We are witnessing the unexpected convergence of demands for environmental justice, public health, and prisoner rights.
These are difficult and trying times.
Coronavirus, climate change and contamination<p>We know that some of the very same communities hit hardest by COVID-19 are impacted most heavily by police violence in particular and by institutional racism more broadly.</p><p>In recent months, we have seen that the rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths among Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are much higher than for whites because of higher rates of pre-existing conditions, lower quality medical care (when accessible at all), and the more general stresses and health toll associated with living in a racist society that places a much lower value on the lives of people in these demographic categories.</p><p>Similarly, the scourge of environmental racism and climate injustice disproportionately harms Black and brown communities, Indigenous communities, and immigrant communities because government and corporate institutions know that these populations offer the path of least resistance, have fewer connections to the corridors of political and economic power and influence, and are broadly viewed by this nation's majority as less than deserving of adequate environmental and public health protections.</p><p>These populations have contributed the least to the problem of global climate disruption but are on the front lines of this crisis as they are more likely to: live near coal-fired power plants, which are the leading contributor to climate gas emissions and produce widespread asthma and other respiratory illnesses; suffer from extreme temperatures in urban heat islands; pay more of their income toward energy bills; and experience the brunt of agricultural losses and food shortages associated with climate-related events.</p>
The George Floyd mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Credit: Lorie Shaull/flickr)
The prison pandemic<p>Some scholars have reframed police brutality as an environmental justice concern because it negatively affects the health of individuals, families, and entire communities, as assaults on our bodies by agents of the state reflect the ways that the state also launches assaults on our air, land, and water. Thus, in COVID-19 and police brutality, we have two intersecting public health crises that unjustly harm certain communities, while other populations enjoy the unearned privileges of breathing cleaner air, drinking cleaner water, and not worrying about whether the presence of a police officer might mean a death sentence.</p><p>The crises of COVID-19 and police brutality are coming together inside the nation's prison system as well. Racist "over-policing" and racial profiling in communities of color, and institutional racism in the court system have resulted in a national prison population that is majority Black and brown, and low-income.</p><p>There is now clear documentation that the U.S. prison and jail system is inherently unsafe and unhealthy even during the best of times. Water systems in carceral facilities across the U.S. are infamously contaminated, mold and polluted air are extremely common, and many prisons sit atop or adjacent to hazardous waste sites. This means prisons are sites of extreme environmental racism and injustice.</p><p>As if that were not enough, the design and layout of prisons and jails makes it impossible to practice the physical distancing required to slow community transmission of COVID-19, which means that being sent to one of our nation's carceral facilities constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference to the health and well-being of our fellow community members.</p>
Police at a Black Lives Matter Protest on June 2, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Credit: yashmori/flickr)