George Floyd was killed by a policeman’s knee on his neck. But he also had asthma, and an autopsy revealed he was positive for COVID-19.
Injustice accumulates, and racist systems are all around us. That’s why life expectancy drops 30 years in the state. And it’s why asthma rates are so high in public housing in Boston, among BPS students, in general. Because Black and Latino’s lives don’t actually matter to our leaders – not enough, anyway.
I’ve heard a lot of Boston elected officials talking about confronting racism, about the plight of the Black and Latino community. But Black and Latino folks still can’t breathe in Boston. It’s time for some real progress.
Boston ranks 8th-worst in the country for asthma rates, and Black and Latino Bostonians are hospitalized for asthma four times as often as whites.
Five years ago, we won an important policy victory, when Mayor Walsh agreed to the Diesel Reduction Ordinance. The campaign, led by youth from REEP (Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Program), used the slogan “we can’t breathe” to highlight the young Black and Latino folks in Roxbury and Boston who are suffering every day from asthma and dirty air.
We won. Mayor Walsh ordered a fast transition away from dirty diesel vehicles – both for the city and for its contractors. He also ordered stepped-up enforcement of idling vehicles.
But it doesn’t look like the Walsh administration is following through. They haven’t held hearings they promised, nor reported on progress. We’ve resorted to a public records request, which has so far gone unanswered.
If our leaders took environmental racism seriously, we wouldn’t be in this position. We expect better – we demand better.
Of course, asthma isn’t the whole picture – Black and Latino’s folks suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer at disproportionate levels. Environmental racism is just a piece of the puzzle. But asking for environmental justice is a key part of how we get the world we need.
We firmly believe it’s how we build the movement to win our rights that have been violated.