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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.

Hear Powell talk more about public health on an episode of the “First Opinion Podcast.”

  • Jay said: “Due from out roots And history being torn from us we have no place, alot of our ancestors where from here before christopher columbus destroyed 90 percent of population already established here”

    Let’s disabuse you of the fantasy. I am Tatar. Native Americans are directly related to US, 15 thousand years ago, and then more waves, they came here from NORTHERN Asian parts, but still they are the same people as my people. DNA proves this. They SETTLED here just like the Columbus’ people did. Smallpox wiped them out – it wasn’t on purpose. The Spaniards also settled. Waves of people came and settled until in 1776, it was declared A COUNTRY.

    Blacks were not here before the “Indians” at all – and DNA proves this. It also shows that way earlier Europeans were here also, mixed with the “Indians” in the Eastern USA.

    You can find out exactly where you are from by using DNA. If you don’t feel you belong here – LEAVE and let the rest of us who came here to escape murderous totalitarian regimes live in peace. We happen to like it here and we don’t want the whole country to deteriorate into one more “black ghetto hellhole” which is why everyone LEAVES when too many of your people show up. It’s intolerable – and the pity is that most of you don’t even know why.

    Jason Riley wrote books about this – he is black. He is also smart enough to SEE. The first people in Africa that owned slaves were other Africans. Then the Arab Muslims owned them for a long long time – they sold them and FOOLS bought them.

    That cop was a murderous lunatic that should have been removed from the cops, but he also KNEW George Floyd before any of this happened. I’d execute that cop for causing the chaos and destruction we are seeing now.

  • So painful to read the comments that deny racism and blame African Americans for continued discrimination. As a follower of Jesus, I know that God is for justice and on the side of the oppressed. As a white person, I must educate myself about US history and current events, not looking to defend myself and my culture, but seeking the truth. May God have mercy on our country and bring justice and peace to all.

    • OF COURSE you are a white person, meepy, wimpy, waste of space imo. OH gee, that was racist. Boo hoo.

      The whole “racism” bs is old, tired and a waste of breath. Do you think I give a hoot who is racist against me? No. I do not. So long as nobody bothers me and at jobs I was treated like anyone else, I’m fine with it. I might live here, but I’m not American by any stretch of the imagination. I’m also not of any of the Abrahamic religions and think poorly of your Bible and all that fairytale rubbish.

      If you want to know about American history get a very old book because anything more recent is Marxist absolute rubbish designed to make people just like you feel like garbage. Make it simple: go buy a whip and beat yourself up.

  • If George Floyd were Russian, Italian, any kind of Hispanic, any kind of Asian – anything BUT black, our cities would not have been torn apart and wrecked.

    I’m Tatar, that is Central Asian, many of us in former USSR and China. My people came here with nothing, having escaped from various murderous totalitarian regimes, and we did good with no help, no welfare, no hand outs. I saw the same for the Vietnamese that came here, from a war torn country. I saw the same with many other ethnics.

    Blacks get everything they asked for and it’s never enough. Apparently, what they keep demanding and asking for is NOT what they really want.

    There is no “dialogue” to be had. That is old, tired and useless blathering democrat lies. Listen today to Joe Demento mumbling incoherantly and siding with the Chinese against America – sometimes with a fake southern accent.

    Dialogue is useless. Behavior is real. NOBODY wants to live in a black area, which turns black because everyone else escapes like refugees. It’s not color. It is behavior. It is innate. It’s been that way for decades – and I am not talking about whites, which most of the ethnics I knew and grew up with ignored and didn’t bother to get to know due to having nothing in common, not even music.

    Perhaps blacks get Covid more due to genetics. Italians got it big time too, but Swedes who didn’t even lock down did not get hit so bad.

    Point also, as I said so many of my people escaped totalitarian regimes and came here. NOTHING is keeping blacks here. They can leave.

    • You are blatantly incorrect. This disease did target people of certain raves due to genetics. Sweden got hammered worse than any other country in the world. Their death rate has exceeded 12%, which is 2-3 times higher than every other country in the world that got affected. Italy got hit bad because culturally they don’t distance themselves from others. They are a generally close and intimate culture.

    • Chip Boundary, there is no reply button so I have to post it this way. You are correct about Sweden, but this was just found out. Just weeks ago they were praising Sweden for their method.

      But the rest of what I had to say is correct. Nobody rioted over white Shannon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Or the two that got shot by a black while visiting a VA grave, or so many others. I don’t see riots for David Dorn who is black.

      This destruction of businesses IS destroying lives. It has to be stopped and imo, by brutal force the way China would do it.

      Getting wimpy whites to kneel and apologize for some privilege is going to backfire. It is the wimpy whites and the 90% of blacks that are THE problem. China would have eliminated that problem ages ago.

  • Educate yourself “Dr”. You would never understand because your skin tone is probably white. You are so white and “educated” that you cannot spell “racism”. Learn from other African Americans before you speak. Respectfully.

    • Due from out roots And history being torn from us we have no place, alot of our ancestors where from here before christopher columbus destroyed 90 percent of population already established here

  • What happened to George Floyd was wrong. The cop should pay his dues for his unjustly taking of a human life. This issue of racism is being blown out of proportion. It was one cop, one instance, that should not have happened. Justice will prevail through due process. The cop, not the black community is entitled to due process; this should not be a case of street justice. Black individuals kill eachother everyday at their own choosing whether in gangs, robberies, etc… They maim innocent people who are parents, kids, aunts, uncles, grandmothers for no reason. You bring up what the police do wrong. They are wrong; the justice system will decide that, not you. Why don’t you, Mrs. Powell, list in your article the history of black on black crime, state by state, town by town and list what African Americans do to their own people? Why don’t white people riot in African neighborhoods because they kill white people? Why don’t Africans riot over being killed by your own like this? If you did statistic analysis of black on black crime in the U.S., it would make you sick. There is no excuse to loot, pillage and destroy and affect everyone who follows the law and does the right thing as a citizen in our society. People are responsible to make their own choices; to graduate from high school, to get off of welfare and work and for men to be fathers; actually raising their kids rather than blaming white society. Slavery was wrong, it ended in 1863. African Americans now have the resources and so many tools to use at their disposal if they choose to use them. It is easier to peddle drugs, bully people and complain than to take on poverty and fix themselves from within. During these riots, innocent white people, black business owners and businesses displaced by Covid have been devastated more than enough. I am sick of the delusions like Will Smith renouncing the Academy awards and always feeling cheated. People who are African whether rich or poor need to face their problems like any other person/race. Religious groups and sexes, different nationalities have always faced discrimination in their lives but they work hard and try to rise above the honest way to make their lives better as well as learn from past mistakes. All these riots have done is keep racism alive because of the despicable and wrongful actions by the rioters. You think black America is tired? I was attacked by five African Americans by merely walking alone at night. I was knocked from behind, thrown to the ground while they stood as I laid there. They broke my collarbone FOR NOTHING. Nobody protested on my behalf and I could have died. It was clearly a black on white crime. Africans are racist, too. Plus, I nearly was attacked again four months later. They felt ENTITLED to attack my person. Their entitled to loot, maim and show lack of respect for law and everything Americans hold dear to . You need to WAKE UP out of your ‘poor me’ hole and look at other points of view.

    • @ Jim – Yes, it was one police officer, it was one situation, but it’s about more than that. From what I read, it’s about black Americans fearing for their lives, because it happens too often. Because they are targeted and harassed by being pulled over just because of their skin color. I believe for black Americans it’s also about more than that, but it becomes muddy for me, after that.

      I often disagree with the rhetoric I hear coming from the black community. I disagree with the way the media and democratic politicians represent these issues. And I also believe that white Americans get killed in confrontations with police unjustly too. Some of it is unfair. I stopped trying to figure it out, because when I’ve attempted to talk to people about it, it goes nowhere. There is no dialogue as another person commented. I can’t see how anything changes in a positive way without that.

      But you suggest justice will prevail through due process. I don’t believe that is always the case. That is part of the problem. And when we all, not just the black community, lose faith in the system to bring about justice, we are all in trouble. Dishonesty, corruption in every level of society, and a lowering of the habit of critical thinking is killing us. How do you change that? And there is a serious problem with greed and income inequality which is a problem in society, not just for black Americans.

      I agree that the black community has not, to my knowledge, ever addressed black on black crime. In Boston, the new D.A. seems to be of the opinion, the way to solve crime in the black community is to stop prosecuting many crimes. I’ve seen a sign at a protest that said ‘Abolish Police’. Seriously, how does anyone come up with that? When I have asked these questions, people make excuses for black on black crime and go back to all the reasons, you can’t expect them to act any other way because of the disadvantages and oppression they have experienced. Once the culture becomes what it is, in some urban areas, with people carrying weapons and gangs controlling neighborhoods and repeat offenders in the community, no family structure. At that point, I don’t know where you go from there.

      I’m sorry that you have experienced being attacked by black Americans. That is the other side of the coin that is not talked about. I wish more people would come forward and share those personal stories because I always think of that when I hear people say they are black and afraid to walk alone in a white neighborhood. White Americans have always been afraid to walk in black neighborhoods.

      You have made some very good points. I’m sorry to say, I doubt anyone is going to listen to what you have to say.

  • Lauren, there is no denying rasism exists. Please know that it is not only minorities who experience racism. I am the granddaughter of immigrants, people who arrived with empty pockets. Yet by the third generation, all 12 grandchildren have college degrees or more. Did anyone give it to us? No, we cleaned bathrooms or worse to get where we are.
    We are often afraid of minorities. Why? Could it be their peers’ history of raping, robbing, looting, etc.? In this pandemic,6 yes, their illness numbers are high. Yet, one notes many, many refuse to wear masks, practice social distancing etc.
    Society cannot simply blames minorities troubles on racism.

    • The black community never seems to acknowledge or address that all the problems they face, that they bear some of the responsibility for that. And you are right, the way that too many black Americans behave, has an effect on how people view them. They have earned a reputation that is difficult to overcome, especially when they don’t acknowledge that.

  • I am sorry. I just have to say that this is all about control. The leader of the racism thing right now is an opportunist, not a leader.
    I respect equality among all, including women who have suffered as long if not longer. Any one can justify of years of past torture of some kind.
    1-why does this need to involve money?
    2-there are so many ways to move up in the world. Just obviously not any of the jobs they apply for.
    Skin color is literally skin deep.
    I understand freedom of speech.

    STOP WORRYING ABOUT ALL THIS GOVERNMENT CRAP AND FOCUS ON THE PEOPLE DYING EVERYWHERE BECAUSE OF COVID-19. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE HAPPENING NOW!!

    All the violent riots. People are all worked up from being inside for so long, no one is thinking straight.
    Let’s start to protect each other through this pandemic and come together, not pull apart.
    Stop putting fuel on the fire and wait until we know we have fought three biggest killer, this virus.
    Getting so worked up over one death (which is horrible and agree 100%) That he needs to be held responsible for his actions.

    This is basically being racist against the police. If course there are going to be bad ones. Those that should not even be allowed to exist on this earth!! But just as every stigma that does not mean the entire Police departments and government are corrupt.

    Yes, I’m saying this and you can email me at [email protected]
    If you want to spew out some hate.
    I am very sorry for your pain that is causing this anger and please know the feeling will pass.
    You cannot kill fire with fire.

    PROVE THEM WRONG

  • The question is not not whether the protesters’ feelings are understandable or justified [they are], but whether the Black community’s layers of pain and anguish justify staging serial super-spreader events across the nation day after day. I believe they do not — especially since Trump just loves it.

    The events since Thursday have played exactly into Trump’s hands: When the new covid wave comes and we have to go back to lockdown, it won’t be blamed on states/communities having opened prematurely; to the contrary, Trump will claim that the infection wave was caused by the “lawless, possibly antifa-instigated protesters” — just to make him look bad by throwing ice water on the nascent economic recovery. And like any big lie, there will be some truth to it insofar as the protests will doubtless bring on a second wave of infection. What’s more, even the peaceful protests are, albeit unintentionally, doing tremendous damage to their own communities and everyone else: because the protests are indeed being infiltrated by or used as cover for some very bad actors (probably by nut-jobs on both ends of the spectrum, as well as by opportunistic criminals), the result is mayhem, damage to public infrastructure and enormous cost to municipalities, and incalculable harm to businesses (and their employees and customers) already crippled by the pandemic. All of this is eroding civil rights of everyone, as we experience curfews and lock-outs. It’s a perfect storm for the Law-&-order contingent — and if it continues, we’re going to be Brazil, where a fed-up public elected a monster who issues shoot-to-kill orders. Trump’s speech last night went exactly in that direction.

    But — what if what I’ll just call “civil rights thought leaders” had gotten strategic from the get-go? What if they had said Friday morning, “We’ve made our point about the enormity of police crimes against G.F. and others like him. But however much we are hurting, we recognize the horrific consequences of the protests. We don’t want our our [especially black & brown] people sickened and dead; struggling local businesses harmed; and our public spaces destroyed. Given the pandemic and the bad actors who have come unbidden into our midst, we’re going to do the right thing and go home now.” This mature, impeccable and unassailable position would have stopped everyone in their tracks. Better yet, it would have put Trump in a box. Would he argue that the leaders were sell-outs? That they should keep the contagion, property damage and disorder coming? There would be nothing he could say — and all of us (including the Black community) would have been much better off for our cities not being reduced to resembling 3d-world countries.

  • I couldn’t agree more. I’m not black, but I found what happened to George Floyd despicable. How can a person just choke the life out of another human being. It makes me physically ill.

    I have another observation regarding this incident. It speaks of the poor training and the mentality of entitlement that Law Enforcement Officers have. They believe that no-one will do anything when they mistreat people. Unfortunately most of the time that is precisely what happens. Even as a white man, I have experienced the coldness of entitled people in uniform. I was mistreated by Law Enforcement while in custody. They did nearly kill me, through neglect instead of an outright assualt. I got lucky and lived. Unfortunately Mr. Floyd was murdered. And murdered he was. Each of those officers involved should have been arrested on the spot.

    I saw the videos shot. To me it looked like Mr. George Floyd was arrested and murdered for peacefully protesting while Black. It’s disgusting to think this stuff is still happening in this country.

    • Agree how could a cop DO that? I suspected from the get go. THEY KNEW EACH OTHER.
      Chauvan and Floyd worked in the same place – and it’s not a very large place. Something else is going on and it has to come out during the trial. Imo, what Chauvan did was a HIT. I blame Chauvan for all the destruction we are now seeing – and that has to stop, if necessary, by brutal force.

      Look at these pathetic dem governors, strict lock down, even on churches, but it’s ok to gather for protest and riot? HA. OH, so they are immune to covid?

  • I am not going to sit here and type a rant on whom is right and whom is wrong. I have both seen and experience discrimination myself even though I am not a person of color. It was mainly due to the fact that I am different then what most would consider an average person weather it was because of my height or weight or mentality it did not matter people would have a comment or even a form of rage against me even if I did nothing to them. As I see it people are people human is human the color of someone’s skin should not determine how they receive care or help. In my opinion and you can take it or leave it, but I believe everyone should only be taken in by their actions and attitudes. Everybody no matter what they may look like needs help especially now and should not be given less by others simply because they were born in a different color of skin for which they can not change nor avoid. All people of any race especially those whom were treated in the past as nothing more then trash to/by others deserves to be equal in all forms Job/wages/care and especially aid of any kind. They are people they are our fellow countrymen. They live the lives we live and work more then likely twice if not four times as hard in this life simply because of others who are to shameful to even consider them equals when it should of been no question that they are. Although I know my words won’t change anything people think or do I just hope that when someone reads this that it at least made some difference even if it’s small.

    • The democrats pit people in place at these protests to incite riots/fuel the fire! Long as y’all are protesting y’all are playing right into the democrats hands! This isn’t hard to figure out!!anyone who’s against that 2nd amendment is up to no good trust me, their goal is to pit us against one another/divide then they can come in and declare Marshal law! Y’all have to be smarter than that! don’t buy their BS! Again way more whites are killed by cops, but they aren’t going to show that because that isn’t what gets people stirred up! The fight is against the government, not society against one another! We HAVE to stick together! We are the government! That’s our money they make themselves filthy rich off of! We stick together we can make them work for us & not work together like they have been for years! Because when they work together we get screwed! Keep voting democrat & keep on believing them & we’re all screwed we’ll literally be owned if we become a Socialist country they’ll take everything we have! Wake up people please!

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