A Statement from RPC Chief Executive Officer Dalitso Sulamoyo

These last few weeks and months have been extremely difficult and stressful for all of us. We all are continuing to deal with this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for which currently there is no cure or vaccine. We have literally witnessed our world and way of life held hostage by a lethal virus that has claimed many lives across the globe. Already, COVID-19 has infected over 1.8 million Americans and taken more than 105,000 American lives. We deeply mourn for all those who have died and feel the pain and hardship of so many more whose lives have been forever impacted by this crisis.

While the coronavirus has unleashed its hazard on the health and economy of our nation, it has also revealed a pre-existing condition that places all of us at greater risk: The disparity of human value – more specifically, racism – has served as a catalyst that disproportionately heightened the infection, the disease, and the death of certain segments of the population; namely, people of color, who are also disproportionately people with low incomes living in places that were already in distress and suffering great physical, economic, and social harm. This most notably includes Latinos, numerous Native American tribes, and more than anyone, the Black community. In 32 states, plus Washington D.C., black people are dying at rates higher than their proportion of the population. In 21 states, it’s substantially higher, more than 50% above what would be expected. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater. Nationally, the latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for African Americans is 2.4 times the rate for the White community; or looked at another way, if they had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as white folks, about 13,000 African Americans would still be alive.

As an African American, this added stressor during the pandemic has been compounded by the recently recorded event in Minneapolis that led to the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd while in the custody of four police officers. While this issue of police brutality is not a first, it has served as a tipping point on issues of structural and systemic racism that in previous years have been difficult to constructively bring to the surface without creating divisions in our society. The facts are that African Americans comprise 13.4% of the population but 23.4% of the victims of reported fatal police shootings. African Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white people to be shot and killed by the police. In 20 states it’s more than 3 times as likely, and in two states as high as 9 times as likely. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the countless number of Black men and women who have been murdered in the streets by self-appointed vigilantes or who lost their lives while there were no video or cameras to tell their stories for true justice to prevail.

When I watched that video, I cried at the reminder of injustice I saw right before my eyes. When I watched that video, I immediately thought of my children. We have cried as a family and continue to have dialogue about these ongoing but very troubling issues. When I watched that video, I was angry at the helplessness I felt seeing a man literally die at the hands of individuals who signed up to serve and protect. When I watched that video, I was reminded of the times when I have been followed, stopped, or questioned for no apparent reason but being black or “looking like someone suspected of a crime.” When I watched that video I was reminded of the pain and suffering that many have had to endure due to structural and systemic racism. Finally, when I watched that video, I was reminded of how much work we still must do collectively as a society. These experiences that many of us have faced and continue to face do not recognize our actual backgrounds, role, or place in society.

As we continue to process what is currently going on in our world, I am hopeful that the anger, cries, and demonstrations we have seen across this world due to the unwarranted tragedy that occurred in Minneapolis will lead to constructive reforms that will begin to dismantle structural and systemic racism that has led to this point in time. Until structural and systemic racism is addressed legislatively, culturally, and socially, these tragedies will continue to affect communities of color at disproportionate and inequitable rates. This is not just an African American issue; this is a societal issue that we should all collectively work on to address and eliminate.

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