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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.


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.


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.”

  • This is a period of major social, economic and political systems–our entire society will change to the point that the period afterward will not resemble the period before.

    The main driver is the inequality and class warfare which has been going on for a century.

    The pandemic is merely a trigger, pushed even harder by the mistreatment and failure of the government to protect the people for decades, combined with the obvious use of those in power of the pandemic to eliminate as many “undesirable” peoples as they can.

    But this abuse is not perpetrated just upon the non-white or poor or elderly, but upon everyone not in the highest category of wealth.

    Those in the top 1-5% are also victims, although they are also perpetrators.

    Those in power are of course, much harder upon those who are non-white, but the white people are also enslaved, they believe they are free because they have the example of the non-white folk to look down upon.

    No person not in the very top group of wealthy is underpaid by 600%.

    There is absolutely no good economic reason for anyone in the USA (or much of the world) to have to work more than 20 hours per week to support a family of four. This has been true since about 1990. And forecast in the late 1960’s by the US government, based upon productivity gains as possible in 2000.

    Today, the average four person family in America works 110 hours per week and has trouble keeping even–most cannot come up with $400 if they need it for an emergency.

    The productivity gains of the past fifty years have been taken by the wealthy rather than distributed to the people who actually do the work.

    No resource “scarcity” in the past fifty years has been due to anything other than actions taken to create them.

    In reality, we have no resource lacks, what we have is a tiny number of people controlling the majority of resources, governments and markets to take the most resources that can be grabbed.

    When you control the financial, industrial, food, water and government you can do pretty much anything, so long as the majority of people acquiesce.

    The time has come for change, we can hope for the better, but our enemies are not the police and armies, but those in power and their extremely wealthy donors.

    The people just below the top, who think they are wealthy, are there to do the dirty work, and to be sacrificed when the masses realize they are enslaved and revolt.

    Our think tank has predicted this change since 2007, just as we predicted the 2008 economic crash in 2003, and September as the month in January 2008.

    The latest crash was easily forecast as early as January and with the exception of the Summer 2019 crash (caused by natural events rather than economic events,) we’ve predicted most downturns in the past twenty years.

    (2008 was merely the end of the 2001 crash, delayed by the usual means used in our country to hold up the market–a new war.)

    Trump has been desperately seeking ways to extend his demagogue tyranny since the market crash this Spring, his latest moves (dropping support for WHO and ending the fly-over treaty, which destabilizes the nuclear peace–and is the sort of thing which often precludes a country starting a war.

    The riots are a direct result of decades of abuse and the use of the pandemic as a method of killing those he consider “inferior.”

    Since the people who listen to him are his base supporters, and his lies have been accepted by them, they also are suffering an increased death rate. Like Hitler, he is killing off the dupes who put him into office–as they have served their purpose.

    It is likely that he will attempt to cause events which would allow him to declare martial law, then suspend elections.

    He is willing to break any law to get his way, and has enough cronies in office to permit him to get away with it–at least for the short term.

    He is attempting to establish himself as dictator, as one of those he loves the most–men who rule with force and ignore the law and all ethical considerations.

    He almost certainly cannot succeed, although the failure of our military and secret service to stop him, despite years of ignoring completely his obligation to protect the Constitution is worrying.

    But the National Guard is unlikely to support him, and the regular military is uncertain–they have been indoctrinated for at least thirty years to support the president personally rather than their oaths to support and protect the Constitution, but whether that indoctrination goes as deeply as needed to get them to attack Americans is hard to predict.

    Nixon backed down in the Spring/Summer of 1972 largely because MP’s ordered to drag away peaceful protesters at a military base in Virginia refused orders and special forces had to be brought in from elsewhere.

    Shortly after that, he backed down on the “hard” attacks on protesters.

    Nixon only became president because Johnson and Hoover decided not to let the public know about his treason regarding the war in Vietnam–because they were rightly afraid that if the information got out, there would be rioting.

    • The Obama Admin investigation of Michael Brown and the cop showed this and the whole “hands up don’t shoot” narrative was a blatant fraud. I found no way to reply to Mark. No reply button on his post to you.

      WHY is there no protest over the death of David Dorn, black, retired cop, 77 year old man in good health, beloved by all, good man, loving family. He didn’t have to go try to protect Lee Pawn shop, but he, at age 77. was out there 2AM and the dogs, the monsters shot him and filmed it, put it on facebook. Then they looted the pawn shop. He bled out, he died alone and THAT left me in freaking tears. NO big ado for him. I hope they catch the person that killed him and rip him to pieces.

  • I agree with Dr. Powell. The systemic profiling of black men as “potential criminals” by police officers across this country is not a mere issue of individual failings. It is a product of years of cultural mythology that portray blacks as somehow inferior and yet more dangerous. Focusing, as some commenters have, only on the interactions with police that end in loss of life is an intentional oversight of facts. “Mistaken identity” is something every black man I know fears when he leaves the house for work in the morning. The rest of us don’t have to fear that. Health inequities also arise from historical deficits in housing and healthcare access, many of which were intentionally set forth by white politicians seeking to minimize the economic and political influence of black citizens. I can see that many of us are still asleep, still clinging to the myth that “justice for all” is a reality in this country. The fact is that we have miles to go before we can justifiably sleep.

  • I am going to double down on my previous comment – this is one of those eternal grievance mongers – which is not surprising, it’s appealing to a lot of people, even when they are not paid for it, but she “previously led the Office of Health Equity for the State of Virginia’s Department of Public Health”.

    But, health equity, or not having it, does mean early and unnecessary deaths for some people – no question about it – so, I am not against it per se – but reading her rant, which mentions slavery – how did I know that was going to come up? – just makes me reject it all.

    Slavery ended 155 years ago, in case anyone forgot. At the time it ended, there were still free tribes of Natives controlling about 1/3 the US – the Passenger Pigeon nested in the billions in the primeval forests of the north central part of the country. Buffalo roamed the plains in tens of millions. There was no radio nor telephone – huge areas in Africa and South America were completely unknown to the outside world – no airplanes, no cars – a few motorized ships, mostly not – it was a really, really, really long time ago.

    But not too long for our author to bring it up – and don’t worry, she is not likely to forget any time soon – her children will no doubt be able to give pretty much the same complaint in 50 years too – having learned it by heart.

    Enough already. The basis complaint is wrong – there are about 20million black men in the US – every day, one of them is subjected to some kind of unfair treatment – and of course, sometimes it is due to racism – but at least some people in ANY group of 20 million is going to experience mistreatment every day – 20 Million day is equivalent to about 160 lifetimes.

    The approximately 200 black people killed by cops every year – comes out to about 1 in 200,000. This is not an insignificant number, because after all, it is someone being killed, not dissed – but it disproves any thesis of widespread police violence against black people – and though it is a bit more than twice as high as the rate of white people killed, it’s not out of line considering the differences in crime rates.
    There is no validity to the basic claim and complaint – black people are not being killed by cops in high numbers – it is just a myth.

  • Agree with many of the views you have to say, on thing has to happen is people must stop resisting police when they being questioned. Don’t run don’t get into a physical altercation. 95% if the interactions will end fine if people are well behaved

  • so, here’s a quick context check of your text:

    BLACK – ‘Black person’, ‘Black woman’, ‘Black person’, ‘Black America’, ‘Black people’, ‘Black bodies’, ‘Black people’, ‘Black people’, ‘Black man’, ‘Black person’, ‘Black America’, ‘Black community’, ‘Black communities’, ‘Non-Black allies’, ‘Black community’, ‘Black people’, ‘Black community’.

    WHITE – ‘white supremacy’, ‘white America’, ‘white community’.

    looks pretty much racist to me

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