Public Advocate Calling for DOJ Investigation into State’s COVID Response

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams
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Photo: J. Williams

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams called on the United States Department of Justice Friday to open a civil rights investigation into the city and state's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic which has led to deep racial disparities - first in rates of infection and death, and now in access to vaccination.

The two elected leaders first made this call with a group of local officials from across the country in 2020, but it was largely ignored by the Department of Justice under Donald Trump. This new ask renews the original request, now calling for the Biden administration to take action.

This week, it was revealed that the FBI and US Attorney's Office in Brooklyn are currently probing the Cuomo administration's policies and practices concerning nursing homes during the first months of the pandemic. The Public Advocate and Borough President's request is for an additional investigation, or an expansion in its scope, to probe actions by city and state leaders that may constitute civil rights violations, including "the failed decisions and systemic inequities that led to the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color."

He further discussed the renewed request in a Wednesday press conference with Council Members Adrienne Adams and I. Daneek Miller, co-Chairs of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus in the City Council.

Video is available here.

"We are asking the Department of Justice, under new leadership and with new mandate, to investigate the systemic failures and misguided decisions that have led to disparate harm in communities of more color throughout the city and state," said Public Advocate Williams. "We make this new call with the same moral obligation and with renewed moral outrage at the arrogance that leaders like Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio continue to show in making dangerous, misguided decisions and refusing to face the consequences."

Across the country, communities of more color are seeing a disproportionate and deadly impact of the coronavirus outbreak, a result of policy decisions and longstanding systemic inequities. Nationwide, Black and Hispanic individuals are roughly 3x as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than white persons, and twice as likely to be killed.

Now, the rollout of vaccinations in New York has seen similarly egregious and inexcusable levels of disparity, with preliminary data showing Black and Brown New Yorkers vaccinated at a rate roughly half their population share. Newly released data by zip code shows that in New York City, wealthier and whiter communities have a much greater percentage of adults vaccinated than communities of more color.

Wednesday, new data revealed that life expectancy in the United States in the first half of 2020 dropped by a year overall, but by 2.7 years for Black Americans, driven by these inequities in COVID-19 impact.

In a letter, Public Advocate Williams and Borough President Adams implored the Department of Justice to investigate these issues, find any wrongdoing, and "show our constituents and the American public that awareness of inequities is not enough. We must act and bring those accountable for these inequities to justice."

The original submission to the Department of Justice further detailing the request can be found here.

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