In this time of pandemic, the fragility of our democracy, the predatory nature of our economy, and the precarious condition of our communities—especially low income communities and communities of color—are being laid bare.
The coronavirus is infecting and killing black people in the United States at disproportionately high rates, according to data released by several states and big cities. For example in Chicago, African-Americans account for more than half of those who have tested positive and 72 percent of virus-related fatalities in that city, even though they make up a little less than a third of the population. Their susceptibility is not, however, tied to individual behaviors; rather, their susceptibility to the virus and death during this pandemic is tied to the racial character of inequality in the United States.
In spite of the narrative that we live in a post-racial society, racial inequality is still seen in all aspects of life in this country. From type of and access to employment (and lack thereof) to inadequate healthcare and housing, people of color—through centuries of racially inequitable public policy— continue to lack the wealth and opportunity to protect themselves from the ravages of this pandemic.
This is being played out in our jails, prisons, and detention centers which are also disproportionately populated by people of color. For those confined to these places, especially those that are overcrowded, it is impossible for inmates to adhere to the kinds of “social distancing” measures that public health experts recommend in order to stop or slow the spread of this dangerous and highly infectious virus.
As a nation-wide network of people of faith and people committed to racial and economic justice, Gamaliel is concerned for the public health and safety of all people across this globe and, in particular, the most vulnerable among us. To that end we call on our decision-makers to take aggressive and immediate steps to reduce the number of people being held in our prisons, jails, and detention centers. It is good public policy now in the midst of a pandemic, and it will be good public policy after the pandemic ends.