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By National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) —

The COVID-19 pandemic presently sweeping the world exposes the continuation of centuries-old, deeply entrenched racial inequities that are embedded in the very fabric of the United States and the world. NCBL’s mission is the dismantling of this structural racism by serving as the Legal Arm of the Black Liberation Movement. This pandemic has underscored the need for the United States’ federal, state and local governments to divest resources from institutions and programs that do harm to the well-being of those in Black and Brown communities and invest in institutions and programs that enhance the well-being of Black and Brown communities.

For 51 years, NCBL has been an active participant in ending the targeting of Black people by the criminal punishment system, and providing legal support to efforts seeking fair and equal opportunities in education and employment, as well as other aspects of social, political and economic justice. NCBL has also been on the frontline to defend and support African and African-descendant people in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa in their efforts to end repressive regimes. NCBL has also been a leader in supporting those governments that have as their focus protecting the human rights of those they govern, including Grenada, where NCBL actively supported of the New Jewel Movement led by Maurice Bishop, and South Africa, where our second national Director served as an attorney for President Mandela and the African National Congress.

NCBL, therefore, allies itself with those groups and individuals that recognize structural racism as the reason for the racially disparate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as well as the government’s disdain for international efforts to address the pandemic.

There is some data on the racial impact of the virus, revealing a significant disparate effect on Black and Brown communities. This data supports the conclusion of a nation-wide racially disparate impact. According to an April 10, 2020 Buzzfeed article 1 the racial disparities in deaths from COVID-19 are startling. A few examples make the point. Blacks comprise 14% of the Michigan population, yet represent 52% of its COVID-19 deaths. Blacks are 14% of the Illinois population, yet represent 46% of its COVID-19 deaths. Blacks comprise 32% of the Louisiana population, yet represent 70% of its COVID-19 deaths. Blacks comprise 27% of the South Carolina population, yet represent 53% of its COVID-19 deaths. Some noted city disparities include Chicago where Blacks are 30% of the population and 70% of the COVID-19 deaths; Milwaukee County where Blacks comprise 26% of the population and 66% of the deaths; and, Philadelphia where Blacks comprise 42% of the population and 61% of the deaths.

These disparities result from deeply embedded racial inequities in the essential components of human well- being including adequate health care, availability of healthy food, code-compliant housing, and equal access to meaningful, skilled employment. Indeed, many Black and Brown people do not have easy access to soap and running water and thus are unable to follow the top recommendation from health experts to decrease the possibility of infection – to wash their hands frequently with soap. A few significant examples include the unhoused, those in code noncompliant housing and those living in thousands of homes in Detroit who have been subject to water shutoffs due to inability to pay water bills. Black and Brown people disproportionately work in jobs that cannot be done remotely, are disproportionately represented in essential worker jobs that expose them to others, often without the necessary personal protective equipment, and are disproportionately confined to overcrowded prisons and jails that serve as a virtual petri dish for the spread of viruses 2.

The United States’ international response to the pandemic also implicates racial inequities. In April, the President of the United States announced the United States would be suspending financial support for the World Health Organization (WHO) pending a review of the organization’s activities related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States is WHO’s largest financial contributor. ICE has deported large numbers of Haitian immigrants as this pandemic rages worldwide with no concern for whether they are infected with the virus. And, United States corporations have interrupted the flow of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Africa and Latin America. These are only a few examples of U.S. international and immigration policies that undermine efforts to end this world-wide pandemic.

We join with others, including Congressional members and health advocacy organizations, in calling for the collection, analysis and reporting of data by race on COVID-19 by state and federal health agencies. This data is essential to unmasking the places where structural racism exists, increasing the vulnerability of Black and Brown people. The call should extend to employers, state and federal punishment systems and the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), documenting those who have tested positive for COVID-19, those who are symptomatic and those who have died. The state and federal governments should commit to weekly reporting of this data until the leading health organizations and institutions, including the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Medical Association and Meharry Medical College, that has one of the leading immunologists on its faculty, indicate the pandemic is over.

NCBL supports the efforts of organizers, activists and litigators to protect those most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, who are disproportionately Black and Brown: those supporting essential workers who must go to work and are often not provided the personal protective equipment needed; those imprisoned in the jails, penitentiaries, and immigration and juvenile detention facilities throughout the country; those in nursing homes; and, the unhoused, who are living on the streets.

The coronavirus pandemic has stripped the illusion under which some have labored that there is no longer a need for the Movement for Black Liberation. This pandemic has shown that the racist systems that were developed to enslave African people and to colonize Africa, and that continued and were legally supported through Jim Crow, have been entrenched in the United States and perhaps worldwide, as structural racism – no longer needing or relying upon “bad actors,” although there are some that can be identified.

NCBL calls on government actors to immediately direct resources to the most vulnerable Black and Brown communities in the United States to aid the health centers and hospitals in testing and treating those diagnosed with COVID-19. We call upon government actors to recommit to funding WHO and to stop corporate actors from intervening in the provision of personal protective equipment to Africa and Latin America.

Finally, given the United States historic and present-day role in the creation and maintenance of structural racism, we call on the government to dedicate significant resources to dismantling it. The dismantling would include divesting from punishment systems that have targeted Black and Brown people virtually from these systems’ inception resulting in the prison industrial complex or what some now call mass incarceration. Government must instead invest in the institutions and programs developed and led by Black and Brown communities to heal the systemic injuries that flow from structural racism in all areas of life, enabling these communities to thrive.


  1. Why The Coronavirus Is Killing Black Americans At Outsize Rates Across The US  – BuzzFeed News 
  2. For example, on April 2020 it was reported that in one prison in Arkansas 650 prisoners and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.