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COVID-19 is not an equalizer.


Elizabeth Banach: COVID-19 in the suburbs

As a white woman, I have always been acutely aware that I live a privileged life. Perhaps that privilege is most clear in the fact that I have never feared for my children’s lives. I never worried about sending my children out to play in our neighborhood or to walk to their school bus stop. That changed two weeks ago when COVID-19 touched my family.

My daughter and I sat in her pediatrician’s office as her little body shook with chills. The nurse told us several patient rooms were currently occupied with other children exhibiting similar symptoms. Clearly overwhelmed by the onslaught of patients, she confided that she had no clear guidance on how to alleviate my daughter’s symptoms. Within earshot, medical professionals discussed if my daughter merited one of the limited tests.

When my child’s flu test came back negative, the physician, noting her history of asthma gave her a COVID-19 test. Then the staff gave us one of their severely rationed masks and told me to “rush your daughter out of the office and try not to touch anything.” No guidance. No sense of security. No idea if my child was a threat to others. As I left, I thought of how my daughter was able to receive a test that an asthmatic child in Baltimore likely would have had difficulty coming by. I thought about my colleague James Timpson who has devoted his life to assisting people who are in crisis and lack resources and information.

James Timpson: COVID-19 in Baltimore

As a black man, who has lived in Baltimore city for his entire life, the instability, fear, and misinformation that COVID-19 has brought to our city is nothing new. The reality is that we’ve had an epidemic on the streets of Baltimore for decades: it’s called gun violence.

I have devoted my professional life to ending violence. As the Director of Community Partnerships and Safety at Roca Baltimore my job is to help young people build the safety, relationships, and skills they need to stay alive and make better decisions.

One of the most important principles of our work on gun violence is that we have to focus on the people most at risk and meet them where they are. The guys I work with in Baltimore don’t listen to CNN. They are not keeping up to date on the latest CDC recommendations or Governor’s orders. And yet their families are among those with the highest rates of underlying health conditions. We have to get the right information into their hands. When I see our young people hanging out on the street having not been properly informed about the crisis, I have to say to them, “What about your grandma who lives with you, or your little brothers and sisters or cousins?”

But as much as we want our young people to stay safe from corona virus, their lives are always under threat. The streets don’t stop just because a pandemic is raging. As a city, we must stay very focused on violence, perhaps even more so during this crisis. The corona virus adds significant new dangers to people’s lives: sudden unemployment, new demand at drug markets, changes in movement patterns and encounters between rivals, surges in domestic violence and child abuse rates driven by staying home.

Better Together

COVID-19 is not an equalizer. It is far worse than that. You think it is hard to find toilet paper in your community? Try finding fresh fruit and vegetables in most low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore, ever. Disadvantaged by health and safety challenges others don’t face, marginalized populations are at much greater risk. Yet, due to the urgency of fighting coronavirus, state lawmakers may cut crucial programs like the bipartisan Maryland Violence Intervention and Prevention Program fund. This bill sponsored by Delegate Brooke Lierman and State Senator Jill Carter serves the most disenfranchised people. Shifting intervention resources from one life-or-death struggle to another is a dangerous path.

Gun violence has been a public health concern long before COVID-19 hit the streets. It will be here long after COVID-19 is gone. The importance of COVID-19 has been elevated to the forefront because it has impacted people of all races and classes. Yet, gun violence and fatalities largely impact people who live in poor, black and brown communities. This has not abated at all. Without staying focused, these communities will remain in perpetual crises long after COVID-19 is gone.

James Timpson is the Director of Community Partnerships and Safety at Roca, Inc.
Elizabeth Banach is the Executive Director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.