The Bronx and Queens Are Crying Out for Help

Between the pandemic and police brutality, our constituents have reached a breaking point.

Since March, the coronavirus has brought to our districts in the Bronx and Queens financial and physical devastation. The difficulties our communities face today — the pandemic on top of police brutality and systemic racism — make us fear for their survival.

Our constituents, most of them people of color, have endured decades of deficient health care and suffer disproportionately from chronic medical problems that make them more vulnerable to severe cases of Covid-19. When the pandemic arrived, infection and fatality rates soared in our districts.

District 39 in Queens, which Ms. Cruz represents, has an average infection rate of one in every 25 people; District 79 in the South Bronx, represented by Mr. Blake, has an average infection rate of one in 33 people. We begged the federal, state and city government for help with testing, protective gear, food and funding. Our cries went unheard for weeks.

By the time some of that assistance finally arrived, hundreds of people had died. And some assistance, like financial help for undocumented New Yorkers, never came, even though these same New Yorkers have paid billions of dollars in taxes during their time in this country.

Our businesses are also dying. New York has always taken pride in the diversity of its boroughs and their small businesses, which generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for this city. Yet during a City Council hearing in late April, we learned that Manhattan businesses received a whopping 66 percent of the small-business loans distributed in the city. Queens received 9 percent, and the Bronx received a stomach-turning 1 percent.

The numbers for the city’s Employee Retention Grant Program were nearly as abysmal, with Queens receiving 16 percent of the grants and the Bronx only 3 percent.

Then, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis increased the pressure on our constituents. Something finally broke for New Yorkers of color. Thousands of people poured into the streets to protest.

But those protesters have faced violence from the New York Police Department, including during a peaceful protest in the South Bronx, and are under the constant threat of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in immigrant communities in Queens. It is impossible to breathe when tear gas, pepper spray, batons and cars are being driven into our bodies.

This is not to say that all cops are bad cops, but those officers who are responsible for the atrocities being committed against us need to face consequences.

Instead of responding to the protests with the empathy and compassion that communities of color deserved, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned this city into a militarized police state. Yes, people destroying businesses — some of them black- and Latino-owned — must be held accountable. But the uprising is a direct reflection of our leaders’ failure to advance a progressive agenda committed to eradicating systemic inequalities.

George Floyd begged and pleaded, telling officers, “I can’t breathe.” Our communities are also being asphyxiated, not by hands or knees but by the weight of racism and oppression that extends far beyond the brutality of the police force. It is the weight of the purposeful systematic failures in health care, education, housing and economic advancement that most burden people of color.

The two of us have been constantly undermined by the mayor, the governor and some of our own colleagues in our pursuit of meaningful police accountability. This week in Albany, we seek to advance important criminal justice reform bills. We also fear that history will repeat itself: Our work to eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanors, which went into effect in January, has been rolled back.

Still, we repealed Section 50-a of the State Civil Rights Law, which allowed police officers to conceal their personnel records. And we are committed to banning chokehold maneuvers; and imposing criminal liability for officers who fail to obtain medical care for persons in custody.

And instead of protecting and maintaining a $1.3 billion public safety budget, we need to help our children laugh and breathe by restoring programs like the Summer Youth Employment Program.

Unless we begin to truly invest in the success of black and brown people, there will never be meaningful change. We cannot and we will not wait any longer.

This is a moment for black and Latino communities to come together and recognize that we may speak different languages or come from different countries, but we are on the same journey for justice. We need transparency. We need accountability. We need revenue dedicated to rebuilding, restoring and advancing communities of color. And we need the opportunity to make the legislative, budgetary and structural changes for that to happen. We must be able to breathe.