Ayanna Pressley Says Black People Are 'Managing a Pandemic Within a Pandemic' When It Comes to Police Brutality

With protests igniting across the country and around the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd, black people are having to manage a "pandemic within a pandemic," Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley has said.

Pressley made the comments on Tuesday while speaking with family members of Eric Garner, Stephon Clark and Andrew Kearse—three black men who died during encounters with police—and their supporters, during an online video panel on efforts to address police brutality and systemic racism organized by advocacy group Violence in Boston, Inc.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also participated in the discussion.

After hearing from Angelique Negroni-Kearse, whose husband died of a heart attack in the back of a police car during an arrest after his repeated requests for medical assistance and warnings that he could not breathe were ignored, Pressley said she was determined to fight for "systemic solutions" to address systemic racism and police brutality.

"I know that I'm here as a member of Congress, but I'm a black woman before anything else," Pressley said, appearing to hold back tears. "I'm married to a black man, raising a black child. We are all gutted. We are exhausted. We are broken."

"And even in the midst of all of that, I still feel hope," she said. "I feel emboldened. I feel resolved. Please don't ever apologize for taking up space with your pain because the reason we are still here is because we have not created enough space for it in the first place."

"We are always being talked out of our hurt and that is why we cannot get to meaningful healing," Pressley said. "Systemic injustice requires systemic solutions."

Police brutality, she said, "is a pandemic." "We are managing a pandemic within a pandemic. Police brutality is a scourge. It is a pandemic," the Congress member said.

"The pre-existing condition before COVID, and it still persists, is racism. So, we are managing the pandemic, the public health crisis of COVID-19 and the disproportionate hurt and harm and loss we are experiencing because of that, which we were already experiencing before COVID," she said.

Research has already shown that in the U.S., black people are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic compared to white people. Data released by the non-partisan APM Research Lab last month showed than black people died from coronavirus at almost three times the rate of white people.

While underlying health conditions are a factor, social and economic disparities are also believed to play a critical role in coronavirus cases and resulting deaths.

At the same time, researchers have also said that racism and police violence should also be treated as public health issues, with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association and American College of Physicians raising the alarm in the wake of Floyd's death.

"Racism is a public health issue," the AAP tweeted Sunday.

"Put simply," Atheendar Venkataramani, a physician and assistant professor of health policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told Newsweek in a recent interview, "police violence—and the structural racism that may lie at its root—can have a myriad of effects on health and well-being over the life course."

Pressley said it was time for members of the public and Congress to "be bold in our action."

"We'll continue to be righteous and unapologetic in our rage, but I want us to be just as committed to be radical in our healing because we deserve that too," she said.

The Massachusetts representative vowed to push legislation seeking to address systemic racism and police brutality in Congress.

"I won't say we'll deliver justice to you," she told the families of victims, "because the justice would be that they would still be alive. But, we will make progress."

Ayanna Pressley
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) steps off stage after introducing Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during a campaign rally at Kohawk Arena on the campus of Coe College February 01, 2020 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Chip Somodevilla/Getty