SACRAMENTO – While leaders work to “flatten the curve” and stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus, many in the African American community feel flat out ignored.
As the virus continues to claim African Americans at a disproportionate rate — further exposing disparities — a group of local concerned citizens are demanding action and accountability. The Sacramento African American COVID-19 Outreach Coalition has penned an open letter to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, members of the City Council and the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.
The letter was delivered to officials on Tuesday. Members of the community will also have the opportunity to sign it and send as a show of solidarity.
“These are unprecedented times,” the letter starts. “In many respects, the pandemic has exacerbated the generational disparities Blacks face in areas such as health care, education, employment, transportation, technology, economics, housing, and more. Now, more than at any time over the past 50 years, the demand for accurate information and access to comprehensive health, economic support and services within our community is a matter of life and death,” the missive continues.
Coalition members outline eight demands starting with the opening of accessible COVID-19 testing sites in predominantly Black neighborhoods, increased access to health services to decrease the mortality rate and ongoing release of demographically segmented data related to COVID-19 infections and deaths. Other requests include a Black-specific educational outreach effort, regular dialogue about the availability of resources and a commitment by law enforcement to not criminalize African Americans while adhering to COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing masks.
A month into the pandemic and a site at Cal Expo is about the only public testing available locally.
Greg King, a community advocate who runs Always Knocking, Inc. in South Sacramento, is among those who crafted and signed the letter.
“From the North side to the South side, out to Del Paso Heights and back to Elder Creek and neighborhoods like these there’s no place where our communities can go get tested and it be accessible whether you have transportation or not or if you need to get there by public transportation,” King said. “Even with the one at Cal Expo, you have to go online and answer some questions to determine whether you qualify to be tested or not.”
Such requirements, he says, are based on the assumption that people have access to a computer and the Internet. Many low-income and elderly African Americans don’t.
“Our people are not going out to Cal Expo,” shared fellow letter author Dr. Tecoy Porter.
Dr. Porter is pastor of Genesis Church in Meadowview and president of the Sacramento Chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
“Some people can’t or just won’t because they’re scared to go out there and then not know what will happen if they (test positive) and there’s no treatment. There’s issues with having just one site. We need something closer in our neighborhoods,” he said.
“We need to be a part of the process to not only see that testing comes to our neighborhoods, but that there are resources to go along with it,” King said. “‘Now that I’ve been tested and the results are out, what do I do?’”
The Coalition is also concerned about transparent data.
“They released the number that there have been 72 cases in the Oak Park area, but where in the Oak Park area?,” King asks. “Does that go all the way over to 99? Does that go all the way back by UC Davis? How far along Stockton Boulevard does that go? The main thing about this letter is to definitely be a part of the main narrative, to push our own narrative, taking matters into our own hands instead of waiting for them to say ‘hey, this is where it’s going to be.’ We want to be a part of the decision-making process.”
Community activist Faye Kennedy also signed the open letter, representing the Sacramento Area Black Caucus and the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign.
“Black folks always get the short end of any stick,” Ms. Kennedy said.
“Even when we didn’t have a COVID pandemic, we had poor access to health care for all of us,” she continued. “Even when you went to your doctor and said your side hurt, they looked at you like you’re crazy. There have been studies that say that Black folks are not getting pain meds because they don’t think we have pain. The system is already stacked up against us and you add the coronavirus to it and it’s no wonder we’re seeing the numbers we are.”
Ms. Kennedy said the group’s demands are not unreasonable.
“They can find resources for some things and not others. It’s incumbent upon our community, the African American community, to actually say that. What I always find interesting about this country is that you can find money for war, but you can’t find money to educate people. So they’re just going to have to find it,” she said.
The pandemic recently hit home for Ms. Kennedy when fellow activist Omowale Osunkoya died of the coronavirus last week.
“We need targeted outreach,” she said. “We have to engage people, you have to help people understand, yeah we do get it.”
The open letter can be found at http://sacobserver.com/african-american-community-covid-19-open-letter/. To further encourage officials to “step up in support of the most vulnerable in our community,” people can sign the letter online and have a copy forwarded to local officials or share on their social media.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer