By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ
The Dallas Examiner
The coronavirus pandemic had the opportunity to create more of a level playing field – as it has crippled the economy, causing the middle-class to suffer from concerns often experienced by economically disadvantaged households.
Hashtags like #InThisTogether, #SeparateButTogether and #ApartButNotAlone shared the sentiment that we’re all “in the same boat.” Honestly, I almost bought into it as students in need were provided tablets/laptops, hotspots and food. It was a good feeling too. But the fact is, we might be riding the same boat, but we’re not all on the same level.
Systemic racism runs so deep through the veins of America that apparently it would take more than an almost worldwide quarantine to level the playing field. After all, it is the United States that celebrates its freedom as July 4, 1776, though slavery in the U.S. didn’t end until Dec.18, 1865 – in Texas on June 19, 1865.
Frontline essential workers
It’s 2020, and we still have African Americans – from those living below the poverty level to the working poor – who are falling ill and dying at disproportionate levels of various illnesses. Though heredity and lifestyle does play a significant role in developing certain diseases, life expectancy is generally determined by access to health care and ability to obtain insurance.
According to statistics, it is these African Americans – as well as Hispanics – who are more likely to die from COVID-19 due to many of these pre-existing conditions.
Moreover, the majority of essential workers seems to be minorities working in the food service and delivery fields, warehouse workers, health care aides in nursing homes and assisted living centers, etc. many of the which didn’t necessarily choose to work, but had to work in order to take care of the family – including family members that may be unemployed during the shelter in place order.
When Congress first began talking about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, I had my doubts that it would ever pass. But when I did, I kept wondering what the catch was. Then the Small Business Association announced loan programs to small businesses, which they would not have to pay them back if they complied with the rules. Even media present at the conference questioned how evenly it would be distributed and if there was enough for every small business owner.
By now, I think we all know that it definitely had a catch.
The catch was that recipients needed to have a “good relationship with the banks.” But the truth is that many small minority companies were already struggling to stay in business to begin with. They may not have been able to pay back their loans in a timely fashion. So many others didn’t take out loans for fear that it would be too much to pay back. It’s also likely that some could have simply had a series of bounced checks, whether they have tried to make good on that or not. There are a variety of incidents that could have hindered the “relationship” between a bank and small businesses. So with those businesses, getting a check during the time you need it most may have been extremely difficult or not possible at all.
On the other hand, there have been reports of large companies receiving the loans that were meant for small businesses – which could explain why the SBA ran out of funding.
Make American Gains Again
For years, we’ve heard that we’re all just one paycheck from being homeless. But during this pandemic, my heart goes out to those living below the poverty level and the working poor that already had trouble keeping the light on and food in the refrigerator. But it was not those families who have been storming the country’s capitols with AR-15 style rifles, Confederate flags, nooses and swastikas demanding that their jobs be reopened despite the lives at stake. I shutter to think what jobs could require these items, but I do know of one group.
The ugly business of beauty
Brittany Brown, a Black hair salon owner in Fort Worth, was publicly shamed on Facebook by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation for continuing to run her business. However, she had not continued to run her business. TDLR blasted her after her Facebook ad that began March 29 continued to run past March 31, when Gov. Abbott issued a shelter-in-place order for all of Texas. The order made it clear that only businesses deemed “essential” were allowed to remain open.
Afterward, Brown began receiving messages accusing her of spreading the virus and putting people’s lives in danger.
Moreover, the TDLR said that it had received over 300 reports about other businesses, however, Styles by Brittany B was the only one that the agency seemed to publicly address. The agency confirmed that anyone who violated the order could receive up to $1,000 in fines or up to 180 days in jail.
When John Wiley Price requested that barbershops and beauty salons be allowed to reopen, stating that the community was hurting from not being able to work, many agreed with Jenkins that it was not yet safe to open them.
Moreover, it was not surprising that, in Loredo, Texas, two Hispanic women in – Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia, 31, and Brenda Stephanie Mata, 20 – were arrested April 15 for offering beauty and cosmetic services. The two were almost villainized, though there was not much media coverage beyond the local news. And nobody called them “heroes” for “just trying to feed their families.”
Yet, when Shelly Luther, a White salon owner, blatantly went against Dallas County and Texas’ orders and reopened her salon to customers, people began to rally behind her. And after being given several chances to comply with the order, she stated that she would rather go to jail than to close her business again because she and her staff needed to feed their children. Yet, there have been several jobs available due to the huge increase of orders and deliveries as people continued to shelter in.
As Luther continued to open her salon day after day, receiving warnings to close and tearing up a notice during a public act of defiance, the news began to cover each step she made. Then finally, she was arrested for disobeying the law. Judge Eric Moyé gave her additional opportunities to stay out of jail. But she would not comply, so she was sentenced and jailed.
Upon hearing about the arrest, Perry and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton insisted that she be released. The Perry/Paxton duo criticized Moyé for enforcing the law, calling his actions “silly,” followed by an official letter from Paxton, urging the judge to release Luther.
A stern letter from the 12 civil district judges called Paxton’s correspondence inappropriate and unwanted, then insisted that he “not communicate with the court in this manner further.”
But on May 7, Abbott remained persistent, reopening salons and barbershops throughout Texas Friday and eliminating jail time for shelter-in-home violators in a modified version of his executive orders for COVID-19, which would also be applied retroactively to Castro-Garcia and Mata’s cases.
But that’s not the end of it. Luther has been touted a hero. Why? She’s not a hero. She’s a criminal. Yet her 15 minutes of fame has earned her celebrity and political customers, not to mention that she’s laughing all the way to the bank after receiving over $500,000 in donations on her Go Fund Me page, her forgivable $18,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan and her personal stimulus check.
Still, others are wondering about the uneven distribution of justice, calling it out as White privilege. And it is.
Throwing fire on flames
It gets worse…
Just as African Americans were watching and waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel – when they can go back to work, be in the presence of family and friends, and enjoy life as it used to be – the unjust deaths of two young Black men and a young Black woman came to light.
On Feb. 23, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbrey was jogging in his own neighborhood in Brunswick, Geogia, when he was chased down and executed by three White men – Gregory and Travis McMichael who killed Arbrey and William “Roddie” Bryan who took a video of the entire incident. The man said that he looked like a burglary suspect, but surveillance video shows him jogging up to a site that was under construction, looking around for a few seconds, and then leaving without incident. Moreover, he was an unarmed when he was shot down.
Initially, one of district attorneys called the men’s actions “perfectly legal” as vigilantes threatened the Black community not to protest. But trust and believe the Black community did protest. The McMicheals were eventually arrested. The family’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt, is calling for the arrest of the third man.
March 13, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician in Louisville, Kentucky, was killed as police raided her home for a suspect who had already been arrested. As the police broke in the house, Taylor’s boyfriend attempted to defend the household with an armed weapon. In return, an officer shot Taylor about eight times, according to reports. During a news conference, it was stated that as pushed their way through the residence, no drugs or evidence of the suspect having lived there were found.
Then on May 6, 21-year-old Dreasjon “Sean” Reed went on Facebook Live during a high-speed chase. He knew he had made a big mistake by speeding and running from the police, but soon became more afraid of stopping. Announcing each move as he continued to record himself, he stopped the car and began running when he suddenly went down from being hit by a stun gun, followed by multiple gun shots from the officers. The phone continued to record the incident as the officers laughed and mocked the dead young man. The officers initially stated that Reed shot first, though the live video revealed the truth.
Beyond racism, I can’t understand how the same incidents can occur on Live PD and Cops but the drivers are arrested in without incident or after the drivers crash their vehicle. Yet when some officers aren’t aware of a recording they shoot repeatedly to kill the Black suspect and lie to cover it up.
These last three months have been like a wild roller coaster with more downs than ups. And we all know that eventually the ups have to equal the downs or it will crash. In order for things to change, we have to: first, recognize systemic racism and call it out, and second, unite as a community. We can’t just have a few Black Lives Matter marches when a Black person is unjustly killed. We have to begin to work together for equal justice in the work place, education, health care, politics, the law, etc. Not until we work together will we level the playing field. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. It won’t happen overnight and it will require persistence. As those short bursts of unity have revealed, we’re stronger when we work together.
Robyn H. Jimenez, V.P. of Production and Editorial, leads the editorial team and the production team at The Dallas Examiner. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.