Coronavirus isn’t intelligent, it doesn’t prefer or discriminate, it’s just a virus. Yet it continues to expose shameful inequalities of our society.
It’s increasingly clear that African-Americans are disproportionately dying of COVID-19, just as it’s been clear for a while that racial disparities are one of many facts that most Trump supporters are totally unwilling to face.
The surgeon general did acknowledge this disparity on Tuesday, mostly because it’s already so glaring. Milwaukee is only 26 percent black, but 73 percent of its dead are. Chicago is 32 percent black, but 67 percent of its deaths are. The two cities so far hit hardest by the virus besides New York City are Detroit and New Orleans, two of the blackest cities in America. In Louisiana, 32 percent of the population is black, but 70 percent of its dead are; in Michigan the figures are 14 and 41 percent.
African-Americans are dying not because they are innately susceptible to coronavirus but because their underlying health conditions are worse, their access to medical care is worse, and they are far more likely to have those essential, blue-collar jobs that increase exposure. Coronavirus isn’t racist; America is racist.
For centuries, it has been popular to blame the bad fortune of African-Americans on their own behavior. I’m sure this will continue. But of all the pictures I’ve seen of people flouting social distancing, none of them have been of Black people.
As I write this, 41 MTA employees have died of COVID-19 — the most of the municipal agencies. MTA employees are disproportionately male, middle-aged, black, and likely to develop lung conditions. So they keep this city running, but have four aggravating factors that make them more likely to die now.
Rikers Island has the highest infection rate in the world, at over 4 percent already. But so far it’s the correctional officers — mostly black — who guard that island jail that have been paying the ultimate price. Seven correctional officers have died so far, and six of them were black or Afro-Latino.
To my shame, besides a very brief mention in my first coronavirus column four weeks ago, I have not until now decried the terrible conditions in New York’s jails and prisons. Meanwhile, my conservative counterpart at this paper wrote his last two columns entirely about the importance of keeping people locked up. During the same two weeks those columns were written, NYPD statistics show crime fell by 20 percent compared to last year.
Many will not accept these facts, just as they won’t accept that Trump has bungled a response to the virus. They will blame China, or the World Health Organization, or Bill Gates. They will proclaim their faith in hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, ignoring that it causes blindness and heart attacks. They live on a different planet. Meanwhile, in our country, in reality, people are dying because of the neglect of our leaders.
Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.