Today, May 1st is Law Day and the 2020 theme is “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy.” Law Day celebrates the rule of law and this year, we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. I have never seen an election where the exercise of the right to vote is more critical.
As I write, the coronavirus pandemic has taken the lives of more than 61,000 of our citizens, with no clear end in sight. Those most affected are the elderly, communities of color, the incarcerated, essential workers, and working people whose jobs do not easily lend themselves to social distancing guidelines. When you include the families of the groups mentioned above, almost all of us are at risk.
The most at risk are the elderly who comprise more than half the deaths. The data also show deep disparities in the death rate by race, especially for Black Americans. According to the American Public Media (APM) Research Lab, the mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.5 times higher than the rate for Latinos, 2.6 times the rate for Asians, and 2.7 times the rate for Whites. In Arkansas, and twelve other states, black residents’ death rate is more than 15 percentage points higher than their share of the population. Similarly, the worst hot spot for the virus in Arkansas is our prison system, where Blacks make up more than 42% of the prison population.
Our nation was founded, in part, to establish justice and to promote the general welfare. Justice, in one sense, means that people are treated in a way that is fair and equal for people in similar situations. Promoting the general welfare is a basic goal of government. While subject to many definitions, general welfare most certainly means good health, food and lodging, and an opportunity to provide for yourself and family economically.
I applaud the efforts of the many state and local leaders who are meeting the moment and protecting their citizens by doing what they can with what they have. However, the Trump administration’s slow response in supporting state and local efforts and resistance to a national testing strategy continues to place us in harm’s way.
Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey stated that “it was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” In 2016, Trump and his team were given the chance to govern. Even if you didn’t support him, as an American, I believe that most of us wanted him to succeed. Looking at the harm in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration and its enablers have failed us. In November, we must let our voices be heard. You must vote like your life depends on it . . .It Does.