Can we move beyond ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ cycle of protests?

‘Nothing has changed except the year’

Sunita Sohrabji | Ethnic Media Services | 6/11/2020, midnight
The COVID 19 pandemic, which has dominated the news throughout much of 2020..

The COVID 19 pandemic, which has dominated the news throughout much of 2020, took a knee this week, as the U.S. turned its collective zeitgeist to the issue of police brutality against African-Americans.

“Black lives just don’t matter. That is the bottom line here. Black lives haven’t mattered since the inception of this nation,” said Dr. Jody Armour, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, during a June 5 briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services.

Armour said there is a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle to addressing the civil rights of African- Americans.

Armour’s first book, “Negrophobia & Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America” was published in 1997 by New York University Press.

“It was really about every one of the issues we’re talking about today,” he said.

“Nothing’s changed, except what year it is,” said Armour, adding that each time there’s an eruption over police brutality. commissions are convened, public hearings are held, people vent their frustrations, and interventions—such as the use of body cams and implicit bias training—are put in place.

“And here we are looking at a moment in Minneapolis, Minn. where the police department had all those interventions. They were one of the early departments to start implementing all those interventions and it didn’t solve the problem. I think we’re coming to the realization that there’s not a technological fix,” said Armour.

Armour, along with three other speakers, called for cities to de-fund their law enforcement budgets and re-route the money to social services, with an aim to staunching the numbers of African-American hostile encounters with police and addressing structural racial and ethnic inequities. He encouraged cities like New York, where 200 police officers actively arrest subway turnstile jumpers, to re-focus on high-level crimes.

Dr. Tung Nguyen, an internal medicine specialist at UC San Francisco, described racism as both a social determinant of health and as a disease itself.

“Police brutality is a disease vector,” Tung said. “Chronic exposure to racism causes the body to change adversely to the release of stress, hormones, and neurotransmitters,” said Nguyen, adding: “We also know that acute exposure to racism can lead to death, as in the case of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.”

An expert on health disparities, Tung noted that one out of 2,000 Black Americans have died in the pandemic, and their mortality rate is two to three times more than White people.

“The pandemic has severely stretched all of our dysfunctional systems - health, economic, legal, and political - to their limits and broken them. We can no longer pretend that they were good enough. They were never good enough, except for those of us who enjoy privilege,” stated Nguyen.

Nguyen noted the absence of data for minority communities needs to be corrected but added that “I’m not a typical academic researcher who only asks for more data. At my university, it seems like every single Black man, from the janitor to the tenured professor has a police encounter story. To me, that’s data.”