This is my nightmare: Covid-19 meets racism meets the killing of yet another Black person by a police officer.

Some weeks back, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, I had a discussion about worst-case scenarios with a colleague in emergency management. Top of mind for him as we head into hurricane season was the fear of a natural disaster in the midst of this pandemic.

My biggest fear as a Black woman and public health leader was the all-too-likely murder of an unarmed Black person at the hands of police leading to mass protests amid the virulence of two infectious diseases: racism and Covid-19. And here we are, a few weeks later, in the nightmarish scenario I can’t unsee: Black America and allies, rightfully angry and fed up with 400-plus years of racist violence and white supremacy, taking to the streets to protest in cities around the country and the world.

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As we watched the gruesome suffocation and murder of George Floyd, we did so in self-isolation — left to scream and cry in horror alone during a pandemic that’s disproportionately snatching the lives and economic footing of Black people. It came on the painful heels of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Michael Brown Jr., Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Emmett Till — to name just a few — along with the millions of Black bodies lost to slavery, Jim Crow, preventable health inequities, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Covid-19 continues to unearth the racist and unjust cracks in our society. Black people make up the majority of low-wage workers who remain on the frontlines in positions that don’t permit them the privilege to work from home, leverage paid sick leave, or access personal protective equipment.

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Thanks to a history of redlining and race-based residential segregation, many of these low-wage workers are living in close, cramped housing that makes social distancing all but impossible. On top of this, a dearth of federal- and state-level racial and ethnic data on Covid-19 cases and deaths continues to devalue the humanity of Black people and leave us in the dark about the true impacts of this pandemic on our communities — all while resources have been inequitably allocated to favor communities with food security, insurance coverage, internet access, and reliable transportation. Let me be clear: It’s racism — and not race — that’s the culprit here.

Some of the symptoms of Covid-19 are temporary loss of senses, hallucinations, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. The symptoms of racism are strikingly similar.

Temporary loss of senses: see Amy Cooper, who distorted the voice of a calm, measured Black man and bird watcher in New York’s Central Park into one that was threatening her life. And cc Carolyn Bryant Donham, who did the same to Emmett Till.

Hallucinations: see Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown Jr., in Ferguson, Mo., who described the unarmed 18-year old as a “demon, and Hulk Hogan-like figure” as justification for shooting him.

Difficulty breathing? See centuries of transcripts citing police officers stating “shortness of breath” or “trouble breathing” moments after the murder of a Black person.

Black America is very clear on the pathology, symptoms, diagnosis, manifestations, evolution, and antidote for the malignant disease of racism, yet it remains largely unrecognized, undiagnosed, untreated, and unbothered in white America. While a vaccine for Covid-19 is in development, no sweeping cure currently exists for racism.

Protesting racism is necessary. Doing it during a pandemic, however, is my deepest public health nightmare. It’s nearly impossible to stay 6 feet apart in a crowd and there’s an increased chance of person-to-person Covid-19 transmission in a crowd that is already at heightened risk.

There will never be a convenient time to dismantle racism. Protests of the civil rights movement came with the risk of beatings, water hoses, and deadly force — not unlike what we’re seeing today. But the stakes are even higher in the center of a deadly and insidious pandemic. Protester or not, all of us can take action to protect the safety and health of the Black community and stand in solidarity in this pivotal moment.

If you choose to protest publicly, wear masks and gloves, especially if the march or demonstration involves holding hands. Carry hand sanitizer and try your best to keep 6 feet of empty space between you and others, even while marching. When you get home, immediately wash your clothes and take a shower.

State and local leaders should prioritize safety and equity for Black communities in their Covid-19 response. They should reconsider the use of pepper spray, since the coughing it provokes increases the risk transmitting Covid-19. Law enforcement officers should be trained in equity and de-escalation tactics.

Non-Black allies can stand with us in solidarity and unity. The white community, in particular, should leverage its position of privilege to make systemic, anti-racist changes, starting with themselves, their families, and their networks.

I’m tired and I know you are too. Racism is exhausting: It was created to exhaust our bodies, our resources, and our talents. But we can’t let it. In a system that was never created for us to survive, self-preservation is a form of resistance.

Covid-19 shouldn’t be ravaging the Black community. George Floyd didn’t have to die. His murderers should be in jail. Black people shouldn’t have to justify their humanity every second of every day. Yet all of that is why we are where we are as a country today — full of unrest, anger, resentment, and hurt.

The layers of pain and anguish are unspeakable and the Black community is the only one told to swallow the pain and move on. This time, we refuse to.

Lauren Powell leads the work of Time’s Up in the health care industry. She previously led the Office of Health Equity for the state of Virginia’s Department of Health.

  • Lauren, thank you for giving your voice, your leadership and your teachings in what I’m sure is a very tough time. A former NC panther really appreciates it. 🙂

  • An incendiary article like this does not belong in STAT news – Period. To pour oil on a political hot topic like racism is very, very counter-productive. I deplore racism, but all races (including Black) must look in their own back yard first – fix what’s wrong there – and I see a lot wrong. Disgusting rap-girations and unspeakable words degrading women; horrifically demonizing gang activities; blacks dragging blacks/ “brothers” down (and block each other’s advancements); in Africa black men still jump any girl (outside help is what keeps girls safe); and on and on. WHY ???? A “that’s my culture” won’t cut it here. Until that is addressed, finding equality will be next to impossible. I have several black friends who are as disgusted as me, and some are actively bringing about improvement, showing that it can be done.
    But the horrible scenarios ripping US cities apart and senselessly victimizing thousands of innocents (of ANY color) are very, very dangerous. If further stoked by the vile vitriole of a totally incompetent bizarre president, this may very well lead to civil war. VOTE BETTER !!!

    • If ONE incident (an abusive power-obsessed cop, who is already rightfully charged with murder) can get a whole nation roiled up to such over-kill, vandalism, hatred, and retaliation, then the US civilization is very feeble. Media and journalists must wisen up, and give air time to those who can calm this down. Sensationalism is wrong, and so is anything Trump does or says – he only fans the flames. Although there is a legit concern that these mobs will stoke Covid spread, the very colored nature of this article does not belong in STAT news.

    • Huge numbers of black kids have been told they are being victimized for years by the media- the media does not really offer and evidence of this victimization – but they keep on telling them that – and for several years now, it’s been “the cops are murdering you” – a lot more serious than everyday racism, something you should extremely angry about – the statistics do not bear this out- white people get killed in comparable, maybe ever larger numbers, but no one tells white people, every day, they are victims.

      This starts in kindergarten – the kids are told to be against racism – that SOUNDS reasonable and inocuous, but of course if something was not a big problem, then no one would be making a big deal over it, right? Or so children think anyway – and so, they are told from early childhood racism is endemic and must be opposed- so of course it is natural for them to see the confirmation of it in some bad incident where a black guy got killed wrongly – the media of course does not show the cases of white people getting killed wrongly – well, it does, but not over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over , and over – just a few times.
      Naturally the black kid believes he is a victim – and, since someone is killing him, of course he has a right to fight back with violence.

      In other words, this is a mass delusion created by, primarily, teachers, the school system in this country, which can not seem to teach anything else but is great at instilling race resentment, and the media, which of course profits from stirring things up.

      Allowed to do this for decades, with no one challenging them, they are of course terrified and very offended by Trump, who will pretty much always call out BS when he sees it – I do not think he is a hero, nor particularly courageous, but growing up very well off, he has not learned to hold his tongue – and they can not have this challenged, nothing is more horrible than that.

  • None of this is about coronavirus any longer – of course, the author of the OpEd started not discussing coronavirus and the discussion went from there – but still, enough about politics.
    Having said that, I will violate my own rule a bit – IF mass gatherings truly are dangerous, then the authorities should shut them down – “mostly peaceful” – which seems to be true- out where I live, the looting is often totally separated from any protest at all – at least geographically, I think some of the crooks realize the cops are busy elsewhere and use the distraction – but still, IF the mass gathering is spreading disease, then they should be stopped – all the cops are prosecuted now – there is no need for more protests.
    I am not sure there will be a big spike in cases – the youth at these events are likely to be asymptomatic (in theory bad) but also, from one study I saw, likely to shed a lot less virus (good) and not likely to get very sick.
    But time will tell, I guess.
    It would be great if some researchers could attend these things and get some cooperation from attendees to track their status on the spot and later status, of course, that would require a lot of cooperation and many of them are paranoid about giving out their info, but it sounds like a great experiment.

  • My name is Yoshikage Kira. I’m 33 years old. My house is in the northeast section of Morioh, where all the villas are, and I am not married. I work as an employee for the Kame Yu department stores, and I get home every day by 8 PM at the latest. I don’t smoke, but I occasionally drink.

    I’m in bed by 11 PM, and make sure I get eight hours of sleep, no matter what. After having a glass of warm milk and doing about twenty minutes of stretches before going to bed, I usually have no problems sleeping until morning. Just like a baby, I wake up without any fatigue or stress in the morning. I was told there were no issues at my last check-up.

    I’m trying to explain that I’m a person who wishes to live a very quiet life. I take care not to trouble myself with any enemies, like winning and losing, that would cause me to lose sleep at night. That is how I deal with society, and I know that is what brings me happiness. Although, if I were to fight I wouldn’t lose to anyone.

  • You mentioned:
    “Hallucinations: see Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown Jr., in Ferguson, Mo., who described the unarmed 18-year old as a “demon, and Hulk Hogan-like figure” as justification for shooting him.”

    Michael O.D. Brown Jr. (May 20, 1996[16] – August 9, 2014) graduated from Normandy High School in St. Louis County eight days before his death, completing an alternative education program.[17] At the time of his death, he was 18 years old, 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) tall, and weighed 292 lb (132 kg).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Michael_Brown#:~:text=Michael%20O.D.%20Brown%20Jr.,292%20lb%20(132%20kg).

    – Could you please explain how this is improper given Mr. Brown is 6’4″ @ 292 lbs and Mr. Wilson is 6’4″ @ 210lbs?
    – Could you please explain the blood spatter approximately 25 feet behind Brown’s body suggested he was moving toward Wilson when he was killed?
    – Could you please explain Brown’s DNA was found on the gun. His DNA was also found on the left thigh of Wilson’s pants and on the inside driver’s door handle of Wilson’s police SUV?
    – Could you please explain the 3 autopsies were performed on Brown’s body, with all three noting Brown had been shot at least six times, including twice in the head. He received no shots in his back despite what eyewitnesses testified to?

    The county autopsy report described gunshot entry and exit wounds to Brown’s right arm coming from both the front (ventral, palms facing forward) and the back (dorsal, palms facing backward)

    To not objectively look at the evidence is to confuse police brutality, promote crime, and pervert justice.

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