Community leaders on Thursday implored Boston authorities to consider racial equity in any plans for the recovery from the unprecedented novel coronavirus pandemic, which has hit local communities of color especially hard.
Speaking at a City Council hearing, Segun Idowu, the executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, said it’s “profoundly important that the city balance its efforts to address the immediate public health crisis with an effort to save and protect Black and other minority-owned businesses.” Federal efforts, he said, are not enough to stabilize the local business community.
"If quick and decisive action is not taken, we could see the deepest growth of the racial wealth gap in our time," he said.
As of Thursday, Boston had more than 6,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 232 deaths. Available data show significant disparities in infection rates between the city’s Black and white residents.
Black residents make up more than 42 percent of the city’s coronavirus cases where data on race are available, while constituting about 25 percent of the city’s population. Conversely, white city residents make up 28 percent of the caseload where race data is available, while at about 45 percent of Boston’s overall population.
The data set is incomplete; only 68 percent of the city’s confirmed coronavirus cases have available race and ethnicity data.
During Thursday’s hearing, Priscilla Flint Banks, co-founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Black Economic Justice Institute, said that local residents of color still need masks and many businesses in communities of color have missed out on government aid amid the pandemic, which she called an opportunity “for a lot of things to be changed.” She mentioned other areas of need: money for laundry, for food.
“We are suffering,” she said.
Flint Banks said her mother, who lived in a nursing home, died on Wednesday from COVID-19. She would have been 88 next week.
"It's real," she said. "This is real."
The health crisis, said Paul Watanabe, the director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has not created racial injustice and inequality, but rather it “simply amplifies and reflects it.”
He said death data for Asian-Americans in Boston suggest that there are serious problems in terms of access to COVID-19 testing locally.
Jose Duarte, chef-owner of Taranta Restaurant in the North End, called the pandemic a “traumatic event." His workers, said Duarte, are afraid to come back to work. Additionally, the process for applying for the protective personal equipment was a disaster. He said he had to fill out the paperwork at least a half-dozen times. He was concerned about language barriers for Latinx-owned small businesses who wanted to apply for government relief.
"It is really frustrating," he said.
He wanted to know what the city’s plan for re-opening was. How can Boston restore consumer confidence? How can it restart tourism?
“What resources can the city provide to these minorities so they can continue?” he asked.
Kay Lazar of Globe staff contributed to this report.