COVID-19 & Race: Commentary

In this week’s COVID-19 and Race Commentary, the fight for transformative justice, Black liberation, and a nation that is healthy and equitable for all.

Issue No 8. June 1, 2020

We Hurt. We Mourn. We Fight For Transformative Justice.

By Michael McAfee 

We hurt because this nation chooses to not value Black lives. We mourn because George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, and too many others are victims of state-sanctioned murder. Too many of our revered leaders and their institutions have routinized the ceremony of mourning Black death in America. Their platitudes fall flat. There will be no peace or justice until our nation atones for founding a country on stolen land and human bondage — a nation that still steals from and binds millions of people in America to a government and economy that oppresses them.

Since policing will always threaten our most fundamental right—the right to live—it must be abolished.

To silence justifiable outrage, too many people selectively quote Dr. King’s messages of non-violence without comprehending the meaning behind quotes like “riots are the language of the unheard.” It’s time that we listen to those who are most burdened by structural racism and have the courage to do what must be done—abolish white supremacy, dismantle its institutions and systems, and build new, liberating institutions and systems. It is time to remove the knee of this nation’s oppressive laws, regulations, institutional practices, and cultural representations off of the necks of Black people. There can be no compromise. Even as we hurt and mourn, we fight for transformative justice from a nation that must come to grips with the fact that its fate is inextricably bound with Black America. It is time for a national effort to remake this nation into one that is equitable for all.

If there is a silver lining to this moment, it is a growing acknowledgment that traditional police reform—like training and body cameras—does not increase community safety and directs too many resources to bloated law enforcement budgets. Across the country, more people are demanding that these valuable public funds be invested in community infrastructure, services, and programs that address the root causes of poverty and historical trauma. The nation is waking up to the fact that—by design—policing is and will always be violent and unaccountable to oppressed people, including Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and Muslims and other religious groups. 

The project of abolition involves more than eliminating the system—it means using our radical imagination to dream and create the world that we want to live in. But there are things we can do now. We must immediately defund from and reduce the harm of policing while we build the alternatives that can replace it, such as those that could be developed through the CRISES Act in California. This is a challenging mandate, but it is necessary and possible. Over the past four years, PolicyLink has partnered with a large and growing number of organizations, including those led by directly impacted communities, to design and build a new system that will keep all communities safe and healthy without criminalization, surveillance, or punishment. 

Abolishing the structure of policing is but one liberating act. There are others. To win on equity, we must center the very people our systems and institutions have treated as expendable – Black people. Acting with a consciousness in which we see the interactive effects of discrimination, subjugation, and disempowerment on the lives of Black people and how they are baked into our policies, practices, and institutions. We must also stand in solidarity with those seeking Black liberation and act on the demands of coalitions of directly-impacted people, like the Movement for Black Lives.

Be disgusted at what you see from the police. Be even more disgusted by the repeated, purposeful refusal of our country to respond to what Brother Howard Thurman describes as the demands of the disenfranchised, disinherited, and dispossessed. We have reason to be hopeful if we heed Dr. King’s exhortation to break free from the “intoxicating drugs of white supremacy mixed with gradualism” and usher in an era of Black Liberation.

News, Analysis, and Commentary, Curated from Around the Web

“Racism is an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says in a statement responding to the killing of George Floyd and a pandemic that has accelerated racial inequities in every realm of life. 

“The convergence of these tragic events — a pandemic disproportionately killing Black people, the failure of the state to protect Black people and the preying on Black people by the police — has confirmed what most of us already know: If we and those who stand with us do not mobilize in our own defense, then no official entity ever will,” Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in a New York Times op-ed.  

COVID-19 deaths crossed the tragic mark of 100,000 last week, and most experts believe that’s a significant undercount. Black Americans represent 13 percent of the US population but 25 percent of the reported deaths, according to APM Research analysis based on data from 40 states. If they had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as White Americans, about 13,000 Black Americans, 1,300 Latinx Americans, and 300 Asian Americans would still be alive. Consistent with this data, an ABC poll finds that Black and Latinx adults are nearly three times as likely as Whites to know someone who died of COVID-19. 

The nation’s nearly 40,000 grocery stores have been classified as essential businesses that must remain open even when most businesses are shut down, but the three million workers — mostly low-wage and disproportionately people of color — are often kept in the dark about the health risks, the Washington Post reports. And so are customers. Grocery stores generally are not required to publicly disclose when employees get infected with the coronavirus or to report cases to health departments. At least 100 grocery workers nationwide have died of COVID-19 complications since late March, and at least 5,500 others have been infected, according to the newspaper’s review of data from the various sources, including United Food and Commercial Workers International, the largest grocery workers union.

Farmworkers across the country are falling ill, just as the US heads into the peak of the summer produce season, Bloomberg reports. A farm in Tennessee had all 200 workers tested after one came down with COVID-19, and every person tested positive. The growing emergency is drawing comparisons to the outbreaks in meat plants, as another threat to the nation’s food supply — and as a reminder that the nation cannot recover from the pandemic unless all are protected and cared for.

Workplace risks aren’t confined to the job site — they go home with workers, endangering families and whole communities. In Los Angeles, where affluent White enclaves initially reported higher infection rates, the coronavirus is increasingly striking predominantly low-income Latinx and Black neighborhoods, in part because that is where essential workers live, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis. The surge in infection rates and the growing gap by race and income are too pronounced  to be attributed solely to increased testing.

An “avalanche of evictions” could be coming down on the nation’s renters, the New York Times reports. Temporary moratoriums, enacted early in the pandemic, have already ended in Texas and Oklahoma City, and evictions will soon be allowed in about half of the states. “I think we will enter into a severe renter crisis and very quickly,”  Emily Benfer, an associate professor at Columbia Law School, told the paper. Texas has also allowed debt collectors to resume garnishing accounts.

Nikole Hannah Jones writes that the economic downturn is especially devastating for working-class Black families, who were financially strained before the pandemic. She profiles the struggles of a New Jersey family in the Times magazine. Congress may pass a second relief package providing direct payment to Ameircans, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vows it would be the last.

PolicyLink draws from articles, videos, interviews, and other sources across platforms, as well as from our network of equity leaders and activists, to bring you the latest information about COVID-19 and race. We offer this resource to:

  • Provide easy access to information on the dual health and economic crises facing people of color;
  • Put and keep racial equity at the center of our collective understanding of the pandemic and the policies needed for relief and recovery; and
  • Lift up useful data and insights that can fuel equity advocacy and campaigns. 

Please share with your networks and send your ideas and feedback. And follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. #COVIDandRace

We hope you find the COVID-19 and Race Series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a non-profit organization, PolicyLink is honored to provide resources to support the needs of our nation's 100 million economically insecure individuals. Generous partners like you make our work possible. 

Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell are grateful for the contributions of Fran Smith, Milly Hawk Daniel, Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Jennifer Pinto, Heather Tamir, Ana Louie, Janet Dickerson, and Mark Jones to produce the COVID-19 & Race commentary.