As protests over police brutality roil cities, this is an extraordinary moment of pain, especially for black Americans who are bearing the brunt of three crises — police violence, crushing unemployment and the deadliest infectious disease threat in a century. Public health experts, activists and lawmakers say the triple threat requires a coordinated response.
“These are interrelated crises — the crisis of racism and inequality that is now converging with the crisis of Covid-19,” said Dr. Leana S. Wen, the former health commissioner of Baltimore who testified before Congress about racial disparities in the pandemic.
The precise toll that the coronavirus has taken on people of color remains unknown; not every state collects data, writes Sheryl Gay Stolberg. An analysis of data from 40 states and the District of Columbia, released last month by the nonpartisan APM Research Lab, found black Americans are more than twice as likely as whites, Latinos or Asian-Americans to die from the coronavirus. In some states, the disparity is much greater.
In addition, devastating job losses are “hitting black workers and their families especially hard,” according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. The unemployment rate for black Americans is 16.8 percent, compared with 12.4 percent for white Americans, according to federal data released Friday. And while the economy is showing hints of recovery, African-Americans are being left out; the black unemployment rate rose slightly in May despite a decline for white workers.
The mass incarceration of black people has only worsened the pandemic’s heavy toll on minorities. Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at five times the rate of whites, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington advocacy group.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are trying to respond. Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, introduced legislation last week calling for the creation of a “truth, racial healing and transformation commission” to examine the legacy of slavery and systemic racism. Black Americans, she said, are suffering “a pandemic within a pandemic.”