There’ve been lots of ups and downs this last month, to say the least. In Minnesota we have seen the leveling off of some of the coronavirus statistics and the opening up of some businesses. That would have been a huge deal all on its own, until the state became the center of world attention because of the killing of George Floyd. The violent protests that followed were frightening, and for days we didn’t know what would happen here and throughout the U.S. and the world. But then thousands of peaceful demonstrations started and created a sense of hope for the future. I want to try to touch on some of what we’ve been experiencing, but one thing I think we all realize is that we’re dealing with very deep-rooted challenges that can’t be solved without a lot of rethinking by all of us. It is going to take a lot of creative thinking, and changes in how we act and react.
My column deadline date for the June issue of Access Press was May 25. I sent it in in the afternoon, and by that night, the world was different. It was Memorial Day, and a few miles away in Minneapolis, Floyd was killed in the street by a policeman, with three of his fellow officers watching and keeping citizens back from helping Floyd. The repercussions were devastating. Within days people all over the world were protesting about racial injustice.
Every one of us has to recognize and address our stereotypes. We have to challenge our fears. In the disability community we know a lot about how people look at us, and react to us, with fear. But people of color, and especially Black men, are the objects of that kind of fear, too, and how often do we stand together, united? That’s been one of the great things in many of these recent demonstrations. People of all races, genders and abilities have been marching together. And they’ve been saying that time is up on inequality, on racism, on police violence. As a person with a disability, I understand running out of time. We, too, have been fighting for equal rights and just to be recognized as people who can contribute to society. We, too, should not be locked up in institutions or prisons, or just be put out of sight and out of mind. I hope as the Black Lives Matter movement goes forward, the disability community will join in the marches for equality and peace. The time is now, not later or when there are more resources or the right political leaders.
So while some were demonstrating for justice now, others were demonstrating for business now, and we have been slowly opening businesses. Many people think we should have opened things much sooner because the state has had low rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths. But they don’t seem to recognize that our closures were probably what helped us. Many of the states that opened earlier have had a steep rise in the number of virus infections. Florida, Arizona and California are all seeing their number of cases double from not taking the wearing of masks and social distancing seriously. Personally I think our governor has been very wise in slowly opening close-contact businesses. Most of us with disabilities rely on caregivers who could be exposed and spread the virus to the most vulnerable in our population. We still have to be very cautious about this whole pandemic and not let it get out of hand any more than it already has. It certainly has taken a lot of lives among vulnerable adults, especially those living in skilled nursing and other group-care facilities.
The special legislative session ended with no resolution to the shortage of caregivers and a higher reimbursement rate for those caregivers. There was no resolution to anything and in fact it was a waste of time and Minnesota taxpayer money. Real leaders could have done the hard work and made sure that police reforms and caregiver reimbursement and a long list of other priorities were addressed. If the past month was an unprecedented time for the state in general, it was business as usual at the Legislature.
Have a happy Fourth of July. This month also brings the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We should be thankful for all the independence that the ADA brought us, but we also have to continue pushing for the continued guarantee of our freedom and independence, as Americans and as people with disabilities.