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COMMENTARY: COVID-19, the View Across Black America

NNPA NEWSWRE — While Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail has been largely emptied of its professional class of passengers, reductions in the city’s bus service have made it difficult for its darker and poorer customers—many of whom work in government jobs considered “essential” or the service sector and either do not have sick pay or cannot afford to take the day off—to practice social distancing on buses teeming with riders. Near the end of March, a Metrobus driver tested positive for the virus.

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“…the pandemic is exacerbating problems such as homelessness and unemployment and health conditions such as diabetes. This is dramatically increasing anxiety levels for many in South Florida’s African American and Afro-Caribbean communities.” (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Jon Jeter, The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Similar to Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago, the global coronavirus pandemic is shining a light on America’s racial fault lines. By whatever trope you choose to deploy—“last hired, first fired,” “When White America catches a cold, Black America has the flu,” or “Your Blues ain’t like mine” — People of Color generally, and the 42 million descendants of chattel slaves, specifically, will experience this almost Biblical scourge in ways that are very different from Whites.

A nurse reports that White nurses began disappearing from her central New Jersey hospital around the first week of March, applying for vacation and leaves of absence just as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. was beginning to skyrocket.

As the hospital admitted more and more infected patients, they announced that all time-off requests would be denied, leaving mostly Black and Brown nurses to cope with the worst global health crisis in more than a century.

But that’s not all. Running short of surgical masks and hand sanitizer, a nurse at the hospital recently was exposed to a patient infected with the coronavirus; her coworkers are on pins and needles, nervously awaiting her test results.

“While most facilities like the one I work at have turned away any new admissions, we’re still taking admissions,” wrote one nurse, a Latina with 15 years of experience. She surmised that hospital executives hope to profit from the growing caseload.

While Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail has been largely emptied of its professional class of passengers, reductions in the city’s bus service have made it difficult for its darker and poorer customers—many of whom work in government jobs considered “essential” or the service sector and either do not have sick pay or cannot afford to take the day off—to practice social distancing on buses teeming with riders. Near the end of March, a Metrobus driver tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“It’s impossible to socially isolate in a sardine can,” said Rohan Edmonson, 40, who lives in the D.C. suburb of Silver Spring and works on Embassy Row.

The buses in South Florida are considerably less crowded than usual, said one African American resident, Roger Williams. After revelers and spring breakers—mostly but not entirely White —posted photographs and videos last week of large gatherings on boats and beaches, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered the closure of all public beaches, parks, marinas, and recreational facilities.

The measures are beginning to take: Williams said he rode his bicycle on a typically bustling roadway near his suburban Miami home last week and only encountered one vehicle on the road, a scene that is redolent of post-hurricane Florida. The challenge, however, is that “a lot of very low-income Miamians live in motels, and many are now being asked to leave because of the shutdown,” said Williams. This is “creating another crisis, since they will now add to the already striking numbers of homeless people on Miami’s streets.”

A Haitian-born American woman who works for a major healthcare provider agreed, saying that she has found that the pandemic is exacerbating problems such as homelessness and unemployment and health conditions such as diabetes. This is dramatically increasing anxiety levels for many in South Florida’s African American and Afro-Caribbean communities.

At ground zero of the U.S. pandemic, New York City, only essential services are allowed to remain open: groceries, drug stores, liquor stores, hardware stores, and restaurants that offer delivery. Grocery store shelves remain well-stocked, but cold and flu medicines are in short supply in drug stores.

In Harlem, Margaret Kimberley, an author and columnist for Black Agenda Report, wrote on Facebook: “People are riding the subway, but there are so few that you really can practice social distancing even on public transportation. I’d say half of the people I see outside are wearing masks, myself included. Some are makeshift affairs, scarves tightly tied around the mouth for example. . .

“To prevent people crowding onto buses,” Kimberley continued, “we are now allowed to enter through the back door. This is something poor people always did. Now everyone can ride for free… I got my hair braided yesterday, the last day before beauty shops had to close. I wasn’t alone, but there were a lot fewer people than you would see there on a normal Saturday. I went but wore my mask.”

Perhaps the most jarring description from Kimberley was the gallows humor that has descended on Harlem’s Black community as many discuss the Trump administration’s plans for emergency grants. “Lots of folks are out of work. People are making jokes about getting checks from Trump but I think it is no joke. Folks were struggling before this, and the $1,000 they’re expecting will come in handy.”

It is by no means strictly doom and gloom, however. Across the country, communities are banding together to help each other weather the storm.

Activists with the Community Ready Corps are distributing Corona Kits—hand sanitizer, N95 masks, and brochures—immune-boosting care packages of garlic, ginger, turmeric, lentils and oats, and even books to Oakland’s Black community focusing on the elderly, the sickly, and even stir-crazy kids.

Opened four years ago amid a food desert on Indianapolis’ east side, the Trap has pivoted sharply to a web-only eatery that is preparing to ship its shrink-wrapped healthy seafood nationwide. A retired schoolteacher in New Jersey volunteered to knit surgical masks for mostly nurses of color treating coronavirus patients at a local hospital.

Jon Jeter is a freelance journalist writer and social critic He formerly worked for several major newspapers, including the Washington Post before becoming an independent journalist.

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Brittney Griner Sentenced to More than 9 years in Russian Prison

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision. “We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

WNBA Superstar Brittney Griner has been sentenced to more than 9 years in a Russian prison following her conviction on drug charges.

Her lawyers called the verdict a disappointment and vowed to appeal.

The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision.

“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

“The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice.

“Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal,” they added.

Russian officials contended that Griner committed the crime on purpose. They also levied a fine totaling about $16,400 American dollars on the basketball star.

Authorities arrested Griner on Feb. 17 at an airport in Moscow after finding less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

She has been detained since then.

Recently, American officials revealed that the Biden-Harris administration had offered notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” President Biden said.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

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Report: Human Rights Violations in Prisons Throughout Southern United States Cause Disparate and Lasting Harm in Black Communities  

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination, perhaps more so in the area of mass incarceration and prison conditions than in any other context,” said Lisa Borden, Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

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NNPA Newswire

NEW YORK – The Southern Prisons Coalition, a group of civil and human rights organizations, submitted a new report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on the devastating consequences of incarceration on Black people throughout the southern United States.

With the long-term goal of eliminating all forms of racial discrimination in the criminal legal system, including the carceral system, the report describes the widespread, disparate harms resulting from the arrests, harsh prison sentences, and incarceration on Black communities.

The report also cites the devastating impacts of solitary confinement, prison labor, the school to prison pipeline, and incarceration of parents on Black families.

On August 8, 2022, the UN will review the United States’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination for the first time since 2014.

Among the ongoing stark racial disparities throughout prisons in the southern United States, Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated in state prisons.

In states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, where Black communities comprise 38% of the total population, Black individuals account for as much as 67% of the total incarcerated population.

While incarcerated, Black people are more than eight times more likely to be placed in solitary confinement, and they are 10 times more likely to be held there for exceedingly long periods of time.

By submitting the report to the United Nations, the Southern Prisons Coalition hopes to solicit concrete recommendations from the UN Committee as well as commitments from the United States delegation about their plans to address systemic issues in the United States prison system, particularly in the South.

According to the report, several states in the United States have also failed to meet several of the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of incarcerated people, including:

  • Work should help to prepare incarcerated people for their release from prison, including life and job skills;
  • Safety measures and labor protections for incarcerated workers should be the same as those that cover workers who are not incarcerated;
  • Incarcerated workers should receive equitable pay, be able to send money home to their families, and have a portion of their wages set aside to be given to them upon release.

“The U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination, perhaps more so in the area of mass incarceration and prison conditions than in any other context,” said Lisa Borden, Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We hope the Committee will help to shine a light on these very dark truths and prompt the U.S. to take its obligation to make significant improvements more seriously.”

“The abuses of forced labor are inextricably tied to racial discrimination in our nation,” said Jamila Johnson, Deputy Director at the Promise of Justice Initiative.

“In Louisiana, for instance, people are still sent into the fields to labor by hand in dangerously high heat indexes, for little to no compensation, and with brutal enforcement reminiscent of slavery and the era of ‘convict leasing’.”

“This report reveals the suffering of Black people in southern U.S. prisons, whose stories of marginalization and discrimination echo the racial subjugation of slavery and convict leasing during our country’s most shameful past,” said Antonio L. Ingram II, Assistant Counsel at the Legal Defense Fund.

“Despite widespread knowledge of the longstanding racial inequalities in the criminal legal and carceral systems, the United States continues to allow egregious human rights violations to persist for Black incarcerated people in violation of international law. This report serves as a sobering reminder of how far we need to go.”

Read the full report here.

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Celebrate your birthday with 10 free items

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Is your birthday coming up, and you’re not sure how to celebrate? Beat the summer heat by grabbing free ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, or a daiquiri at WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe.” Not in the mood for sweets? Head over to Jersey Mike’s or McDonald’s. Check out the rest of these Top 10 places giving out free items on your special day.

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By Angelina Liu, Entertainment Editor of The Trendsetter / Texas Metro News

Is your birthday coming up, and you’re not sure how to celebrate? Beat the summer heat by grabbing free ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, or a daiquiri at WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe.” Not in the mood for sweets? Head over to Jersey Mike’s or McDonald’s. Check out the rest of these Top 10 places giving out free items on your special day.

1. Chocolate Secrets

At Chocolate Secrets, located at 3926 Oak Lawn Ave, Dallas, TX 75219, you can celebrate your birthday by getting one free piece of candy under their candy cases.

2. WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe”

Head to WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe”, located at 684 W Pioneer Pkwy Suite 100, Grand Prairie, Texas 75051, to claim a free small personal daiquiri on your birthday. Quench your thirst with signature flavors such as “Strawberry Shortcake” or “Bahama Mama.”

3. Sephora

Sign up for a free, Beauty Insider account and receive your choice of 250 bonus points, Laura Mercier, Amika or Tatcha sets on your birthday. The choice of powders, lipsticks and skincare is bound to make you look fabulous for your special day.

4. Starbucks

Need a quick pick-me-up on your birthday? Starbucks has it covered! Join the Starbucks Rewards Program seven days prior to your birthday and make one purchase. Starbucks will then email you a coupon for a free food or beverage item two days before your birthday. The birthday reward qualifies for anything on the menu, including any size handcrafted drink or food item.

5. Jersey Mike’s

In the mood for a sub? Head over to Jersey Mike’s and receive a free sub and drink. Make sure to sign up for the Jersey Mike’s Subs Email Club prior to your birthday to receive this reward. Nothing tastes quite like melted cheese and meat in between a toasted baguette, along with an icy cold drink.

6. The Cheesecake Factory

Celebrating with friends? Tell your server it’s your birthday and receive a free treat as well as a song. It may be mildly embarrassing, but hey, it’s free!

7. Culver’s

Need something cold and sweet to beat the Texas heat? Head to Culver’s for a free sundae when you sign up for their rewards program. The sweet creaminess will surely not disappoint.

8. IHOP

Want to indulge in a sweet breakfast before birthday festivities? Join the International Bank of Pancakes rewards program to receive a free stack of pancakes on your birthday. Pair your pancakes with a choice of chocolate chips, syrup, fresh fruit or a dollop of whipped cream.

9. McDonald’s

Need a snack before embarking on your next birthday adventure? Download the McDonald’s app and join MyMcDonald’s Rewards to receive free large fries. Mmm, the taste and smell of fresh, perfectly salted french fries.

10. Smoothie King

Want to celebrate your birthday with a healthier option? Enjoy a birthday smoothie at Smoothie King. Download the Smoothie King app to receive this offer.

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