U.S. ethnic experts discuss a way forward

Professor Jody Armour is an author and teaches law at University of Southern California.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN – The U.S. is in the grip of a triple crisis: the coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse, and widespread civil unrest over racial injustice. Each one presents formidable challenges and what will happen next is a question on everyone’s mind.

Regarding the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is forecasting the death toll from coronavirus in the U.S. will rise to between 118,000 to 143,000 by June 27. Coronavirus infections are rising in 17 states including California, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. 

A recent survey found that men aren’t wearing facemasks as much as women.

“The difference does not exist in counties that have mandatory mask wearing,” said Dr. Tung Nguyen, a professor at University of California San Francisco. Nguyen said a review of 172 studies with 25,000 or more patients found that face masks were effective in preventing infection and that N-95 masks are more effective than blue surgical masks.

He said there are now 17 vaccines in human trials. One is about to go into Phase 3 and 30,000 people will get the vaccine by July. Nguyen commented on the death of George Floyd and the police violence that is driving outrage and more protests. As a medical researcher, Nguyen said chronic exposure to racism causes the body to change adversely through the release of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. 

“From a health disparities perspective, the George Floyd shooting was an acute  exposure to racism with four police officer serving as the vectors that delivered the disease of racism and its ultimate outcome—death,” Nguyen said.

“We can no longer pretend we all benefit or suffer the same. It’s been distressing for us to find out that one out of two thousand black Americans have died in the Covid pandemic and that their mortality is 2-3 times more than white people.”

Professor Jody Armour is a law professor at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He said a number of psychological studies have found people have empathy for their in-group members but do not feel the same level of care and concern for out-group members. 

“If you walk down the street in Skid Row, which is probably the fiercest expression of structural violence in America–the largest homelessness encampment in America—families, all kinds of folks living there together, 75% of the faces are black,” Armour said. He noted that if you go into the prisons and jails the demographics are roughly the same. 

He also said politicians can’t stop what is happening in the streets of America and they can’t fix the structural disparities that are causing so many problems for so many people. Armour said over the years there have been commissions, public hearings, police interventions, community policing, body cams, escalation training —none of those things have really worked. “It was a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle that you could anticipate,” he said. 

“Looking at the moment in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 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.” On Sunday, The Minneapolis City Council voted to defund and disband their police department.

“The solution isn’t the technological ones we’ve learned I think or the policy tweaks. We have to cut back on the police department. Activists have been saying that for the last several years and now this is really bringing it home. We need to make deep slashes in the budget of police departments and reallocate those resources,” Armour said.

He said we are not addressing homelessness, healthcare, education, and income disparity. “We can do a lot of things if we have the resources to do them but right now those resources are being sucked up by our law enforcement departments,” he said.

Armour said every city in America is facing this issue. In Los Angeles, for example, he noted that 54% of the mayor’s $5.5 billion unrestricted budget, or $2.97 billion, is going to the LAPD. LAPD’s share of LA’s total $10.5 billion budget is 28%.

MNPD’s $290 million allocation is 11% of the total $2.4 billion Metro budget.

Armour said people who worry about crime and public safety would be relieved to know that when there is less “broken window” policing, when police do not arrest so many people for low-level crimes, the crime rate drops. And he said the violence is being driven by the enforcement of low-level non-violent offenses. He said George Lloyd’s death is a good example. It sparked all the demonstrations and violent reactions from the police. 

Armour argues cities can reduce police presence without reducing public safety. He said that once you divert police funding you can pay for other social services.

“Then you can focus the police attention on what it really should be focused on—and that’s solving murders, rapes, violent assaults, robberies. In a lot of cities those are only being solved at a 45% rate. And that’s because the police resources are being diverted from investigation, and good police work like that, and going towards broken window policing. “  

In Metro Nashville last year there were 57 murders but only 26 arrests.

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