The Irish Times view on the US’s racial divides: a shameful faultline

Interwoven into the two big stories of the day – the pandemic and the election – racial undercurrents continue to surface

Two police officers stand outside the Third Police Precinct during the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ protest on Wednesday in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The station has become the site of an ongoing protest after the police killing of George Floyd. Photograph: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Two police officers stand outside the Third Police Precinct during the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ protest on Wednesday in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The station has become the site of an ongoing protest after the police killing of George Floyd. Photograph: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

 

Joe Biden “joked” that African-Americans considering voting for Donald Trump “ain’t black”. He has apologised. But the cat was out of the bag, and the Democratic presidential candidate’s gaffe, seen as presuming on the African-American vote, had again offered the president an open goal. Within a day the campaign of a man who is widely seen as racist was selling T-shirts that read “#YouAintBlack – Joe Biden”.

There’s no escaping the race issue in the US. Interwoven into the two big stories of the day – the pandemic and the election – racial undercurrents continue to surface in this deeply divided society.

In the week when the US coronavirus death toll surpassed a staggering 100,000, it was reported that at least 20,000 African-Americans have died from the virus (black citizens represent 12 per cent of the US adult population). Their death rate is nearly 2.5 times higher than whites. In Washington DC, black people are 44 per cent of the population, yet 80 per cent of coronavirus deaths. Black people in Michigan and Missouri are 14 and 11 per cent of the population – and 42 and 39 per cent of Covid-19 deaths, respectively.

Why? A different age profile, endemic poverty and unemployment, overcrowding in poor housing and weaker health facilities are among the reasons. Meanwhile, those inequalities are reflected in a justice system that seems incapable of shaking off its historic institutionalised racism.

In Minneapolis this week there were riots over a police killing of a black man – a video shows George Floyd (46) groaning “I can’t breathe” as a white policeman kneels on his neck. Four police officers have been fired. Repeated similar deaths have been a driving force of the Black Lives Matter movement.

About one in 1,000 black men and boys in the US can expect to die at the hands of police, a rate 2.5 times higher than for white men. And, while one-ninth of the population, African-Americans represent a third of the prison population and are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.

A recent poll suggests 82 per cent of black voters will support Biden, to 4 per cent for Trump.

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