These last few weeks I cringed as I awaited erasure as our society, afflicted with perpetual amnesia, forgets this moment and allows it to reemerge later. Like clockwork, anger manifests over the killing of yet another person of color. A damn pandemic did little to deter state-sanctioned violence from happening yet again. Mass demonstrations in favor of police accountability arose in many cities, and it is true that we have to take all precautions to ensure that all who participate are able to do so in the safest way possible given our current reality as we grapple with a global pandemic. Demonstrators admit that there is a fear of contagion, and despite this fear, untimely death resulting from police violence continues unabated throughout the United States.
Indeed, a long-standing and unaddressed pandemic of structural racist violence is what is killing many people of color — and African Americans especially. These are also communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Institutional violence via police brutality is a cause for public health concern in many of our communities. One can follow proper protocol, maintain spatial distancing, wear a face cover and still be at risk of summary execution based on one’s skin tone.
The situation is so dire that the King County Public Health Board has declared racism a public health crisis. This is by no means an exaggeration. According to a National Vital Statistics Report from 2017, non-Hispanic Black males had the lowest life expectancy at 71.5 versus non-Hispanic white males at 76.1. A 2019 National Center for Health Statistics Report also presented higher mortality rates for non-Hispanic Black adults aged 25 and over from 2000-2017. The common theme is that in both papers, African American adults have not only higher mortality rates, but lower life expectancy as well.
The cumulative effect of structural racism is deadly and police violence is a microcosm of this larger structural disadvantage. Social determinants of health play a defining role, as do access to food, housing, employment, education and health care, which are critical to quality of life. To address this emergency, it must be openly acknowledged as fact.
Healing goes beyond simply practicing self-care as it is often imagined with vacations and beauty treatments. It delves into deeper understanding of accountability for historic injustices and brings with it an intentional mending of these wrongs. This can be seen through a truth and reconciliation process; the removal of structural impediments that limit equal access to education, workplace and health resources; and of course, reparations, which will help meet immediate material needs. We are in a state of emergency as one pandemic takes hold. I hope the other one that has been so deeply imbedded in our society is not forgotten.
Read more in the June 24-30, 2020 issue.