Racism In The US: Why Pollution, Poverty, Poor Health And The Police Can No Longer Be Ignored

OpEd by Dr. Devra Davis in International Business Times

“I can’t breathe.” Those dying words from George Floyd as he lay handcuffed and prone under the boots of a Minneapolis police officer have become a rallying call across the nation.

Other residents in Floyd’s region also have problems breathing every day. In a convergence of ongoing catastrophes, those living in North Minneapolis lack access to reliable medical care, good quality food, cleaner air and water and safer jobs. They also have the highest chances of dying from diabetes, asthma, hypertension and COVID-19.

In the early part of the 20th century, Minneapolis took the same strategy with blacks that England took with the Jews during the Renaissance by barring them from entry altogether. One covenant from 1923 promoting sales for the Nokomis development in the city’s now exclusive south shore said: “Premises shall not be sold, mortgaged, or leased to or occupied by any person or persons other than members of the Caucasian race.”  More than 20,000 such deed restrictions by race have been unearthed by urban historians for this city alone.

Four centuries of slavery and more recent policies of redlining that brought Jim Crow well into the North leave us with a deeply troubling legacy.  While video captured this sickening display of racial injustice to Floyd, no video chronicles the thousands that lose their lives every year just because they live near metal recycling plants, antiquated industrial mills or other dangerous sources of pollution.  Wired reported recently that the upper midwest has been especially inhospitable:  ultra-fine particulate air pollution shortens the lives of 2,000 each year in the Minneapolis region.

Each death is a loss. Each its own tragedy. But, when looked at together, these deaths leave patterns that tell important stories.

Read the full Op ed here