Do Black Lives Matter? Americans Can't Avoid Answering this Simple Question Any Longer | Opinion

George Floyd's senseless and tragic killing at the hands of police was just the latest in a long line of racial injustices against black Americans. It has galvanized millions across the nation to stand up and peacefully march in protest against systemic racism, inequality and injustice that has plagued our country since its founding, and that communities of color continue to endure today.

Americans are reeling in agony, anger, and frustration. Their pain is real. Their demands for systemic change in our criminal justice system and an end to racial inequality in our society are just.

And who can blame them? These same communities that have suffered systemic racial, social, and economic indignity are also being disproportionally impacted by the other crisis gripping our nation: the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you're black or brown in this country, you're more likely to have a different life experience, one in which the color of your skin, or your zip-code, determines your access to health care, education, jobs and much more.

In the context of the pandemic, black and brown Americans are more likely to have lost their job or businesses. And black and brown Americans are more likely to get sick or die. Those facts are undeniable. And they are alarming.

A recent Johns Hopkins University and American Community Survey analysis of data collected by State Health Departments revealed that counties with a majority black population have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties with a majority white population. In states like Iowa, Washington and Florida, infection rates among Hispanics are reportedly two or three times the size of their overall Hispanic populations. In my home state of New Jersey, where racial and ethnic data on COVID-19 cases are being collected, Hispanics and African Americans account for 30.3 percent and 17.2 percent of positive COVID-19 cases respectively, despite comprising 20.6 percent and 15 percent of the State's population.

The coronavirus doesn't care if you're white, black or green. It's a microscopic parasite with no agenda and no purpose other than to stay alive by reproducing indiscriminately among its hosts – no matter who they are. But America is far from colorblind.

Our nation's long, dark history of racial and economic injustice cannot be ignored as we endeavor to understand why COVID-19 has hit some communities harder.

Let's be clear, if you're black or brown living in America, it's harder to see a doctor if you get sick, and you are more likely to live in communities scarred by legacies of neglect and pollution, faced with higher asthma rates and underlying health conditions that make you more vulnerable to COVID-19.

When health care becomes a luxury you can't afford – as is the case for many struggling African American and Latino families – chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, or asthma can go undiagnosed or unchecked for years. And sadly, any of those pre-existing conditions can turn COVID-19 into a death sentence.

Likewise, black and brown Americans experience an entire system stacked against them. But when these inequalities, disparities and injustices are exposed, they are routinely only met by words and little action.

The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the persistent and systemic racial injustice in our society, a spotlight that is only further elucidated by the death of Mr. Floyd. And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are all interconnected—that the health of my neighbor, coworker or stranger impacts my health.

This a transformative moment for us to turn American anguish into action that changes the course of events for generations to come and honors both Mr. Floyd and the people of color who have disproportionately died from COVID-19.

We must confront these racial inequities. We must answer the call for community policing and criminal justice reforms that include providing federal funding to expand local police training, developing a national standard for excessive force and creating a national registry for police misconduct.

But we also must address the social, economic, environmental and health care disparities disadvantaging black and brown Americans once and for all. It is our shared responsibility to ensure everyone can access the medical and financial relief they need to recover from this devastating pandemic.

We must work harder and smarter to help those who historically have been left behind.

I stand with the millions peacefully protesting across the country to end the racial disparities in our society. The time for talk is over; it's time for Congress to act.

Bob Menendez is the Senior Senator from the state of New Jersey and the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​