‘Pandemic Within a Pandemic’: Coronavirus and Police Brutality Roil Black Communities

“We’ve had a lot of volunteers come out and just tell us how they’re unable to work right now, and they just can’t sit home and do nothing,” said Jacqueline LaBayne, 23, of Freedom Fighters D.C., which led hundreds in a march to the Capitol in recent days. “Even local businesses, they can’t take customers, and they are donating meals. It’s honestly incredible, the support we’ve gotten in these circumstances, because so many people are affected by Covid.”

In New York, Rashid Shabazz, the chief marketing officer of the online organization Color of Change, displayed symptoms of the coronavirus for several weeks, he said, but was unable to get tested. He said the respiratory illness reminded him of the dying words — “I can’t breathe” — of Mr. Floyd and another victim of police violence, Eric Garner, who was put in an illegal chokehold.

Mr. Shabazz wrote about it in a column for The Root, a black news and opinion site, under the headline “We Can’t Breathe: Covid-19 and Police Injustice are Suffocating Black People.”

At the Brown University School of Public Health, about 20 students and recent graduates in the department of behavioral and social sciences wrote the predominantly white faculty a letter demanding a “response to police brutality and anti-blackness,” citing the coronavirus and the recent killings of three African-Americans: Breonna Taylor, killed by the police in Louisville, Ky., Ahmaud Arbery, shot in South Georgia after being pursued by armed white residents, and Mr. Floyd.

The letter has prompted painful conversations, both students and professors say. Don Operario, a professor, said he convened a meeting of those who wanted to “transform this inner reflection to actual words and action.” School administrators followed up with a statement pledging to “tackle these inequities.”

The students want more than talk. Arjee Restar, who just received her Ph.D., said the group wanted to expose “silence and a lack of investment in anti-black police brutality work.” Ashley Gomez, a doctoral student, said professors who were quick to “adapt their research” to study the coronavirus needed to apply for grants to study racism as well.

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