Last week, much of America sat horrified as we witnessed a police officer stick his knee into the back of a Black man’s (George Floyd) neck until he took his last breath. 

That officer, incidentally, killed another man in 2012…and was allowed to stay on the Minneapolis Police Force, and kill again. 

As Mr. Floyd gasped out, “I can’t breathe” before calling out for his deceased mother, this reminded many of the murder of Eric Garner (Black) by an NYPD officer who put Mr. Garner in an illegal choke hold, and no charges were filed on any officer — but there were charges levied against the man who recorded the murder.

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In both cases referenced above, Black people were choked to death by a racist, abusive, and exploitive institution that had more financial and political power than both their victims.

Similarly, Camden residents, particularly those living in Waterfront South and Fairview, have been choked by lead, arsenic, and mercury emissions (among others) for decades by a more powerful corporation, Covanta, that is suddenly the darling of Camden County Freeholders in hopes of gaining permission to build a microgrid project in the Waterfront South neighborhood.

On the surface, the rationale of a microgrid makes sense. 

Having a mini-power plant with the ability to operate independently of a larger plant in the event a power line malfunction or a weather-related mishap would certainly prove useful. 

The issue here, is not the efficacy of a microgrid but whether Covanta, one of the largest polluters on the East-coast and largest polluter in Camden, should be given more opportunity to profit off a low-income community it has been poisoning for nearly thirty years.

Environmental racism is as real as racism exhibited in the criminal justice system, in employment, in education, in policing, and in residential segregation. 

To be sure, all forms of racism lead to a compromised life for those suffering under such oppression. And in Waterfront South and Fairview, residents and their children have been made to suffer not of their own doing, but so more affluent and whiter communities can breathe cleaner air, a little easier.

For those unaware, the entire county’s trash, from towns such as Bellmawr, Cherry Hill, and Voorhees are transported to the Covanta-operated incinerator in Camden, where it is burned poisoning city residents and causing irreparable health defects — especially in children.

From an educator’s standpoint, and that of a city resident, I find Covanta’s treatment of Camden’s children, our students, particularly despicable.

As the abundance of polluted air causes asthma, and exposure to lead stifles cognitive and behavioral development in our youngest learners, Covanta reasons compromising our precious children’s potential, and making the job of all our dedicated educators more difficult, completely acceptable and worth their corporate profit. 

That Camden County Freeholders, and now Camden City Council, are considering doing more business with Covanta fully aware of how the company is poisoning people, including children is a reminder of Camden residents’ 2nd-class status precisely because we make less money and our skin tends to be darker. 

In Alaska, where oil companies drill for “black gold” that pollutes Alaskans and adds to global greenhouse gases, through the Alaska Permanent Fund most Alaskans receive nearly $2000 a year from oil revenue for their troubles.

But what have the residents of Camden’s Waterfront South and Fairview neighborhoods received from Covanta for their causing harmful pollution and odor?

Not so much as an apology. 

Covanta, because of their blatantly racist treatment of Camden’s residents and children, coupled with their disregard for the environment, should never be considered to expand operations in Camden.

Quite simply, they do not deserve it.    

Keith E. Benson is the President of the Camden Education Association