A Persistent Disparity
The numbers make it clear, the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse.
COVID-19 infections in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia continue to rise, but in every jurisdiction, Black people are dying at a disproportionate rate.
For 6 months now 7 On Your Side has reported on how the disparity in the District of Columbia stands as the worst in the nation.
"Black residents account for roughly 46% of the district population but thus far on top is pandemic approximately 75% of the Coronavirus related deaths have been black residents" says Ward 5 DC Council Member Kenyan McDuffie.
Data from the nonpartisan American Public Media Research Lab shows that Black DC residents are dying from COVID-19 at a rate 6 times higher than white residents.
In fact the death rate for Black people has steadily grown during the pandemic, even when Coronavirus cases took a dip during the late summer and early fall.
From policy groups, to a former DC mayor and researchers 7 On Your Side has been trying to uncover what is behind the deadly disparity.
Hope For Substantive Change
Council Member McDuffie says that "the reality is that African Americans in our entire country, and it's no different in the District of Columbia, have suffered at the hands of years of government sanctioned discriminatory policies that helped to create the disparities that exist today."
McDuffie along with other concerned individuals and organizations like the DC Fiscal Policy Institute have been working for years to tackle the underlying inequalities that are exposed by the racial disparity in COVID-19 deaths.
In November that effort took a major leap forward when the DC Council unanimously passed the Racial Equity Achieves Change or REACH act.
The bill is designed to integrate racial equity into how DC government operates.
"Looking at the disparities that exist and see how the things we are implementing in our city are working to close those disparities," says McDuffie.
Key REACH Act Provisions
- Required racial equity impact assessment on all council measures
- Establishes Office of Racial Equity & Chief Equity Officer
- Requires rachial equity training for DC Government employees
- The legislation also adds multiple layers of community oversight.
"There's going to be a Council commission on racial equity, so that community members can provide their feedback on how well the district is doing when it comes to racial equity, and they can also make recommendations for improvements" says Doni Crawford, an analyst with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
Crawford was part of a broad coalition who lobbied for the REACH act.
"I hope that it's not just fluff, and, I really hope that we take a serious look at our public policies here in DC, and try to start correcting what is long overdue. That we try to make sure that Black people are being taken are of the same way the city takes care of white residents west of the river," says Crawford.
Council Member McDuffie says it was also critical important to ensure the funding was approved for the REACH Act, before the bill was passed.
"Throughout history, one zip code determines, you know, how successful you going to be and that simply should not be the case."