Watching the destruction of property, livelihoods and businesses across the United States devastates every American. During a pandemic and economic recession in an increasingly polarized United States, looting, rioting and anarchistic destruction add to the chaos and spectacle.
But it is the assured risk to public health that is the true emergency.
The murder of George Floyd is an egregious crime staining every American. The actions of the callous officer who extinguished his life are an insult to all decent American police. No one condones this murder, and everyone grieves for Floyd and his family.
But this is simply not the time for large gatherings. They risk refueling a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people here, with more deaths in New York City than anywhere else in America.
Watching protesters in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis, many in the crowds are millennial and post-millennial generation, often brandishing cell phones capturing their videos and photos, some racing up to TV cameras to amplify their voices. While many are masked, none practice social distancing.
Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio claim to stand with the protesters.
As a physician who attended critically ill COVID-19 patients for almost two months, I am outraged. I am devastated at the rash, irresponsible invitation for a public-health disaster. These mass gatherings during the pandemic could well reignite the fire many have worked so hard to put out.
Watching these rioters is a public-health bloodbath in slow motion.
It is African Americans who will suffer the most. They are dying of the virus at three times the rate of white people, by one measure.
There’s also a threat to police officers of all races and ethnicities. There can be no social distancing in a protest, and none in a riot. The New York Police Department already faced numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 amid its own ranks. These officers now are forced to stand shoulder to shoulder against these mass gatherings.
Several colleagues and I recently published warnings in The Lancet that mass gatherings ignite pandemics. The instability and mass gathering transmission risk to igniting a second-wave pandemic, and the draining of vital and already strained public safety resources makes cities terribly vulnerable.
Floyd’s murder was a heinous act Americans will continually mourn. But this murder and all the prior murders of black men and women are not a justification to heighten the devastation of cities broken by the first wave of the pandemic.
History teaches that all pandemics come in successive waves mitigated by community measures including social distancing and societal sheltering in place and other public health measures.
As doctors and health-care professionals who have worked hard to stem the destruction of the pandemic, it is heartbreaking to watch the flouting of public health measures and blatant disregard of social distancing during scores of gatherings unfurling across America.
Civil disobedience and protests are legitimate expressions of democracy, but not at the expense of human life.
Ahmed is a critical-care physician and visiting fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.