A webinar hosted by the Alliance for Safety and Justice featured members of the black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American Caucuses speaking about the challenges their constituents are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The webinar, hosted Monday by Robert Rooks, CEO of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, featured one member from each caucus.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass – Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
Karen Bass said the Congressional Black Caucus is focused on the U.S. prison population. African Americans make up about 15% of the population in the U.S. but more than 40% of the prison population.
“From day one the Congressional Black Caucus was very concerned about mass incarceration period,” Bass said. “But the idea that you have hundreds of thousands of people in our prisons and jails around the country really amount to them being a petri dish.”
Bass added that while the Centers for Disease Control promotes social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding people, prisons across the country are overcrowded, unsanitary, and begging for the coronavirus to attack.
As a result, Bass and the Congressional Black Caucus have called for the early release of prisoners, particularly women and juveniles. The caucus is also calling for funds to be given to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for more testing and contract tracing in prisons. The caucus also wants employees to be tested for the virus as they’re also at a significant risk of being infected.
“We’ve also called for massive testing,” Bass said. “How do you not test people in a petri dish? Not just the inmates but also the guards and everyone that works in a prison.”
Bass also discussed the environment people are being released into, pointing out that many of the inmates that are being released are going to the same areas that are disproportionately being affected by the virus.
“We know that the Bureau of Prisons is not really testing, so in this last response bill we mandated it,” Bass said. “At the same time we’re calling for early release, we are also calling for massive funding for the Second Chance Act. It’s one thing to release people, but what are they being released to?”
U.S. Rep. Rubén Gallego – 1st Vice-Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Rubén Gallego expressed his concern for essential workers who are forced to continue working during the coronavirus pandemic while at the same time being underpaid and dealing with significant lapses in health insurance.
“COVID-19 has really exposed the structural racism that has caused the African American and Latino community to be some of the largest victims of the pandemic,” Gallego said. “Now, not only are the Trump administration ignoring how it’s affecting our communities, but they are also forcing us to go out and work and put their lives on the line. It’s very insulting.”
Many Latinos across the U.S are employed at low-wage positions that force them to continue to leave their homes, take public transportation, and interact with strangers every day. All of which increase the likelihood of being infected. Gallego also called out the Trump administration for its lack of urgency in helping minority populations.
“We see brown brothers and sisters that are exposing themselves to COVID-19 despite high infection rates and they don’t have health insurance and get paid barely minimum wage,” Gallego said. “Right now this administration is taking over factories under the Defense Production Act, basically making them essential workers but not treating them like essential workers.
“They’re not getting health insurance, they’re not getting tested most of the time and if they quit they’re not going to be eligible for unemployment insurance and if you’re undocumented, you’re not getting anything,” Gallego added.
Gallego said the caucuses are trying to protect the true working class of people in this country and trying to make sure there are protections for all workers in the coronavirus relief bill that passed the House last week.
U.S. Rep. Mark Takano – Second Vice-Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
Mark Takano discussed the discrimination that Asian Pacific Americans have had to deal with since the coronavirus pandemic began. Additionally, Takano slammed the Trump administration for its racist rhetoric, which Takano said has normalized hate against Asian-Pacific Americans.
“We’ve seen officials double down on racist rhetoric when referring to COVID-19 including the president and not only have some members of his party aided and abetted him,” Takano said, “but they’ve actively participated in the kind of stereotypical characterizations of Asian Americans and have connected them to the type of mass blame and mass guilt to others in America being emboldened to verbally and physically threaten others in America.”
According to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, more than 650 cases of discrimination against Asian Pacific Americans related to coronavirus have occurred in just the first two weeks of March and many are violent.
President Trump, who began calling the coronavirus the Chinese Virus in March doubled down on the term when he was pressed by the media.
“Given that this is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, its’ a great time to elevate these issues in the API community, “Takano said. “In times like this, we really need to call out racism and remind the American people that words have power and not doing so would be a failure of leadership.”