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The Pandemic of Racism - Black Lives Matter

The COVID-19 pandemic of coronavirus disease affects the respiratory system. While death is not always the outcome, an infection will create lifelong health problems. To minimise the social and economic impact within this country, borders were closed, social behaviour was criminalised, and as of 1 July, 2020 over $176 billion was made available to Australian residents. As individuals, our focus is on protecting those who need it most. If we need to leave our homes we use hand sanitiser and cover our nose and mouth, or wear a face mask.

Covering our face and wearing a face mask is a constant reminder that there is a deadly virus living among us. The discomfort of wearing a mask is challenging. A visual barrier that hides a smile, fogs glasses, and muffles our voice, it further isolates us from human connection. Having the mask covering our nose and mouth makes taking in air difficult. When we exhale, the hot moist air mixed with the carbon dioxide in our breath makes for a fetid environment. For those of us outside the medical world, we look forward to relinquishing our mask-wearing responsibilities.

Heightened through all forms of media, a mental health crisis is shadowing the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence about the impact of isolation from loved ones, the fear and stigma attached to an unstable income and home security; together with the short and long term effects of compromised physical health, and the dislocated education experience granted our children, shows increased feelings of anxiety, depression and increased situations of suicide, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress.

As Koories there's a sense of déjà vu. Removal from family and social segregation, empty pockets and hungry stomachs, low levels of employment opportunities, risk of homelessness, truncated life expectancy, and disengaged education experience are the problems we've faced for over two centuries of white supremacist systems on unceded lands. We are still in survival mode, still recovering.

Since 2008, the Closing The Gap report has promised to deliver health, education, and employment improvements to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The 12th Closing the Gap report, tabled in parliament in February, showed that only 2 out of the 7 modest targets are being met. While prime minister Scott Morrison admitted the report proved a "top down" approach that had never really been a partnership with Indigenous people, no additional funding to ease the social and economic impact of ongoing colonisation was made available.

In the midst of the pandemic, on May 25, 2020, while we wore face masks or stayed at home, video footage immerged from the United States of America to recalibrate our feelings about living within the cage of COVID-19, and especially the discomfort of breathing. Handcuffed and pushed to the road face down, African American George Floyd was restrained by four Minneapolis police officers. For nearly 9 minutes as fellow officers prevented bystanders from intervening using threats of force and mace, officer Derek Chauvin knelt into Floyd's neck taunting him to get up. All the while ignoring Floyd's calls to his mumma and his now immortalised words: "I can't breathe." Floyd told officer Chauvin that he couldn't breathe at least 16 times.

The brutal murder in custody of George Floyd ignited global rage at the gross misuse of power and systematic racism in the USA. For First Nations people in this country, every image broadcast of a death in custody was an Aboriginal death. In the faces of the African American men and women, we saw the faces of our family, our loved ones. As living beings tarred by the pandemic of racism our déjà vu had materialised: we know about theft and enslavement, we understand about the struggle for equality within the cesspool of white supremacy and the dictatorship of the rich.

The pandemic of racism doesn't just kill, it infects generations. While hundreds of years of injustice came before, in this time of lockdown and face masks the minds of people opened and systematic powerlessness was recognised. There were more than 2000 #Black Lives Matter protests in over 60 countries and George Floyd's final plea "I can't breathe" became the war cry against the global pandemic of racism. No justice, no peace, no racist police.

Despite COVID-19 social restrictions, tens of thousands of people in this country marched in capital cities, in country towns, followed the action online, and stood alone on road-sides brandishing placards. I can't breathe: Stop Black Deaths in Custody - Justice for George Floyd #BLM. Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance organised the protest on the land of the Kulin Nations. Their communications around safety were substantial: redirecting immune challenged supporters to online platforms, and asking protestors to bring sanitiser, they made face masks freely available, and insisted that people who attended the march must then adhere to a strict two week home isolation.

I can't breathe: Stop Black Deaths in Custody - Justice for David Dungay #BLM. In our heart, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people roared for Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr. who less than five years before, at 26 years old, was held down by prison officers in a Sydney prison while a nurse injected him with a sedative. Over more than 9 minutes and a dozen times he also pleaded to his killers: "I can't breathe."

Since the 1991 Royal Commission into 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody made 339 recommendations and concluded that indigenous people were significantly over-represented in prisons, 437 more Aboriginal men and women have died in custody without one conviction. Until the perpetrators are held accountable, institutions of power: the police force and correctional facilities, medical officers, media outlets, courtrooms, and governments must take action against the virus of racism infecting their ranks. We need positive action and no more fake news.

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