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Raw Sewage and a Raw Deal in Rochelle, GA


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View Terry Winckler's blog posts
03 May 2013, 11:00 AM
When the town's toilets flush, guess what ends up in African-American yards
Nine residents of Rochelle, GA are suing their city government for discharging the city's raw sewage onto their properties.

Alisa Coe and Bradley Marshall—attorneys in our Florida office—took off on a two-hour drive last month and ended up 60 years away in the rural Georgia town of Rochelle, where black people live on one side of a railroad track and whites on the other.

You’ve heard of this place if you pay attention to news; last weekend the national media was reporting on the local high school’s first interracial prom … ever.

But even as the media focused on the prom, Alisa and Bradley faced up to the town’s mayor and chief of police, who bullied the two attorneys as they investigated claims that the city’s sewer system routinely dumps raw sewage into the streets and yards of the black community (but not the white community). The mayor used his car to block the attorneys’ car when they drove into a black neighborhood, and then screamed and threatened them with arrest. The chief of police pulled up with his lights flashing and told the duo to call him before coming back to Rochelle.

Those fellas obviously didn’t know who they were messing with.

Alisa and Bradley are members of a legal team led by managing attorney David Guest, who is famous in Florida for such things as ignoring alligators as he wades through the Everglades investigating environmental offenses. The whole team’s infused with that spirit.

Monica Reimer, along with residents of Rochelle, investigate a manhole from which raw sewage flows into neighborhood backyards.Monica Reimer, along with residents of Rochelle, investigate a manhole from which raw sewage flows into neighborhood backyards.
View photo slideshow »

So—without calling the chief of police—Alisa and Monica Reimer, another attorney in our Florida office, went back to Rochelle a few days ago, armed with cameras to record evidence of environmental injustice and to document any more intimidation tactics. The bullies stayed away this time, letting the attorneys sign up, as clients, nine African-American residents who are tired of raw sewage bubbling up through manholes and pipes into their lives. After decades of living like this, they want it to end.

No one describes it better than Rufus Howard, a night shift worker who talks softly as he walks about his backyard showing puddles of raw sewage and describing how they can’t use the toilet or shower and can’t wash for days when sewage lines get full. He sums the issue up thusly:

They [city government] won’t do something about it. They live comfortable and I want to live comfortable, too.

Raw sewage in Rufus Howard's backyard.Rufus Howard points to the raw sewage
flooding his backyard.  View photo slideshow »

It’s nothing more complicated than that. Rufus and all his friends and neighbors just want the simple comforts of the white community—not the raw sewage. They want nothing more than to flush away sewage, not use shovels to clear it off their properties.

Sixty years ago, folks in towns all over the South were fighting and dying for the unfettered right to vote, the right to sit in the front of buses, to eat in restaurants without checking their skin color at the door, and even for the right to use the bathroom without having to read racial directions on the door. As a very young boy in that bad old South, I saw bathroom signs that said, “White Only” or “Negro Only". Today, so many decades later, those printed signs are gone, but other signs of discrimination persist … all over the yards and streets of folks who asked Earthjustice to help force the ruling system to fix the sewage system on the black side of the railroad tracks.

Raw sewage pools in Mr. Howard's backyard.Raw sewage pools in Mr. Howard's backyard.
View photo slideshow »

Yesterday, that help began when Alisa filed an official demand with the city to correct its sewage discrimination or face the wrath of a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit. They have just 60 days. We'll keep you posted.

Just one more reason why the planet and its people need a good lawyer … like Alisa, Bradley and Monica.

Anonymous: If this is "crap", of one kind or another, why do you post as "Anonymous"? Are you afraid of reaction from some of your previous neighbors? Do you think maybe someone may get a trifle upset with your comments? Personally, I have NO reason not to believe the attorneys who looked into this, and photos do not lie! I wish the attorneys and those living with this raw sewage have good luck with the legal proceedings!

I think that Earth Justice is on point about a real truth. And you seem to be denial of the facts before you. This goes to show the ignorance of people that take the truth and try to twist it. The issue was about sewage problems in the black community's part of the city. Why did you not comment on that, since you lived there your whole life??? Apparently, you had no comment on that because it must be true. That some filthy sick-minded person design the sewage system to do what it is doing, goes to show you how some people should never be in a position of leadership. The mayor of Rochelle and the police chief need to be replaced for the betterment of that city. Jesse Jackson needs to visit that town.

First of all to sign anonymous let me know that you are afraid to face the world with your comments. WHY???? Of course racism exist all over, but it doesn't make it right anonymous!!! My concern is that everyone must be treated fairly. Everyone pays their taxes equally so why some them get certain privileges or special favors. This conversation is not about other people thinking are doing. This is about unjust treatment toward a group of people in Rochelle, GA. You say anonymous, "your town has issues just like EVERY town but not to the extreme you report". So you feel this is not extreme enough to report on your town. How would you like smelling someone else raw sewerage all day and having someone else raw sewerage flowing in your house? You would not like that at all. Do you think these people should just except this treatment. I know you would never except this situation. So why should they! Your town doesn't sound to good to me or anyone else.

When you say you are confused, Yes you are confused. Calling a town great to live and smelling raw sewerage in there home and their yard is from a person that is confused. Wake up and smelled your own raw sewerage, anonymous.

!!!

How do we know your post is true? You posted anonymously. Why are you anonymous?

The issue here is a sewage system which dumps raw sewage into people's yards. It doesn't matter what color the residents are; sewage should not be allowed to contaminate a long established neighborhood.

Any town worth its salt would take care of its residents. PERIOD.

You can always count on bigots to say "God wants it this way." AND, I am amazed at the folks saying "it's just coincidence." Right, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

This isn't just about racism. This is about the right to not have sewerage back up in your yard and the right to clean water utilites like everyone else. If they fix the problem in the next 60 days or not I hope they pursue the lawsuit so these poor people can be compensated for this negligence and abuse by their town officials. It's disgusting that this has been going on and I'm happy that some light has been shed on the problem so these people can get the help they need. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!

I give NO credence to any comment by anyone who has not the conviction on their point of view and not indentify themselves. To many times we give credit to individuals who claim to be authorities who are shills' for the prevailing power structure. Who are you? I am a Black man in Arizona. I live in the Lions mouth and love to twist its tail. Where do you stand?

Thank you for the information. I appreciate it. What is the sewage situation in Rochelle? Where I live if there is sewage problem the homeowner is responsible for anything up to the street and the city from the curb to the street. However the city will come out and investigate and try to determine the problem before you rent a backhoe. But it is a terrible mess to find yourself in. I would expect at the very least an official statement from Rochelle to explain the sewage problem on only one side of the town.

Can you not see the pictures and read the article that they returned within a week ant signed up 9 plaintiffs?

Maybe you live on the white side of the tracks and are totally ignorant of what is happening on the other side. Your side of the tracks may tolerate the changes that are happening on the white side of the tracks (interracial marriage, blacks moving next door) but still down deep resent the changes. Maybe you are the one who does not have all the facts.

Sounds like another one sided town full of fecal matter.

Congratulations for speaking out! Yes...every community has its problems, and its racists. It's part of what (so-called) society is. To single out one community, as if it's different from the norm, is just plain wrong...and not true. Thanks again. We need more 'thinkers' like you!

You may have grown up in that town, but remember you lived on the other side of the track. No one said that the whole town was that way, sometimes you have to investigate for yourself to find the truth to the whole picture. Georgia and I imagine pretty much of the south is still racist and this is the 21st Century. You would have guess by now people would accept people because of who they are and not what they are. The south is not the only racist area in the United States Washington DC is another racist area, Congress holds the American people hostage because President Obama was voted back into office so therefore; Congress is blocking everything he does. It may be that Rochelle could use government money to help clean up the situation, but how would they get it. The sheriff blocking those people did not want the condition reported. How do you know it is true, ask yourself why would the sheriff block them if everything was alright.

You may have grown up in that town, but remember you lived on the other side of the track. No one said that the whole town was that way, sometimes you have to investigate for yourself to find the truth to the whole picture. Georgia and I imagine pretty much of the south is still racist and this is the 21st Century. You would have guess by now people would accept people because of who they are and not what they are. The south is not the only racist area in the United States Washington DC is another racist area, Congress holds the American people hostage because President Obama was voted back into office so therefore; Congress is blocking everything he does. It may be that Rochelle could use government money to help clean up the situation, but how would they get it. The sheriff blocking those people did not want the condition reported. How do you know it is true, ask yourself why would the sheriff block them if everything was alright.

Interesting. I may come out there sometime and visit Rochelle, see for myself. It's not that terribly far from where I live. I hope you're right about Black folks having it decent there but I've heard from a number of sources that many things still need to be improved. I've spent some time in rural Georgia and yes, there are definitely some serious bigots. The story sounds like the kind of thing Bull Connor did to the Civil Rights workers with the intimidation tactics.
I'm glad you like the town :)

What are you so afraid of? Anonymous? Come on use your name, if you are so proud of your town. If this town JUST had its first interracial prom, then maybe it is a backward town stuck in the back woods of GA. I say Bravo to people who want to stand up and fight racism and segregation anywhere they find it. I am a white Northerner and it doesn't totally surprise me about the segregation or racism from small places in the south. Come forward and join the rest of the world in the 21st century.

I grew up in Southern Africa and as a youth bought into the Apartheid philosophy, so I don't easily criticize knee jerk racism. That doesn't make it right; EVER. However, people are more comfortable amongst those that look, speak and behave like they do. Segregation is thus often just a function of "birds of a feather" and has less to do with bigotry. The fact that the Sheriff was abusive and threatening in this case underscores bigotry, which is totally inexcusable.
I'm sure the residents of the "black" side of the tracks pay their taxes just like those on the "white" side and deserve the same respect and city services from their elected officials. It is time to get rid of this divisive race card and treat ALL citizens with the dignity they merit. Leave God out of it. Using His name and selective Bible passages to justify injustice is about as unchristian as I can imagine.

They went there SECOND TIME with cameras to record evidence. You are right, it is crap, literally, in people's yards!
I don't give a crap if it is black people's yards or white people's yards, it is unsanitary and can cause a lot of health issues.
Unbelievable!!!

Are you white or black? Perhaps changing the color of the lenses on your sunglasses would help.

You sound very defensive. Instead you should be apologetic for a factual problem which is uncomfortable and humiliating to a population of the people in your community; those who must put up with this raw sewage in their community which flows from the largely white section of town, see this as one more evidence, and there is lots, that the racially biased, ignorant ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIORS of MANY in the white community are still hurtful and unfair. Please grow up and stop defending what is wrong, and begin supporting what is right, which is the equal opportunity for ALL in your community to EXPERIENCE AND FEEL that their lives and are as valuable and worthy of respect as your own.

envrionmental racism is real, look at what parts of town the landfills are in almost every large city in the united states.

envrionmental racism is real, look at what parts of town the landfills are in almost every large city in the united states.

Being that you can't put your name on your post, it seems to me that you're pretty full of hot air yourself.

You did not comment on the seperate proms.

Good luck with the raw sewage problem.

anonymous, you give yourself away when you say all my brothers and dad have "A" neighbor that's black. "A" as in 1. There "acceptable" blacks living in many white neighborhoods during Jim Crow and legalized segregation. However, that didn't make Jim Crow and legal segregation obsolete. White slave owners kicked boots and made babies with their black slave mistresses, that didn't mean slavery never existed. The point, in all or major black neighborhoods this could still be taking place. You or anyone should be concerned because raw sewage carries with it all kinds of germs that can cause serious and even deadly illnesses and outbreaks.

After a brother-in-law died in 1997 and we had to travel to my spouses old hometown of Monroe, La, when I called to have all the utilities disconnected at their family home I was surprised to find out there was a separate water facility for the predominately white side of Monroe and the poorer black side of Monroe. And out of all the utility services I called to have the utilities turned off the water company was the most hateful. Phone, lights and gas were very courteous and respectful, offering their condolences.

I've also lived in a racial mixed neighborhood basically all of my life, yet there's been a small group that's always started a campaign to run primarily blacks out when they felt too many were moving into the community. Yep, even in good old 21ST century "RACE BLIND AMERICA!" This still goes on. And they always incorporate law enforcement members to carry out their dirty work. Just like in the good old southern days.

There are, of course, people of both races who live on both sides of the track, but we are talking about  communities of people who are mostly segregated by that track. Rochelle chose us, not vice-versa. The residents called us for help and we responded. As for the incident when the mayor blocked our attorneys' car....he was blocking it from behind as they parked on a dead-end street in the black neighborhood. The attorneys continued their investigation despite the interference, then came back a few days later to complete the investigation. Terry Winckler

You should not even waste time and energy responding to the anonymous posters that try to defend this travesty or chalk it up to mere coincidence. You can bet that if the situation was reversed they would not be calling it that, and they'd probably call it favoritism and blame a black president for it. I've learned long ago that common sense, and common decency has not been common for a very long time. The fact that this town did not see fit to integrate a high school prom until the 21st century speaks for itself. I guess that was also just a coincidence. Thank God for the young people who had the intelligence and integrity to stand up and make this change. Hopefully it we become the norm and will not be just an aberration. It's really sad to hear people who profess belief in God express such ignorance as claiming that black communities are black solely because they choose to be. That ignores the fact that discrimination limits where blacks can live in a number of ways, such as pricing homes far above what many, if not most blacks can afford, or denying them adequate financing, etc.

You should not even waste time and energy responding to the anonymous posters that try to defend this travesty or chalk it up to mere coincidence. You can bet that if the situation was reversed they would not be calling it that, and they'd probably call it favoritism and blame a black president for it. I've learned long ago that common sense, and common decency has not been common for a very long time. The fact that this town did not see fit to integrate a high school prom until the 21st century speaks for itself. I guess that was also just a coincidence. Thank God for the young people who had the intelligence and integrity to stand up and make this change. Hopefully it we become the norm and will not be just an aberration. It's really sad to hear people who profess belief in God express such ignorance as claiming that black communities are black solely because they choose to be. That ignores the fact that discrimination limits where blacks can live in a number of ways, such as pricing homes far above what many, if not most blacks can afford, or denying them adequate financing, etc.

This is purely an accident. The white side of town got their pipes repaired and the blacks didn't. That is purely an accident of nature. The fact that a southern town is segregated by color...this is also purely a coincidence. People have no control over discrimination...it just happens. God wants this to be this way. God made some people white and some people black and he just likes the white people better. Not our fault. Even slavery was just something that pops up from time to time like the common cold.

People need to stop thinking that we can do anything about God's will and nature. If blacks happen to not get their sewage system repaired and the whites do, that's just how God intended us to live life.

God bless America.

It is quite apparent that you don't know too much about God. It seems Satan in your god.

God made people all colors; yellow, red, black and white. if you had a half a brain and studied history. You will read that the initial pictures of Jesus were not white. Think about it. Learn something.

It is quite apparent that you don't know too much about God. It seems Satan in your god.

God made people all colors; yellow, red, black and white. if you had a half a brain and studied history. You will read that the initial pictures of Jesus were not white. Think about it. Learn something.

This comment must be satire, no-one can be this ignorant. Either that or you are an ugly little troll.

AS a 70 year old white woman, I can't believe what I just read. Are you truly that ignorant or just wanting to see what kind of backlash you will get for comments?

May God have mercy on you. God created us all in is image not of our flesh but of our hearts and spirit. Our skin color is just from this world. The devil will try to deceive you into thinking treating people like this is OK but the LORD said the golden rule love thy brothers and sisters equally paraphrasing. And to treat others. As YOU would want to b treated. I pray for you that your understanding of God will become better pray for wisdom.

Best be trollin...

You are everything that is wrong with christianity. You are a bigot, a racist and obviously a "man" (and I use that term loosely here) with a severe case of little man syndrome. I suspect you hate almost everyone; because they aren't like you. And thank goodness most people aren't like you. You have a nice day now, if that's even possible for someone like you.

hahahahahahah,
you speak of god?
you know nothing of spirit and fairness.
How about god bless the world, how about god bless all people.
You won't even use your real name.
Are you a real person or you just paid by the koch brothers to post racist rants on websites to incite more bigotry.

This post & it's responses are a great example of Poe's Law in effect.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law

Seriously?! You are an extraordinarily ignorance individual, either that, or insane.

And God protects drunks and fools of which you are most certainly one, and possibly the other. That would at least explain your ignorance!

It is always an honor to be enlightened to the nature of someone's imaginary friends. It's amazing to see how closely such invisible companions often mirror the prejudices of the the men and women in whose minds they reside.

What a sick comment!

My apologies to you for those who fail to recognize sarcasm and irony.

The people that attacked you make me thank god that I am an atheist.

The god this joker is referring to, wears a white hood and white sheets and stinks like sh*t - that's the god of southern bigots and racists. Time will tell on them.

The real God bless planet Earth.

What!

It would behoove you to actually read the Bible before you start spouting off about what God wants and how He feels about His people.
To say that it is an accident of nature that the whites got their pipes repaired and the blacks didn't, just shows ignorance. When was the last time you saw "nature" repairing pipes?
Discrimination doesn't "just happen", it is a choice that small minded, mean spirited, hateful people have made.
Again, Read the Bible. God is Love. Hate is the provenance of Satan.
For the record, I'm white. They don't come much whiter than my Scandinavian ancestors.

You're kidding, right?

It is so hard to fathom that anyone would think this way. If we were blind, how would we know if someone was black or white? To me anonymous has a very twisted mind.

I really hope I'm correct, and this comment is tongue-in-cheek/sarcastic, and not serious. (And unlike the previous respondents to this comment, I do think it was not meant to be read literally; it was an attempt to parody those who would support this discrimination.)

If I'm wrong, the poster is really sick... I do hope I'm not wrong.

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