Do Black lives matter to Mayor Jim Kenney?

Protestors gathered peacefully at City Hall’s Octavius Catto statue

Protestors gathered peacefully at City Hall’s Octavius Catto statue after a night of unrest in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Our nation and our city experienced a major assault on our collective souls, as we cringed at George Floyd’s futile gasping pleas for life-sustaining mercy — as he laid shackled under the crushing weight of the lethal force of a knee belonging to a rogue Minneapolis cop and his complicit cronies.

For them, it was unequivocal that Black lives don’t matter.

This globally reverberated wound has been worsened by the gushing trauma and wailing of the masses of African Americans and others in search of empathy and scarce justice from authorities.

This contained rage has violently erupted across our city of Philadelphia. Mayor Kenney deserves credit for engaging African American leaders in the process of ensuring public safety, securing and restoring impacted commercial corridors and effectively demonstrating empathy for the immediate challenges facing the city.

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But we can’t forget that we remain in the midst of a pandemic that continues to disproportionately sicken and kill African American Philadelphians. As a leader in the local African American community, I can say that the COVID-19 response by the city’s administration has not earned the appreciation and respect of our community. Failure to correct this unfolding scenario can rapidly dissipate any social capital and goodwill accrued in the last 48 hours.

Under the administration of Mayor Kenney, local government has acted with disturbing insolence and nonchalance toward the African American community again and again. I have observed mean-spirited shunning and verbalized disdain for Black religious leaders and a lack of support for African-American-led groups. The Kenney administration has not done enough to ensure voters have access to ballots and the vote; it has withdrawn funding for violence prevention programming we have seen work and now, the wholly inadequate COVID-19 response. All of this indicates to me that, for the Kenney administration, Black lives simply don’t matter.

Right now, city leaders must collaborate with African American leaders to stop the dangerous march of COVID-19 — quieter than the unrest surrounding us,. yet so deadly.

We must come together around a comprehensive data set, coherent mediation strategy. We need a mutually vetted and trusted provider with a network of service sites in our neighborhoods. Already, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium has mobilized to test nearly 5,000 people in Philadelphia and surrounding communities. The group has worked with multiple faith-inspired, civically motivated and socially committed Black organizations to fund and cooperatively stage testing in the neighborhoods and communities where people of highest risk for COVID-19 live, work and play. The city must now partner with this group to expand these efforts that have already proven to work.

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That’s why we have convened a town hall to bring people together to talk about how to move out of crisis and into solutions. We have invited Mayor Kenney, Managing Director Brian Abernathy, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and members of City Council to testify alongside medical professionals and others affected by the coronavirus at a Virtual People’s Town Hall sponsored by Forum Philly, Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity and the Pennsylvania Progressive Baptist Alliance. The focus of our town hall will be the administration’s COVID-19 response and its effects on communities of color.

The Town Hall will convene at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 10. The Town Hall will be live-streamed on social media platforms.

Wednesday’s conversation is a chance for Mayor Kenney and key members of his team to show Philadelphia that they truly believe Black lives matter.

Rev. Dr. Malcolm T. Byrd is the president of Forum Philly, Inc., an organization that promotes the spiritual wellbeing, civic interests, social stability and political equity of African-Americans.

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