In their letter, the pastors said they “decry the callous and misguided rhetoric from places of power that blames Blacks for these deaths.”
Black pastors from around the country are issuing a state of emergency about the disparate number of deaths of African-Americans from COVID-19.
They are also demanding that the Trump administration and Congress act immediately to protect minority, poor and low-wealth communities.
“There’s a virus in the soul of America that calls for an intentional and intensive treatment,” said the Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. “As pastors who serve in communities that are most impacted by the coronavirus crisis, we have come together to issue a moral appeal to the conscience of a nation and a state of emergency.”
Twelve pastors from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, in big cities and small communities, sent a letter Wednesday to the Trump administration, congressional leaders, the U.S. surgeon general and others with five demands.
The demands include:
(1) Full implementation of the Defense Production Act so that all communities have access to protective gear and life-saving medical equipment;
(2) That testing sites and field hospitals are set up in black communities hardest hit by the pandemic;
(3) That the Trump administration calls on the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid to do so now and that all states provide immediate eligibility for Medicaid to workers who become unemployed during the pandemic;
(4) That Congress pass a fourth COVID-19 recovery bill focused on communities of color and poor and low-wealth communities, including paid sick leave, living wages and other aid;
(5) And finally that the federal government coordinates efforts for the timely and uniform collection and release of data on race/ethnicity and other relevant demographics including poverty and geography for COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Bishop William J. Barber II, DMin., criticized Surgeon General Jerome Adams for blaming people of color for their own predicament with COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“In (Adams’) comments, with the approval of Trump and Pence, he committed two glaring sins which too often occur in America’s commentary on Black health and Black death, and are especially egregious when committed by black people in power,” Barber said. “The first is targeting Black and Brown communities by saying they need to change their behavior in order not to die, and they do not address how decades of structural racism, political exploitation and economic exclusions have compounded health and wellness disparities in black communities. The tendency has been to often trivialize those inequities as simply their fault.”
The letter to public officials points out that over the past two weeks, data from across the country have revealed staggering racial inequities in deaths due to COVID-19: In Michigan, Blacks make up 14% of the population but account for 50% of deaths; in Louisiana, Blacks make up 32% of the population but account for 71% of deaths; and in Mississippi, Blacks make up 38% of the population but account for 67% of deaths.
The letter and news conference were sponsored by Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit organization based in Goldsboro, North Carolina, of which Bishop Barber is president and senior lecturer; and the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, of which Rev. Haynes is co-chair.
Several pastors on the conference call discussed the COVID-19 deaths in their communities and the lack of resources needed to fight the pandemic.
The Rev. Lionel Murphy, pastor of Tchoupitoulas Chapel in St. John Parish, Louisiana, said his daughter, who is a nurse, was diagnosed with the illness. Those who have died include a husband and wife who died the same day, he said.
The parish has the most COVID-19 deaths of any county in the country, per capita.
There is “not one person in this parish probably that does not know someone who has died or is very sick and near death from this particular virus,” Murphy said.
The Rev. Traci Blackmon of Florissant, Missouri, said she pastors “those people who are undervalued workers performing essential work,” such as cooks, cleaning staff and bus drivers.
She must attend two funerals this week for people who died of COVID-19. Meanwhile, three other people had to go to the hospital three times before they were tested, she said.
“Three times were they sent back home and into their families and into their communities, being positive but not deemed worthy of a test,” said Blackmon, executive minister of justice and witness ministries of The United Church of Christ and senior pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.
“What happened to a nation of compassion where it didn’t have to be you for you to act?” she asked.
In their letter, the pastors said they “decry the callous and misguided rhetoric from places of power that blames Blacks for these deaths without acknowledging that our people are over-represented among low-wage essential workers; often live in racially segregated inner cities and rural communities that have been neglected for decades; are less likely to have access to high-quality, affordable health care; are disproportionately uninsured and underinsured; face bias and discrimination within health care settings; and are over-represented among the prison population all of which lead to racialized patterns of survival.”
Other participants in the news conference included Rev. Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson, executive director of the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and March on Washington; and Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.
Pastors from San Francisco, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, Memphis and the Atlanta area also participated.
Repairers of the Breach is a nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that seeks to build a moral agenda rooted in a framework that uplifts our deepest moral and constitutional values to redeem the heart and soul of our country. It was founded in 2015 by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II as a way to organize, train, and work with a diverse school of prophets from every U.S. state and the District of Columbia.
The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference represents a cross-section of progressive African-American faith leaders and their congregations in the U.S. Its mission is to nurture, sustain and mobilize the African-American faith community in collaboration with civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders to address critical needs of human rights and social justice within local, national, and global communities