The request for a probe by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division was led by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, but was also joined by elected leaders from Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Philadelphia.
Last Wednesday, half a dozen elected officials who signed the letter discussed why they asked for a full investigation into any potential civil rights violations.
“The virus itself does not discriminate,” Williams said. “But we cannot ignore the fact that black and brown people have borne the brunt of this.”
According to the public advocate, black and Latino New Yorkers make up roughly 51 percent of the population in New York City, but 62 percent of deaths.
African-Americans constitute 14 percent of the population in Michigan, but 40 percent of fatalities. In Chicago, African-Americans make up 52 percent of cases but 72 percent of deaths.
Williams said while some of the disparity is due to the lack of leadership from the president, he said local elected officials are to blame, too. He said New York City had the worst coronavirus response on the planet.
“In the city of New York, the governor and mayor were too slow to act,” he said. “We want to hold decision makers accountable.”
Specifically, Williams said the mayor took too long to close schools, was still going to parks at the outset, and kept construction sites open. The governor, he said, fought against using the term “shelter-in-place.”
“We have to make sure all of this is investigated,” he said. “We want to correct all of this moving forward because we are expecting another wave.”
The public advocate added that as the data came in, the city did not have bold or quick actions to address the racial disparities.
“Our inaction has a human cost,” Williams said.
The coalition of elected officials said they want the Department of Justice probe to look into unequal access to information and resources, unequal distribution of personal protective equipment to hospitals, inadequate protection for frontline workers, lack of COVID-19 testing and a dozen other possible violations.
Borough President Adams, who spent more than two decades in law enforcement, said there is no better investigatory arm than the Department of Justice. He called for a comprehensive and thorough investigation to “seek the truth.”
“We cannot wait for a Democrat, a Republican or independent to occupy the White House before the investigatory arm does their job,” he said. “They have the ability to get to the heart of exactly what happened during COVID-19.”
Adams said the city ignored his calls to more closely examine adult day cares and nursing homes and to give masks to essential employees. He said the lack of testing in black and brown communities was “clear.”
“This is not an accident,” he said. “The similarities are too clear for us to dismiss it as an accident.”
Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC) in the City Council, said everything from the infection rate to the lack of testing were factors that resulted in the loss of life.
“From the beginning of the outbreak, the disparities were shameful,” she said. “The pleas of our communities were completely ignored. It’s systemic racism.”