(r) Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California’ and Dr. Tung Nguyen (l), Professor in the Health Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Like no other time before, eyes are focused on our nation as the world watches our handling of a pandemic and massive protests simultaneously that have touched off global demonstrations.  

No one could have imagined that all at once our nation would have to face an intersection of COVID-19 and civil unrest caused by hundreds of years of racial injustice. But the failure to address our country’s many divides — including equality, education, economic and health disparities — have come crashing in all at once.  

The match was lit when a Minneapolis policeman pressed a knee for more than eight minutes to the neck of George Floyd, a Black man pinned to the ground. A handcuffed Floyd pleads, “I can’t breathe,” and calls out to his mother. His life is ended on the hard street recorded on video tape and goes viral for the world to see.

Hundreds of thousands of people came out of the safety of their homes, donned masks and protested. These protests have swelled and far outnumber the protests held by many Trump supporters who downplayed the pandemic, demanded to open up businesses and ignored guidelines to stay-at-home or wear protective masks.  

The killing of George Floyd and the documentation on video tape opened the floodgates for a new civil rights movement for this generation, that this time uniquely is not limited to one city and is diverse — with as many white people marching alongside with people of color.  

The protests have led to uncovering more incidents of police abuse, the years of police brutality, mistrust and suffering in Black and Brown communities, coupled with the vulnerability that both these two communities also have in contracting COVID-19.  

Dr. Tung Nguyen, professor in the Health Division of General Internal Medicine at UCSF, cited the staggering statistics during a media briefing recently held by Ethnic Media Services.

“There are now over 8.4 million people diagnosed with COVID-19, and over 445,000 deaths worldwide. In the US there are over 2.2 million infections now, and more than 118,000 deaths,” Nguyen said.

California had several days last week with more than 5,000 new cited cases, the highest during this pandemic to date, and Nguyen points out the disparities and risks to racial and ethnic groups are substantial. 

“For the age group 35-44 there’s a report from the Brooking Institute that just came out [last week] that showed the risk of dying is 10 times more for Black people, and eight times more for the Latinx [population] compared to non-Hispanic whites. For ages 75-84, the risk is four times more for the Black communities and two times more for the Latinx community,” Nguyen said.

“The Covid Pandemic has accelerated its timeline by pointing out the terrible price paid by minorities as a result of building our healthcare and public health system on the racist principle of what works for white people.” 

“My slogan for this is there is no healthcare or health quality without equality. Any system that has disparities is a system that lacks quality. The disparities must be addressed first and then the quality will rise,” the doctor added.

Nguyen concluded by weighing in on the current controversial discussion that “vaccines should be mandatory.” 

Public Health Connection

Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a 50-year-old nonprofit research and consulting organization based in Silicon Valley, spoke to the “ public health connection. 

“We’re all connected, our health is connected. All health is public health ultimately. You’re only as healthy as the homeless person next to you,” Gorbis said.  

“We need to go from this idea of rugged individualism, which is so much a part of the American ethos — a part of the capitalistic economy that we’ve created here in the US — that we recognize its interdependence and develop these new ideals of mutualism” she said.

Gorbis points out that we are all connected and without mutually working together, we cannot rebuild, and the admiration for rugged individualism needs debunking.

“All these things we are facing today from health to climate, they cannot be solved by one community, by one individual. These are global issues, there are no borders with health, as we’re seeing with this  coronavirus, it’s the same with our climate,” she said.

“This is a possibility for us to actually rebuild the basic civil structure of our society — which includes everything from our cultural norms to our institutions to our basic ideology. And I hope this is an opportunity we’re not going to lose.”

Police Brutality 

Dr. Manuel Pastor, professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and who Pastor currently directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC and USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII), pointed out that President Donald Trump’s racial trampling are becoming more and more ineffective.

“As Trump has tried to pull out all the racist dogwhistles of the past,  about ‘looters’ and ‘law and order,’ it’s just not working any longer,” Pastor said. “It’s not working with young millennials of any racial group”

Constance L.“Connie” Rice, civil rights activist and lawyer, and the co-founder and co-director of Advancement Project California, references the long history of police oppression that too few realize including slave patrols that she believes American policing descends from.  

“It’s a suppression containment policing that’s done to populations that are not meant to be part of the mainstream,” Rice said. “In slavery you had to keep the slaves on the plantation, the slave patrols did what they called suppression containment.

“It’s also what was done to the Jews in the Jewish ghettos in Europe. When you have a system that’s actually designed and descended from slavery, it’s so deeply embedded in the DNA of American policing that their job is to keep Black people in their place, and away from white people and wealthy people.”

This type of policing, said Rice, is para-militarizing that is “aggressive, warrior, search-and-destroy policing that serves the larger policy of mass incarceration.”

While over the years, police brutality has been explained away by referencing that there are both good cops and bad cops, the problem runs much deeper, Rice said.

“It is a toxic system. It’s not about bad apples, it’s about a toxic orchard,” she said. “The entire culture, the entire mission. If you don’t change the mission… the mission is to make sure Black people don’t come out of the ghetto. That Latino people stay in the barrio. That Native Americans stay on the reservations.”

Since the killing of George Floyd on May 25, protests have continued daily with demands not to seek justice only for Floyd but a myriad of other issues including defunding the police department, the practice of mass incarcerations, and the proper training of officers. Also worth noting, many officers who have served in the military turn to law enforcement as a career.  

“If you get better training, it’s better training for mass-incarceration policing,” Rice said. “I don’t think the people marching across the globe are asking simply for the end of police murder with impunity. I don’t think they’re marching for kinder, gentler mass-incarceration or politer search-and-destroy. 

“I think what the marchers are marching for is that they are revoking their consent for aggressive enforcement and they’re demanding safety for the poorest of the poor in the highest crime zones. And they’re demanding investment, the re-funding of the vitality of those communities.”