Two Detroit activists went on trial Friday for protesting the city’s controversial water shut-off policies.
The case stems from a July 2014 protest, when nine people blocked trucks belonging to Homrich, the contractor that performs shutoffs for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Some of them faced misdemeanor charges, but only two have gone to trial for disorderly conduct.
Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman, pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and Marian Kramer call what they did an act of civil disobedience.
They claim that was their only option at that time, when Detroit was in bankruptcy court under former emergency manager Kevyn Orr, rendering elected city officials mostly powerless.
Anti-shutoff activists say denying water to any household that genuinely can’t afford it is a human rights violation. They’re demanding the city provide water service based on what low-income residents can afford to pay.
The city maintains that’s both illegal under Michigan law, and too cumbersome to carry out.
The water department’s shutoff policy continues post-Detroit bankruptcy. A department spokesperson couldn’t immediately provide data about how many customers have had service shut off or restored in 2015.
According to a department director’s report this week, more than 56,000 notices have gone out to delinquent customers since water shutoffs resumed in May. Of those, more than 29,000 have either paid their bills or enrolled in payment plans.