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Philadelphia We Have a Problem

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

As information comes out daily around COVID-19, there are communities who are bracing for the disproportionate impact this will have on their families and neighborhoods. As someone who works in the gun violence prevention space, I have been grappling with how this pandemic will affect communities that are already most impacted by gun violence, which happen to be black communities. Unfortunately, communities that are most impacted are often plagued by structural inequities such as poverty, income inequality, underperforming schools, and under-resourced public services, which will compound this disproportionate impact.

A coalition of civil rights leaders went to Congress last week to share this same sentiment, urging elected officials to apply a racial equity lens to all COVID-19 relief. CEO and President of the National Urban League Marc H. Morial said in a statement, “As we often say, when white America catches a cold, black America gets pneumonia, and never has that metaphor been more apt.”

President and CEO of the NAACP Derrick Johnson added, “Urban communities of color are likely to suffer the brunt of the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis and any legislative response must contain targeted relief. Low-income workers, who are disproportionately African American, are the least likely to have paid sick leave.” He continued, “Black workers are more likely to face short-term layoffs or total loss of employment. How is the country going to address their plight?”

This convergence of two pandemics -- COVID-19 and gun violence -- and the deadly intersection’s disproportionate impact on communities can be seen right here in Philadelphia. An article by the Philadelphia Inquirer highlights the lack of equity in public education as wealthier districts in the Greater Philadelphia region have required mandatory remote learning, while Philadelphia's public school teachers can provide optional, online lessons for students due to lack of access to appropriate resources.

Meanwhile, violence in Philadelphia is reaching alarming levels. Tragically, on Thursday, March 19, Philadelphia had 83 homicides, and homicides are up 26% compared to the same time last year. City Manager Brian Abernathy said, “In addition to our concerns about this infection, we’re also extremely concerned about the level of violence that’s taking place,” as reported by the Philadelphia Tribune. Gun violence is continuing to plague Philadelphia, and it is perpetuated by these same inequitable systems impacting how communities will experience COVID-19. Furthermore, Abernathy's statement reinforces the need to respond to gun violence as the public health epidemic that it is. As we are currently seeing, when something is treated as a public health epidemic, more resources and collaboration are readily available.

When we flatten the curve of COVID-19, I hope society critically addresses the structural inequities that have negative impacts on people’s daily lives. I hope that the government, the private sector, and nonprofits will continue to collaborate as they have in this moment to ensure equity and access. I hope the “Fight for 15” will no longer be needed, as employers will provide a liveable wage, that access to healthcare and social services will have fewer barriers, and that public education in urban areas will get the overhaul it desperately needs to level the playing field.

Lauren Footman is a Community Engagement Coordinator at the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. Lauren has been working in the violence prevention movement for 7 years at the intersection of communities and policy.

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