Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves made fun of the ongoing water crisis in Jackson on Friday, just a day after the state lifted a weeks-long boil water advisory, that left more than 150,000 people in the capital city without clean water in their homes.
“I’ve got to tell you it is a great day to be in Hattiesburg. It's also, as always, a great day to not be in Jackson,” Reeves said, as he spoke at a groundbreaking event in the southern Mississippi city on Friday. “I feel like I should take off my emergency management director hat and leave it in the car and take off my public works director hat and leave it in the car.”
The governor’s comments drew swift backlash online, with people blasting Reeves for making light of a public health emergency that has disproportionately impacted people of color. For nearly seven weeks, Jackson residents — about 82.5% of whom are Black — were forced to boil what came out of their faucets because of concerns that the water was contaminated and could cause illness. The crisis intensified in late August, when the city’s main water treatment facility started to fail, forcing workers to adjust treatment processes. As a result, many residents were left with no or low water pressure in their homes for days.
“In the most disgraceful Governor sweepstakes, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is a winner,” Sherrilyn Ifill, a civil rights attorney and former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, tweeted.
A representative for Reeves did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Residents of Jackson have grown accustomed to going weeks without safe, reliable drinking water due to years of deferred maintenance on its aging water infrastructure. While speaking to reporters last month about the lack of water pressure in the city’s pipes, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba acknowledged that “it's not a matter of if our system would fail, but a matter of when our system would fail.”
His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Reeves’s statements on Friday. Reeves has tried to blame city officials for the latest chapter of the yearslong crisis, though the state has historically refused to help pay for repairs that have been impossible for the city to afford as decades of white flight have left it with less tax revenue.
In recent weeks, residents took to social media to post about the dire realities of the water crisis, sharing videos of opaque brown water coming out of their faucets and long lines of people in their cars waiting to pick up clean water. Although the latest boil-water notice was lifted on Thursday, health officials advised that pregnant people and young children should continue to take precautions due to high lead levels previously found in some homes.