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June 29, 2020

Transform the system

Opinion

June 29, 2020

Every time another Black person is murdered by the police, it's easy to point to a single officer as the culprit. George Floyd was killed under the knee of officer Derek Chauvin – we saw it ourselves. But Chauvin is just one officer in a culture of police violence, and policing is just one of the systems responsible for taking Black lives. Covid-19 exposed a number of the others.

It's no coincidence that Black people, who are more likely to be killed by the police, are also dying at disproportionate rates of Covid-19. While some say it's due to the prevalence of underlying health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure in the Black community, the conversation doesn't end there, and pointing a finger at these conditions misses the bigger picture. We need to ask ourselves – how did we end up here?

The Black community is not inherently vulnerable to Covid-19. We've been made vulnerable through decades of unequal access to health care. We are made vulnerable every time a doctor or other health care provider dismisses us because they don't believe our symptoms. We are made vulnerable through over-policing, which has led to not only our murders, but to our over-representation in jails and prisons, where the virus is spreading rapidly and has already killed hundreds. Even though public health experts have warned of the severe risk that incarcerated people face due to the conditions they live in, most have been left to languish as Covid-19 threatens to turn their detention into a death sentence.

In fact, jails and prisons are where multiple systemic failings that take Black lives converge – over-policing, over-incarceration, inadequate health care, and the deadly result.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we're talking about more than police brutality. We're talking about incarceration, healthcare, housing, education, and economics – all the different components of a broader system that has created the reality we see today, where Black people are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people, where Black people are given harsher sentences for the same offenses, where Black people are more likely to be held on bail pretrial, and where Black people are dying not only at the hands of police, but because of an unequal health care system. Black lives should matter in all stages of life – and to honor that truth, we must radically transform the system from its roots.

Systemic problems aren't easy to fix, but we can take steps toward progress by re-examining the way we fund and rely on law enforcement in this country. A huge amount of public resources are put toward law enforcement agencies, at the expense of critical social services like education and health care. This doesn't make us safer.

Excerpted from: ''Black Lives Matter' is About More Than the Police'. Commondreams.org