- - Thursday, July 24, 2014

Some people find racism everywhere they look, even in the kitchen faucet. In Detroit, the NAACP has applied the “racist” label to a public water works because it’s shutting off service to customers who won’t pay their water bill. That’s what any properly run business will do if it expects to stay in business, but the deadbeats and their advocates are marching as if to war to make Detroit safe for freeloaders.

The population of Detroit is 83 percent black, so it’s likely, statistically speaking, that the majority of those with overdue bills are black. Many, perhaps most, of the people who run the waterworks are black, too. The NAACP nevertheless says the water is being shut off in a “discriminatory fashion.” Celebrities in search of attention are drifting into town. Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk in “The Avengers,” headlined a rally last week and attracted hundreds in a protest march.

The outcry prompted the waterworks to suspend for 15 days its campaign to get the freeloaders who drink up to pay up. It had been one small part of bankrupt Detroit’s efforts to get its fiscal affairs in order. The city dried up the spigots in about 7,200 buildings with overdue bills in June. That’s more than four times the number from the previous year. The utility says about 60,000 delinquent customers owe $118 million.

Alice Jennings, a Detroit lawyer, filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, claiming the shutoffs by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department are racially motivated. Asked by a reporter for WWJ-TV whether turning off the taps was a “racial issue,” Ms. Jennings said: “It sure is. You bet it is.”

The “activists” invited the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate the shutoffs as a human rights violation. This would put the question in the hands of such human rights exemplars as China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Vietnam, all members of the committee. The U.N. has no power over the faucets, of course, and the “invitation” was only to embarrass the city, as if the U.N. is in a position to embarrass anyone.

The real issue is entitlement. “The majority of our customers are in delinquency status,” says Darryl Latimer, deputy director of the water utility, “They just built a culture of ‘You’re not making me pay. I am not going to pay.’” The utility says it owes it to customers who do pay to collect from those who don’t.

It’s predictable that those who have been showered with free stuff from Washington are puzzled now to think they might have to pay for something. They have subsidized health care and a laundry list of expanded benefits under President Obama. Even cellphone service, once regarded as a luxury, is now provided free in Obamaphones.

The Detroit Free Press says the average residential water bill in Detroit is $65 a month, about what a month’s cable-TV service costs. If the cable companies start cutting off entertainment for Detroit’s delinquents, we can expect them marching to protect the “right” to free TV.

Not everyone in arrears is a deadbeat, but many are, hence the $118 million collective debt. The city has offered to help those in arrears get their accounts current. Water is the most basic of human needs, of course, and nobody can live without it. But freeloading is not a constitutional right.