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A Response to Reopening Our City and State

For the safety of our communities, we must ignore orders from our governor to return to jobs that can possibly become death traps.

Many public health experts across the nation have called out the dangers of reopening our states and cities too soon. Recommended protocol is to use data showing a consistent decline of reported new cases for two weeks to make a decision to reopen.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, testified before a Senate Committee on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 and warned there could be “needless suffering and death “if the country opens prematurely. Both Missouri and Kansas are included in 15 states where the number of new cases continues to increase. 

My concern for the African American community and people of color is grounded in the documented history we experienced in America. Our slave ancestors watched family members, including their own children who were “worked to death” while picking cotton. Whatever the struggle, we are the hardest hit.  We lost more men disproportionately to wars and imprisonment. When the country experiences a recession, we experience a major depression. Every year, at least 250,000 people die from poverty or poverty related issues.

There are over 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in Missouri, and around 500 citizens have died, including the sister of U.S. Representative Maxine Waters. Her sister was a resident of the St. Louis area, which has the highest concentration of cases in the state. African Americans are contracting and dying from the virus at far higher rates than any other racial group. It is a known fact that our people have higher rates of underlying chronic conditions such diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, which drastically reduces survival rates. The lack of insurance may also delay or prevent treatment.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with poverty, heightens the risk to our community when the state and city move to open prematurely.  Minorities and others who are poor are more likely to have low wage jobs without health insurance and paid sick leave benefits, and are less likely to be able to work from home. Yet, their jobs are deemed essential to our economy. The demand to return to needed work may appear to be non-negotiable because low income workers are dependent on their paycheck. Many people, regardless of race, had little to no savings to manage the impact of this pandemic.  The threat that failure to report for work is considered a voluntary resignation which makes the employee ineligible for Unemployment Insurance Benefits is used by the Governor and employers. Fear of losing income or their job forces individuals to return to work when they feel unsafe, and worse yet, even when they are sick. Americans should never be forced to risk their own safety and the lives of others to save the economy.

Racism continues to exist in the very fabric of our society. Minorities and members of vulnerable populations have been disenfranchised since Columbus landed at Plymouth Rock. The political agenda of oppression was written into the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Minority oppression followed Reconstruction and led to the passage of Jim Crow laws, unequal pay based on race and gender, gerrymandering and voter suppression, housing discrimination and separate AND unequal education. The gains of the Civil Rights movement are currently under attack. Recent evidence includes continued voter suppression, the assault on black lives without justice, and efforts to end the Affordable Care Act with nothing to replace health care insurance for millions. The legislature in both Kansas and Missouri blocked efforts to expand Medicaid The refusal to open enrollment in light of the number of Americans who are losing health insurance tied to the job they just lost transcends race and social class. The result is a growing lack of trust among Americans in our current political system that is well documented by approval ratings. This atmosphere of distrust is heightened in the black community and should trigger every eligible voter to exercise our collective political power by registering to vote, becoming informed about issues and candidates on the ballot, going to the polls and taking others with you to ensure we turn out in unprecedented numbers. The voters in Wisconsin demonstrated this power during their last election.  We need to do the same. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot in Missouri is May 20. for the City and School Board election on June 2. C0VID -19 is an acceptable reason to request an Absentee ballot.

No one enjoys the current restrictions, but remember, we come from a mighty race of kings and queens. Our people know how to endure difficult times.  Survival is in our DNA. 400 years of slavery prepared us for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 381 days.  By comparison, we have spent less than 90 days with the stay at home order. I advise our community members to follow CDC guidelines and use common sense to protect yourself and your love ones. Wash your hands frequently and wear a mask and gloves while out in public. Make a shopping list, go in and out of stores as quickly as possible while maintain social distancing. Above all, stay calm, stay home and stay alive.

Rev. Rodney E. Williams, President

NAACP Kansas City, MO Branch