry) was also completed in support of the Bean case.

It has now been 25 years since the 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit brought more than a thousand environmental leaders to Washington, DC to challenge environmental injustice.  In addition to providing the framework for the Environmental Justice Movement, the Summit produced 17 Principles of Environmental Justice—guiding principles that shaped the domestic and global environmental and climate justice movement.

Author's Note: There are many unsung environmental justice stories that need to be told, victories that need to be celebrated, and milestones that need to be commemorated.  Please send your (2014-2016) victory celebrations, milestones and commemorations with hyperlinks to Dr. Denae King, Mickey Leland Center for Environment, Justice & Sustainability | Texas Southern University | 3100 Cleburne Avenue Houston, Texas. Kingdw@tsu.edu.

Robert Bullard

Dr. Robert Bullard is the lead author and principal investigator on several new book projects and research undertakings that address environmental health, energy, transportation, climate justice, and racial equity.

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