As the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on around the country, Prism has been on the ground covering the stories that matter most to the communities at risk, and keeping a finger on the pulse of the other major news unfolding against the backdrop of the virus. In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of some of our best coverage so far this month.
In Georgia, as Republican officials plow ahead with voter suppression efforts during the pandemic, organizers are thinking through what an election might mean for the district attorney who originally refused to bring charges in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. Prism staff reporter Anoa Changa reports:
With less than a month until the Georgia primary, voting rights organizations and lawyers have formed a voter empowerment task force to protect voting rights and ensure voters can access the ballot without fear. Intended to encourage voters and ease potential confusion, the voter empowerment task force is a direct response to the absentee ballot fraud task force formed last month by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to address a problem that is virtually nonexistent in Georgia and across the nation.
Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who refused to bring charges in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, is up for reelection this year. Johnson is running unopposed for the Republican nomination in the June 9, 2020, primary, but she may have a challenger in the November general election if an independent candidate can gather enough signatures to make the ballot. According to The Brunswick News, this will be the first contested general election in 24 years for the District Attorney’s Office for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.
With COVID-19 ravaging meatpacking plants throughout the U.S., for International Workers’ Day, a mini-series by Prism staff reporter Tina Vasquez shone a spotlight on the deplorable conditions workers are facing.
After experiencing a series of worrying symptoms, Maria went to her doctor, who wrote her a note excusing her from work at the Mountaire Farms meat processing plant for two weeks. She didn’t have the coronavirus, but feared that stress was getting the best of her. Maria has two children, one of whom has severe asthma. Each day she returned from work, she was terrified she would infect her young children with the virus.
“I got a phone call from the agency and they told me that I went to get a coronavirus test and I tested positive and I didn’t let anyone know and that’s why they fired me, but I never got a test. I never tested positive,” alleges Maricela Martinez. She said she cried as she told her husband what happened at work. Hers was their only income and it was income they desperately needed, but her husband reassured her. “He said, ‘At least you don’t have to risk contracting the virus [at Mountaire] anymore,” Martinez told Prism. But in a cruel twist of fate, Martinez’s husband began to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms the day she was terminated from Mountaire.
In meatpacking plants, said Dubester, “[t]hese are somehow essential workers and dispensable workers at the same time. They can’t get free testing without insurance, they’re not getting stimulus checks, they aren’t given health insurance—even if they wanted to pay out of pocket they couldn’t, yet they’ve been ordered by the president and the people who gave him money to keep on working to feed Americans. Plus, they’re not even going to tell us how many of their workers are infected? How many people in our community are sick? The message is basically: Cut up our chicken and pork, feed America, and shut up.”
On the criminal justice beat, Prism staff reporter Tamar Sarai Davis took a look at the underreported risk COVID-19 poses to jails in rural America.
On Feb. 29, a funeral for 64-year-old Andrew Jerome Mitchell in the small rural town of Albany, Georgia, unknowingly became what health experts call a “super spreading event” for the coronavirus. In the days and weeks following the service, the surrounding county of Dougherty—with a population of just under 90,000 and equipped with only 50 ICU beds—has emerged as a COVID-19 hot spot. There have been 1,498 positive cases and 119 deaths to date. In response, county officials are not just ramping up efforts within Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, one of the towns few medical centers, but also looking four miles away to the Dougherty County Jail and hoping that rapid decarceration will save lives.
Meanwhile, in racial justice news, Prism staff reporter and copy editor Carolyn Copeland did a deep dive into how some of the whitest states and cities in America are working to diversify their populations, and guest writer Professor Anthony Ocampo explained the origins and pitfalls of the term “Asian American and Pacific Islander” as part of Prism’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month coverage.
Plenty of predominantly white cities and states around the country would like to racially diversify their populations, but their willingness to consider how their communities, institutions, and culture are structured and what must be changed to be welcoming to more people of color has varied. Change is possible however, and even small steps can be taken by city leaders, government officials, and businesses to add to their populations and motivate people of color to migrate to the area—they just need to know where to start.
Within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, East Asian Americans still possess the privilege of cultural representation, which sheds light on why we hear so little about Pacific Islanders in media stories about AAPI and COVID-19. “You don’t see Pacific Islanders being [targeted like] Asian Americans in that way. They’re racialized differently,” explains University of Utah education professor Kēhaulani Vaughn. “But you are seeing them, on the flip side, being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 …”
If you’re in need of some good news given the current state of the world, read about how Colorado State University stood up for its undocumented students when the federal government failed to provide aid.
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