DETROIT (AP) - About 2,000 nurses, community activists and others called on Detroit officials Friday to stop shutting off water to thousands of customers who are behind on their bills.
Protesters trying to prevent crews from conducting the shutoffs also picketed earlier in the day outside the offices of a private contractor working for the city.
The water issue gained national attention last month after activists appealed to the United Nations for assistance, and is a pending issue as the city prepares for an August trial on the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Rachel Fentin, left, 23, of Detroit, holds a sign denouncing water shutoffs as members of The People’s Water Board Coalition protest Detroit’s cutting off the water supply to some residents, in Detroit on Friday.
"Depriving Detroit residents of water they need cannot be condoned in a civilized society," said Jean Ross of National Nurses United, the group leading the demonstration through several blocks of downtown that included the chant, "Whose water? Our water!"
The protest drew both U.S. Rep. John Conyers, who is seeking a 26th term in Congress, his challenger, the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, and actor Mark Ruffalo.
Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department serves about 4 million people in the city and nearby communities. Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager for Detroit, has said about $6 billion of the city's $18 billion debt load belongs to the water department, whose debt is generally expected to be paid off through customer billings.
Detroit has roughly 170,000 residential water customers, with more than 50 percent of those accounts delinquent by at least 60 days or $150.