The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam saying the move to reopen Virginia would be treating black and brown people like “guinea pigs for our economy.”
According to NewsOne, Virginia is slowly reopening the state with the first phase occurring on Friday. However, the black caucus believes the state doesn’t have the necessary testing capacity and infrastructure to safely reopen without putting minorities at an unfair risk.
“Throughout our country’s history, Black and Brown people have been experimented on and used as unwilling test subjects before — we cannot allow that to be repeated here,” the letter states.
In many states across the country including Virginia, African Americans and minorities are dying at a faster rate than white Americans.
Minorities are at a higher risk of being infected and dying of coronavirus due to low-wage jobs that don’t allow them to telecommute. Additionally, low-wage workers have to interact with strangers as part of their job.
Northam said his decision to open the state is based on positive trends in key metrics related to the virus’ spread, like testing capacity and hospital readiness. At a press conference on Wednesday, Northam downplayed the state’s reopening saying, “Phase one represents a small step forward.”
After two weeks of debate by state lawmakers, Northam’s plan will reopen retail businesses with limited capacity. Barbershops and hair salons will be by appointment only and both customers and employees have to wear face masks. Restaurants will continue to allow delivery orders and bowling alleys, theme parks, gyms, and beaches in the state will remain closed.
Northam’s spokesperson, Alena Yarmosky, told reporters the governor is “absolutely committed to moving forward in a gradual manner that protects all Virginians, particularly low-income individuals, essential workers, and communities of color.”
However, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has asked Northam to create a task force to track racial disparities in coronavirus pandemic in the state.
Some African American business owners have decided to stay closed, even as their states begin to open. Rapper Killer Mike, who owns several barbershops in Atlanta, said in April that even though Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Atlanta businesses could reopen, he would keep his shops closed.
“As a citizen in the community where people look like me, I’m choosing to stay closed because I don’t want to endanger [anybody],” he said in April. “And a lot of times, politicians have different views of things. I think governors and mayors should all get on the phone together because as your constituents, we need you to do that.”