Op-ed: Racism underlies both lethal policing and COVID-19 disparities

As protests against police brutality and racism rage across the U.S., some commentators have expressed concern that large numbers of people in close proximity will increase the spread of COVID-19, and some have even compared these risks to those posed by the anti-lockdown protests against COVID-19 regulations. But in a recent op-ed, three experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote, “We categorically reject these false equivalencies.”

In a June 5, 2020 op-ed in the New York Daily News, Mary Bassett, Caroline Buckee, and Nancy Krieger argued that most protestors understand the risks of COVID-19, but feel compelled to speak out against the racism that has led to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, to other instances of lethal policing in the U.S., and to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

Bassett is François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights. Buckee is associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Harvard Chan School’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. Krieger is professor of social epidemiology.

The authors noted that many protest organizers, cognizant of the risks of COVID-19, have asked that people wear masks, bring hand sanitizer, and employ physical distancing while protesting. News photos from a Boston protest showed most people wearing masks, they wrote.

“Protesters are in the streets demonstrating against police brutality and white supremacy not because they are indifferent to the risk of COVID-19,” the authors continued. “They are doing what they can to protect themselves and their communities precisely because the institutions that are supposed to protect and serve them have been killing black people in this country far longer than the coronavirus has.”

Read the Daily News article: Racism is a deadly virus, too: A public health defense of these mass protests