Pandemic, Police Brutality, Protests and America’s Reckoning with a Foundation of Discrimination

 

The Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic has been like the flash of an X-ray, exposing the deep fractures in U.S. society – not least by race. New data from the CDC shows that the death rates among Black and Hispanic/Latino people are much higher than for white people, in all age categories.

When the outbreak hit, the administration dithered. Our once storied public health agencies fumbled the rollout of COVID-19 testing — causing bottlenecks and weeks of delay, as powerful resources sat idle. “We didn’t unleash our biomedical establishment to create tests,” Donald Milton, who runs the Public Health Aerobiology, Virology, and Exhaled Biomarker Laboratory at the University of Maryland told Rolling Stone. He points to the alternate path of South Korea, which controlled its outbreak through mass testing, and has suffered fewer than 300 deaths. “We have that capability,” Milton says, “We could have done that.”

Death rates among Black people between 55-64 years are higher than for white people aged 65-74, and death rates are higher for Blacks aged 65-74 than for whites aged 75-84, and so on. In every age category, Black people are dying from COVID at roughly the same rate as white people more than a decade older.

Black and Hispanic/Latino people may also more vulnerable to COVID-19 if they become infected, because of less access to health care or greater prevalence of co-morbidities such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and lung disease – which in turn reflect broader racial inequalities.

The Murder of George Floyd Sparked Protests

Against Police Brutality Around the World

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Floyd was arrested on May 25, 2020  outside a convenience store in Minneapolis and accused of using counterfeit money to purchase cigarettes, according to police.

During the arrest, George Floyd was physically held down by the 4 officers. Chauvin, a 44-year-old white police officer, pressed  his knee into the back of Floyd's neck while Floyd repeatedly called out, "I can't breathe," before he lost consciousness. Chauvin forcibly pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as the world watched Floyd take his last breath. Floyd was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Officers Lane, 37, allegedly held Floyd's legs down while Kueng, 26, allegedly held Floyd's back as Chauvin allegedly dug his knee into Floyd's neck. Thao, 34, allegedly watched the entire incident with his hands in his pockets, according to the complaint.  Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd. Lane, Kueng and Thao are all charged with second-degree aiding and abetting felony murder and second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter.

The name of George Floyd looks set to enter the history books along with Rosa Parks and Emmett Till, as the face of a moment that fueled a movement. Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis was one that may have been added to the long tally of Black Americans who have died at the hands of police officers including; Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Botham Jean Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Stephon Clark and Trayvon Martin in 2012, just to name a few.

When Martin’s killer was acquitted, outraged activists formed the Black Lives Matter movement, which has worked for change and has insisted that African Americans killed by police (or by those who take police powers on themselves) are not forgotten. Floyd’s  death in police custody is powering a movement against police brutality and racial injustice and has forced the country to “confront the reality that, despite gains made in the past 50 years, we are still a nation driven by inequality and racial division.

 

America Must Face its Racist Foundation

 

Floyd’s murder ignited a wave of national and global protests, a wave that is leading to changes in symbols of racism – from flags to statues, in hopes of real police reform, and of overdue reparations to Black Americans. Amid escalating clashes between protesters and police, discussing race—from the inequity embedded in American institutions to the United States’ long, painful history of anti-black violence—is an essential step in sparking meaningful societal change. America has never admitted to or apologized for its oppressive discriminatory practices of enslavement and laws specifically written against African Americans since its inception.

Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million people were kidnapped from Africa and sent to the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade. Upon reaching the New World, some 3.9 million of the 10.7 million who survived the harrowing two-month journey were enslaved in the United States. It’s been many opposing views if slavery was the engine that propelled Europe's rise to global economic dominance. But it is noted the settlement of the New World depended on the enslavement of millions of black slaves, who helped amass the capital that financed the industrial revolution. Europe's economic progress came at the expense of black slaves whose labor built the foundations of modern capitalism.

The American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, fought between northern states loyal to the Union and southern states that had seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. The civil war began primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of Black people. War broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina just over a month after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North, which also included some geographically western and southern states, proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which freed slaves in the United States. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas  to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops' arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth commemorates the end of Slavery.