Black community leaders on Thursday unveiled a sweeping “right to recovery” plan to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from killing even more African Americans — both medically and economically.
Among their demands:
• Lift the ban on rent control and authorize a statewide moratorium on utility shut-offs for six months after the crisis ends.
• Fill 2,000 vacant Chicago Housing Authority units with laid off Chicagoans struggling to pay their rent.
• Dramatically increase paid sick leave, award “hazard pay” to front-line workers, open a coronavirus testing site on the South Side and give guaranteed treatment to those who test positive.
• Waive city water fees for six months.
• End all cash bonds at a Cook County Jail that has seen the nation’s largest known outbreak of the coronavirus and immediately release all inmates over the age of 50.
• And above all, stop using the pandemic as an “excuse to double-down on racist policing” — like checkpoints, curfews and demands for identification — that they say have no place at any time, even if the goal is to flatten the curve by enforcing the statewide stay-at-home order.
“In black neighborhoods on both the South and West Sides of Chicago, people are being told that there is a 5 o’clock curfew ... and being pushed off the streets. Also being ticketed, held with cuffs and otherwise detained. There are basically like checkpoint signs in places on the West Side suggesting that folks have to show IDs to be able to travel back and forth,” said Amika Tendaji of Black Lives Matter.
“These are the kinds of terrible behaviors that we saw out of some of the police during Hurricane Katrina. This is a time for police to rebuild trust … lost with the black community and restore faith to show the greatest humanity — not double down on the kind of racist policing practices we’ve seen for far too long.”
Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organizations said black Chicago is experiencing a “relentless assault.”
“Double-digit unemployment is the norm in our communities. And even in the midst of a health crisis where black people bear the brunt of the deaths related to the coronavirus, we have four hospitals in the black community planned for closure. And Mayor Lightfoot’s response is to increase policing and traffic stops in black neighborhoods,” Malone said.
“This response is beyond unacceptable. She should be using her power to marshal massive resources and develop concrete proposals to protect the most vulnerable, which includes pushing the governor to lift the ban on rent control.”
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) noted that 86,000 people applied for 2,000 city rental assistance grants. She urged the mayor to “do right by the homeless” — by opening up 2,000 vacant units the CHA has been “sitting on.”
“Opening up hotels and YMCA’s — that’s great. But that’s putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound,” Taylor said.
Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to end to water shut-offs, calling water a “basic human right.” But that’s not good enough for Taylor.
“The majority of my calls have been, `I’m not paying my rent. I’m not gonna pay my light and gas because I need to feed my children.’ … Why won’t the city not charge for water bills? For the next six months, what the city can do is to make sure that people don’t have to pay water,” Taylor said.
Lightfoot has responded to the pandemic by shutting down the lakefront and the 606 Trail, cutting off citywide liquor sales at 9 p.m. and by personally breaking up crowds of people.
She has created a $100 million small business resiliency fund and doled out $2 million in rental assistance grants.
Earlier this week, the mayor outlined her own sweeping plan to bridge a racial divide tied to the coronavirus pandemic that mirrors the life expectancy gap between black and white Chicagoans: 72 percent of city residents who died from the virus are African-Americans.
The mayor’s plan includes increased surveillance of groceries and corner stores; relocating articulated buses to South and West Side neighborhoods; and a so-called “racial equity rapid-response team” led by West Side United.
Lightfoot called it a “hyper-local, tactical effort to reach vulnerable people, educate them about options where necessary and connect them with services to help fight the spread of this disease. “
None of that was enough to satisfy Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.
“I am deeply disturbed by the type of solution that is being put forth in the midst of this pandemic. Look, it’s gonna take more than social media memes” and policing crackdowns, Johnson said.
“We need to do this as fast as possible. Look, if we can have a quick turnaround to confirm a police superintendent David Brown, we can certainly have a quick turnaround to bring about the type of transformation that will ultimately change lives.”