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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.

Never bring God's name into segregation issues especially if you are predgious. It's one of the woest sins one can do! Read & study your Bible and you will find that God DOES NOT condone segregation. We are all one under God no matter what color or mix of colors you are. Your remark, "People need to stop thinking that we can do anything about God's will and nature." is is a false statement. Humans do indeed set up the sewage issues wrongly. God had nothing to do with it. It was human decisions that were at hand, NOT GOD'S. :)

Oh my God, I cannot believe people can think like this. This person obviously knows absolutely nothing about God, and is not only a racist, but a total idiot as well! Shame on you!

sir or madam though i believe you are a man put away your hate your white sheets and come join us and to try to have a loving society
and all the hate you have for people must be answered by you to your god and when you tell god they were black I don't think he's gonna be so forgiving

Wow. Anonymous, you almost had me believing for a minute that the EJ attorneys perhaps hadn't done their research in a thorough and fair way-until I read this and the below thread that is. Very revealing, like you showed your true colors.

The result is, I'm more grateful, moved and inspired by the work EarthJustice and it's attorneys are doing, and feel more compelled to share this particular issue publicly via social networks, which I'll be doing immediately after this.

Btw I'm caucasian and I live in the north, Massachusetts to be exact. Discrimination, segregation, exploitation or down right hatred of another can happen anywhere at any given time, though it can definitely be more prevalent and insidious in certain places where those beliefs and ways have a strong foothold. I'm glad to see organizations like EarthJustice holding a vision and doing the actual work to create positive change and a better world for all.

Your comment sounds like it's from a comedy skit on the Daily Show. You just couldn't be serious when you say God "just likes the white people better". That is just SO hilarious!!!

Any god worth worshipping does not see color but the beauty of a persons soul. Sounds like your soul is darkened by racism. Ignorance is bliss to you.

Just an accident???

God would gladly fix that accident,,, and shame all of the recipients of that accident who didn't help their brothers and sisters who were not blessed with that accident....

It's folks like you that promote hate in the world and prevent peace and justice and love from flourishing. Your kind is not welcome here anymore. Time for you to either change and act right or go into hiding and stay there until your hateful life has reached the end of it's days. Hopefully you will remove your head from the dark place into which it's been inserted and join the enlightened.

So I guess that it is Gods will to have ignorant people like you.

OMG- how ignorant can one person be? Racism is a learned behavior--God has nothing to do with it, other than conservative white folks sheathing their hatred of anyone and everyone different from themselves in a Bible!

Neither God or Jesus is white and the term is not biblical. You sir, need Jesus.

Your God must be white.

Where, in The Bible, does it state that the black people are inferior to the white people?
The whole issue about skin is from Satan, as stated in Job at the beginning, where he says "Skin in behalf of skin", very cynically, telling GOD that man will go to great lengths in behalf of his own skin.
When JEHOVAH's people were in need, who was there to help, but a black person? Who helped Jeremiah out of the mud pits? An Ethiopian.
Who married Moses? An Ethiopian woman. And when those among the Israelites cast slurs on Moses, Who got mad? JEHOVAH.
The New Testament plainly states: 'There is no Jew, Greek, man, woman... for all are one in Christ Jesus.'

And, as a capper:
All the races of man, in the beginning, came from Adam and Eve, who, evidently, weren't any one race, but... all of them combined.
Therefore, you go against the beauty created by THE SAME GOD, WHO made the animals, the flowers and the earth in different colors... purely and simply because it's art.

Pray, yes, that GOD bless America. And mean all of her. And humble yourself, because you, as the rest of us, are a sinner.
PS: I'm a sinner, too.

Please tell me you're being sarcastic.

Do you LISTEN to yourself?! Do you realize how foolish your argument is?

(proof there is no god)

B - l l S - i t ................. It is disingenuous of you to Blame GOD for this aberration of H A T E ........... No Matter how it came about, It is NOT God's fault nor is it his JOB to fix it ... the local government is at fault ........ for not fixing it .......By ACTUAL COUNT ???? How many white yards have to deal with that mess ??????????????????????????

Everyone seems upset by your comments - which they should be if you meant them sincerely. But I think you wrote this with your tongue firmly in cheek. Taken that way, it's funny! Great satire, thanks!

You say "God made some people white and some people black and he just likes the white people better."

I suspect God is not very fond of people of any color who choose to "interpret" His words and intentions to suit their own prejudices. Check your Bible.

Nice work, Earthjustice. Keep it up. With your good will and legal expertise, and the support of those of us who would like to reduce the amount of bigotry and greed in this country, justice and kindness will prevail. Thank you.

This comment is by someone who is obviously mentally ill...perhaps made so by God
This country is about justice and equality....there those who still do not get this

I've met people in denial before. You are just another sad example. An accident? Such as I stabbed her 47 times -- accidently? Get real and get counseling.

Hello Anonymous,

To put it as bluntly as possible you are a "TOOL"! As for the "GOD" justification I continually hear it from those bigots of all stripes. This makes you a bigoted tool!

Do you not recognize sarcasm when you see it? I do believe this "accident" and "will of God" argument is pure sarcasm. If I'm wrong, then God help us all. :)

God will be calling you home soon. Then you'll take the express elevator to see Satan. Enjoy!

Whoever wrote this disgusting article starting with: "This is purely an accident," dated May 9, 2013, cannot possibly be an American and obviously does not have the guts to tell his name, preferring, like most cowards, to hide behind the word anonymous.

Go back and read your "good book" because you definitely DO NOT know what your god is trying to teach you.

I grew up in Tuckahoe N.Y. a place where I didn't know prejudice existed as a child and teen. As an adult living in the north I became aware of it, could never understand it. Then i moved to Georgia, thinking all of this country was the same. Let me tell you it isn't. Being white, I hear Southern whites comments and hatred first hand. The word Hypochristians comes to mind. Hypocites that call them selves Christians. These southerners are the real scum of the earth. Self-Righteous Hypochristians, proably the same people whose ancestors beat and raped thier slaves and then went to church. Those are the kind of Christians you can find here in Georgia. It's a sin!

I feel so sorry for you. Did you see the movie The Help. You deserve to eat some of that "chocolate pie". God help YOU!

You're an ignorant idiot apparently raised in the south by other ignorant idiots. When every bigot like you is gone from the face of the earth, mankind will be much better off. God has nothing to do with racism; weak, fearful, ignorant, immature people like you do that. Grow up, get some brains. America will be blessed when everyone like you is gone. By the way, I white.

I suspect that your day job is writing for, and these other commenters can't recognize severe snark when they see it. I love severe snark, personally. As much as I try to avoid people who think the way your comment reads.

This post MUST be intended to be satirical.
I refuse to believe there are people who actually, truly believe this ignorant tripe.

You must be white

I agree do not use Gods name in this. It does not matter what your skin color is, every human being has the right to live a good life and should not have to deal with raw sewage no matter what your skin color is. The environment of this earth is up to all of us the preserve. No one should have to live with crap in their backyards. I am from the South and I am white, but just because I was born white doesn't mean I have the right to treat anyone else any different from the way I would want to be treated. You posted: "People have no control over just happens." You are so wrong…. you do have control; God gave you free will free choice... You are in control how you treat others... You choose to discriminate; it is obvious in your post. No matter what side of the track you live on …people are equal. Clean it up. Let’s say you are reincarnated and God make your skin a different color, would you want to live in crap and urine and have your children playing near it… Your blinded by your skin color…

are you serious?? You probably think man DIDNt walk on the moon either huh? You're one of those people God forgot to give soul to r a brain for that matter. Its Gods will.

I get so tired of "christians". On one hand you spout Bible versus (but never the ones that say things like God created man in his image, do unto others..., etc...), you talk about how wonderful you are yet you are the most judgemental folks on the face of the Earth. PLEASE show me the part of your Bible that says that God loves white people more than black people????!!!!

I live in Georgia and even though I really have no idea where this little town is I am ashamed to even be in the same state as them. Let me tell you people, there are good people and there are bad people. Your skin color doesn't determine this, your heart does. I am a teacher at an inner-city school and I tell me students every day. It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside, it is what you look like on the inside that counts and sir/ma'am, you are not attractive at all. It is purely by chance that you were born with your color skin. Your insides are your doing.

Don't use the word of God and God's name in vain to justify your ideologies.

Uh, guys, before the responses get too antagonistic, I have to say that the rant you are objecting to is clearly intended ironically. Take a second look. It distresses me that discourse has degraded to the point where such statements would be taken at face value.

Thank you! I was thinking the same thing!

It seems we have found the owner of the name of God. I don't doubt that this individual is an accomplished Creation Scientist who voted for Cheney & Bush more than once.
as for the original subject: A man is known by the tools he uses. Proponents of segregation use sewage, proponents of the policies of Cheney & Bush use Creation Science.

What century do you live in, that what you are saying is okay to say?

The twenty first century (21)

What God are you talking about? The God I severe doesn't discriminate. I'm glad about that. My God says He is not respector of persons, which means He doesn't see color, He sees the heart. Heaven is real and so is hell where do you think you'll end up?

Wow! Well, aren't you the little hater!

//White residents of Rochelle live on the south side of the city’s railroad track. African-Americans live on the other side. The city has repaired and updated its sewage pipes on the south (white) side of the tracks but not on the African-American side. As a result, untreated sewage backs up and overflows into the streets and the yards of residents on the north side of the tracks.//

Are not ALL the home owners of Rochelle,GA. tax payers? What are the NEAR FUTURE plans for completing the sewage infrastructure for the whole tax base population?
Those properties experiencing the sewage over flow on their land and in their homes should not be paying for current and past subpar community services.
The local people experiencing this health issue have been practicing BIG patience.
No matter where sewage originates it needs to be disposed of PROPERLY.
Practice the idea that "We all can't live up stream."

Well, I hope someone fixes this soon. No one (human being) should ever live like these poor people are. However, I do have one complaint. If people would stop labeling themselves and others maybe discrimination might get better. Why do people feel the need to call themselves--Africian-Americans, Chinese-Americans and so on? They label and set themselves apart from the rest of us. We should all be Americans, not having anything to do with color or where our ancestors came from. It would be a big step in the right direction.

"Sewage discrimination"? Are you kidding me??? So it will be ok if the city also dumps waste matter into white yards. Then there will be no discrimination. What a joke. My guess is that it is a coincidence that the sewage system only seeps into black neighborhoods. However, the city or county should take care of that problem. If the problem is a septic tank, then that would be a problem for the property owner.

Yep - not septic tank, but nice try to foist the problem onto the shoulders of the victims instead of the perpetrators!

//White residents of Rochelle live on the south side of the city’s railroad track. African-Americans live on the other side. The city has repaired and updated its sewage pipes on the south (white) side of the tracks but not on the African-American side. As a result, untreated sewage backs up and overflows into the streets and the yards of residents on the north side of the tracks.//

Lois you do realize you are trying to reason with ignorant trash?The other possibility is they are just trolls looking to stir the pot.I would rather it be the latter.I will believe the report from the Earth Justice people rather than so called residents of this town.After all this town just had its first interracial prom.Its 2013 and for that to be true just shows the racism of this town.

They are not on septic tanks. It is not a coincidence that pipes leak on the black side of town. The city sewage system is in disrepair on the north side of town where most blacks live. The system is kept in repair on the south side of town where most whites live. It is, however, a coincidence that the town is divided into north and south communities. Terry Winckler

It is probably *not* a "coincidence" that the town is mostly segregated into north and south communities. It happened during a time of historical segregation reinforced by institutions, and has moved forward from there.

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