DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan man who talked trash with Steve Harvey over the Cleveland Cavaliers’ losing in the NBA finals says the comedian went too far when he made fun of Flint’s lead-tainted drinking water during an exchange on his radio show.
The city’s mayor and a civil rights group feel the same way and are demanding an apology from the host of the syndicated The Steve Harvey Morning Show.
Dee Smith, 68, said he called the show Wednesday to discuss Monday night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals. Harvey is a Cleveland native and Cavaliers fan.
“I said the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t deserve to win and LeBron James was overrated,” Smith told The Associated Press on Friday.
“He started saying: ‘Where you from? Flint?” Smith said. “He said, ‘Enjoy your brown cup of water,’ and then he cut me off.”
“Everybody has issues with the water … relatives, family friends, people dear to me,” Smith added.
Lead leached into homes in 2014 after Flint began tapping the Flint River and didn’t properly treat the water to prevent corrosion of pipes. Elevated lead levels were found in some children. Residents were forced to drink and bathe with bottled or filtered water.
Michigan’s attorney general this week charged five officials with involuntary manslaughter, including the state health director, saying they failed to notify the public about a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that killed 12 people and is believed to be linked to the tainted water.
“The Flint water is hardly a joke target for Harvey’s macabre humor,” said Sam Riddle, political director of the National Action Network’s Michigan chapter, which is threatening a sponsor boycott unless there is an apology.
Harvey told a Flint-area television station in a statement that he and the caller were “talking trash about our teams and cities.”
“I made a joke directed at him, as he is from Flint, a city for which I have great affection and respect,” Harvey told WSMH-TV. “So much so that I devoted a full hour on my daytime talk show to raising awareness for the Flint water crisis.”
That segment aired in March.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver appeared on that show, but said she is saddened by Harvey’s comments.
“While I feel it was not meant to be an intentional hurt or insult against the citizens of this community, it was,” Weaver said in a letter to the comedian. “We are still going through many hardships and challenges caused by the poisoning of our city. To make a joke out of a tragedy such as this was in very poor taste, especially coming from someone of your stature.”
The AP left a message Friday with WME Entertainment seeking comment from Harvey.
Harvey’s image has taken hits recently. An email from Harvey telling staff of his TV talk show not to approach him in the makeup chair or “ambush” him in a hallway was made public last month.
In 2015, Harvey accidently named the wrong woman as the winner during a live broadcast of the Miss Universe pageant while hosting that show.