Interview by Henry Jacob, Yale 21'
Transcription by Nick Jacobson, Yale 23'
YHR: You used the phrase “endangered species” to describe the political climate of your formative years. With COVID-19 a new form of vulnerability has emerged. Please discuss how social conditions enable this pandemic to disproportionately affect communities of color.
LLM: We’re in a special moment. For better or worse, everyone has been rendered vulnerable by coronavirus. Everyone doesn't share the same level of vulnerability right now, but no one is immune. As I looked at the communities that are often most vulnerable—lower income communities, Black communities, communities that have experienced deep histories of racism—I realized that even as we do our best, we are living in the midst of a federal and sometimes state and city governments who don't care about our lives.
I'll use my own experience as an example. When we transitioned inside as COVID-19 pandemic expanded and New York City schools closed, I had the privilege of being able to spend more time with my children. At the same time, I was vulnerable. My grandfather, who was staying in a retirement home, became sick with COVID. He went to the hospital and he passed away. Days after that, my father fell ill with coronavirus. For the next two months he fought for his life. I had more resources than the majority of Black Americans, and I felt powerless. My grandfather migrated up from Selma, Alabama following the Civil Rights Movement. He was a fighter. My father was the first Black police officer in West Haven. He is a fighter. People who have been fighters in the struggle were rendered either dead, on their deathbed, or near death. The politics of disposability and premature death, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore speaks of, were so clear to me as a Black man, even though I am in the middle class. I called up doctors with little success. The federal response was ineffective. New York responded far better to coronavirus than other states, but it was also far from perfect. Sitting in my apartment, thinking about my grandfather and my father, and hearing only ambulances outside created its own trauma.
As I said, vulnerability manifests itself unequally. People clap for doctors and nurses, but they do not applaud as delivery people come in to bring food. We do not value the essential workers on the front line who are not privileged by education.
There is a pandemic of coronavirus, and then there's a twin pandemic, always, of police violence. I am thankful that, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a national conversation reemerged. Many of the folks that I love and who do some of the greatest work finally got a chance to have their voices amplified. While I feel vulnerable in this moment, I find sources for hope. Hearing the names Mariame Kaba, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Charlene Carruthers, and Angelo Pinto mentioned regularly excites me. Angela Davis is a name that has emerged, not simply as an icon who had an afro in the Black Power Movement, but in popular conversations about abolition and defunding the police. We've been having these conversations in living rooms, community centers, and small webinars for years but now they are part of the national vocabulary...