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Justice for East Palestine, defend East Phillips

By staff

Statement by the Climate Justice Committee, Minnesota

In East Palestine, Ohio, decades of corporate and government negligence have culminated in a horrifying and entirely avoidable environmental catastrophe, the consequences of which we have only just begun to see.

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train hauling a massive payload of toxic chemicals derailed and exploded just outside the small town of East Palestine. For three days, the chemical-soaked wreckage burned, and then on February 6 the authorities ordered a so-called “controlled release” to avoid an even bigger explosion. As they detonated the remains, a column of noxious smoke jetted up into the sky, saturating the air and blanketing the landscape for dozens of miles in each direction with potent carcinogens and irritants.

Two days after the “controlled release”, the official evacuation order was lifted, and residents returned home with the assurance that it was safe. Despite this assurance, we are already seeing massive die-offs of fish in the Ohio River and nearby streams, as well as of chickens, cattle, pets, and birds as far as 100 miles from the crash site. Reports of children and adults who have become suddenly ill are also widespread.

The derailment is attributed to long-outdated brakes that the rail workers union had been trying to replace, until Biden stepped and sided with railroad companies against the workers – now, Biden’s corporate collusion has resulted in an environmental disaster.

A noteworthy detail that has escaped most mainstream coverage is that Norfolk Southern Railway is headquartered in Atlanta, GA, and is alleged to be a significant financial contributor to the construction of Cop City. For one, this derailment makes clear the reasons why Norfolk Southern is invested in beefing up the nation’s police apparatus; after all, militant mass protests would hardly be an unforeseeable response to such disasters of corporate negligence as theirs. It is also worth asking the question: had Norfolk spent their money on fixing their trains’ brakes instead of building up the police state, would this have even happened?

Meanwhile, here in Minneapolis, the city is speedily advancing the demolition of the Roof Depot building in East Phillips, which would release significant amounts of arsenic into a densely populated, heavily Black and indigenous residential area. Much like in East Palestine, this calamity would be entirely avoidable if not for the rotten collaboration between our so-called progressive city government and their wealthy corporate allies. Unlike in Ohio, though, the calamity caused by this demolition could not be defended under the auspices of having been an “accident”– the city’s failure to listen to community members’ concerns for years on end is no accident, it is a testimony to their unbridled contempt for Black and indigenous people, for immigrants, and for the working class.

Now more than ever, from East Phillips to East Palestine, we must hold firmly to the idea that the people, plants, and animals that inhabit our earth are worth fighting for. Justice for East Palestine! Defend East Phillips!

#MinneapolisMN #EnvironmentalJustice #RailWorkers #EastPalestine