VIRAL NATION: Coronavirus and civil rights

Cyril Josh Barker | 3/26/2020, midnight
Civil rights leaders and advocates say they want to make sure that Black Americans are getting their fair share of ...
Empty MTA bus Bill Moore photo

Civil rights leaders and advocates say they want to make sure that Black Americans are getting their fair share of prevention and treatment of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The NAACP recently hosted an emergency “tele-town hall” about coronavirus and its potential impact on communities of color. The civil rights organization said it wants to ensure that the policies and practices that come out of this pandemic justly address the health, economic and social needs of all people.

More than 21,000 people from across the nation joined the tele town hall live with another 4,500 tuning in online to hear from the panel on how they can protect themselves and safety measures the federal government is taking to mitigate and ultimately end the pandemic.

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As legislators prepare the COVID-19 stimulus package, NAACP President Derrick Johnson recently spoke with Sen. Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) as to why health care is such a crucial issue.

“When we look at this pandemic we are not starting on an even playing field,” Johnson said during a recent interview. “People in our community already lack access to quality, affordable health care and now. When you add in the additional burden of this pandemic, that unevenness will be accelerated. Any package coming out of the House or Senate should account for that.”

Johnson also highlighted areas of importance for Black Americans including full unemployment benefits past the proposed $1,200 check, student loan forgiveness, grants for Black churches, and criminal justice reform. He said that elected officials must make sure that African Americans are not left behind during the coronavirus crisis.

“This pandemic is akin to a [Hurricane] Katrina response,” he said. “We want to make sure that the government responds to the nature of the harm that many citizens are faced with. For the NAACP, we want to ensure that in the response, our communities are not left out.”

While the Trump administration wants to give a stimulus check of as much as $1,200 to every American, Johnson said that while it’s a start, it’s not sustainable.

“If you have individuals who are unable to work, we’ve got to make sure that they are not impacted long term,” Johnson said. “You cannot have a recovery where all of the resources from the government go to large corporations who are doing very little for individuals who are impacted.”

Johnson blames the severity of the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis on “bad decisions” by the Trump administration and failures from the government.

Turning focus on Black churches, Johnson said religious institutions are being hit hard by not being permitted to open their doors to services because of understandable public distiancing orders. No funding for Black churches, Johnson says, could affect existing issues in Black neighborhoods.

“We have to make sure that our Black churches are not adversely impacted,” he said. “Can you imagine a church who’s unable to convene their congregation for over a month or two months? How are they able to do the collection effectively—and the church is foreclosed on? That’s a recipe for gentrification for some of our communities.”

Johnson said that while the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate in terms of who is infected, public policy does in terms of how individuals are valued.

“If you consider public policy without a racial lens, it can be discriminatory,” he said. “If you are talking about individuals who place a different level of value on companies over people or certain people over other people, that’s discrimination. This discrimination is something that this nation has never dealt with effectively and would expose itself in an accelerated form in the midst of this crisis.”