Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People.Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: racism, neoliberalism, austerity, policing
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton and a contributing opinion writer. She is the author of, most recently, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. @KeeangaYamahtta
It is easy to understand the response of multiracial protesters in Minneapolis. (If you look closely, hundreds of white people are participating; the intersecting injustices are also apparent to them.) This spring season has bloomed at least 23,000 Covid-19-related deaths in black America. The coronavirus has scythed its way through black communities, highlighting and accelerating the ingrained social inequities that have made African-Americans most vulnerable to the disease.
This unbelievable loss of life has taken place while restrictions were at their tightest and social distancing at its most extreme. What will happen when the country fully reopens, even as the number coronavirus cases continues to grow? As mostly white public officials try to get things back to normal as fast as possible, the discussions about the pandemic’s devastating consequences to black people melt into the background, consequences which become accepted as a “new normal” we will have to live or die with. If there were ever questions about whether poor and working-class African-Americans were disposable, there can be none now. It’s clear that state violence is not solely the preserve of the police.
It’s not just the higher rates of death that fuel this anger, but also publicized cases where African-Americans have been denied health care because nurses or doctors didn’t believe their complaints about their symptoms. Just as maddening is the assumption that African-Americans have particularly bad health and thus bear personal responsibility for dying in disproportionate numbers.
Instead of using this monumental crisis to change the conditions feeding the rapid rate of black deaths, the armed agents of the state continue their petty, insouciant policing. Even seemingly innocuous instructions for social distancing become new excuses for the police to harass African-Americans. In New York, blacks made up a staggering 93 percent of coronavirus-related arrests. There are similar racial disparities in Chicago. At a time when police departments have pledged to arrest fewer people to stem the spread of the virus in local jails and in the name of preserving public health, African-Americans remain in their cross hairs. After all, why were the police arresting George Floyd for forgery, a “crime” of poverty committed by desperate low-wage workers, in the first place?
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