Will COVID-19 Derail the Racial Justice Movement?
The racial justice and Black Lives Matter movement has reached an inflection point. Black Lives Matter protests are taking place all around the country, vestiges of the Confederacy are being thrown, out, and policing policies are changing in big cities. But the spread of COVID-19 is hampering the movement’s momentum. Is COVID-19 hurting the racial justice and BLM movement?
As the outbreak grows in many states, it’s becoming less safe for groups to congregate. And the news cycle is inevitably shifting back to the impact of the virus. Could this derail the racial justice movement, or could it help the cause?
Mass protests are risky business
Mass protests are always somewhat dangerous, as a host of risks accompany large groups of people. But during a pandemic, they may be a death sentence. Thousands of people in close proximity significantly increases the likelihood of viral spread.
The liberals and progressive thinkers who attended these protests are more likely than their conservative counterparts to wear face masks, reducing the danger to some degree. However, the protests were heavily populated by Black Americans, who are at higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19 and at higher risk for death.
Because of this danger to a more vulnerable population, the continuation of protests seems unwise. However, many health experts have pointed out that police brutality and an unjust justice system are equally or more threatening to Black lives.
News coverage has dropped precipitously
There were several weeks of strong news coverage following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests and unrest. But as the virus outbreak has grown — and with it, the number of casualties — the news cycle has refocused on the effects of the virus.
Some media outlets have covered updates in the cases of Black victims of police violence as well as historic state and federal decisions, like the removal of the Confederate flag from the Mississippi state flag. But overall, media coverage is not stoking the flame that ignited when George Floyd died, and that threatens the movement’s forward momentum.
One way COVID-19 could help the racial justice and BLM movement
Overall, the growth of the COVID-19 outbreak threatens to do harm to the racial justice movement. But there is one way it could help the cause.
The disparity in COVID-19 death rates between white and Black Americans is dramatic, and it draws attention to long-present disparities in the US health care system. Between access and affordability, Blacks are less likely to get the medical care they need and suffer from worse health than the majority of Americans.
Perhaps COVID-19 data points will advance conversations around improving how the health care system serves minorities. Though COVID-19 is a nightmare, silver linings like these might help the country come out stronger and better — and more equitable for all.