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"Water warriors" say trial is about law vs. justice

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Two of Detroit’s self-proclaimed “water warriors” are speaking up about their court case.

The activists are on trial for alleged disorderly conduct during a July 2014 protest, when nine people attempted to blockade trucks belonging to Homrich, the company that does water shutoffs in Detroit.

Those mass water shutoffs are central to their defense, according to attorney Julie Hurwitz.

Hurwitz says the protesters were protecting vulnerable households, and can therefore mount a "necessity defense."

“These defendants were completely justified in taking the steps they did to try and prevent this imminent harm from continuing,” said Hurwitz.

Detroit has shut off water service to tens of thousands of households since last year for being delinquent on their bills. The city maintains that’s necessary to keep the whole system running.

But Hurwitz says the city has been unreasonable throughout this case. “They have attempted to separate this group of defendants, to prevent a single unified trial from proceeding,” she said. “They are taking every single opportunity they can to obstruct and to prevent the evidence from coming in, from allowing this jury to hear the truth.”

Maureen Taylor heads the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, and has been a staunch opponent of the water shutoffs, which she says is mass punishment for the poor.

Taylor says the protesters were breaking the law to make a larger point about justice, and says the city needs to find a way to make water affordable for all Detroiters.

“The prosecutor will try to make it seem like this is about free water,” Taylor said. “Nobody ever said the f-word, at least not that f-word.”

The trial is expected to resume next week.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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