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The Coronavirus Pandemic Exposes Racial Inequalities In Chicago


Throughout the show today, we are breaking down a big number - nearly 60,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19. Whether one of those deaths has touched you depends a lot on where you live, how old you are, what you do for a living. It also depends on race. In Chicago, for example, black people make up 30% of the city's population. They are 56% of the city's COVID-19 deaths. Reverend Marshall Hatch is the senior pastor at the New Mount Pilgrim Church on the city's west side.

MARSHALL HATCH: We've never been through anything like this in our lifetime where just the sheer numbers of people - you know, we will have to wait until we're somewhere on the other side of the pandemic to even begin to calculate who we lost in the midst of it. It's been staggering.

SHAPIRO: He's lost his best friend to the pandemic and also his sister.

HATCH: My oldest sister Rhoda Jean - she was 12 years older than me. She was 73 years old when she passed away. She was, you know, a big sister, but she was also like my mom. So mom passed when - in 1967. I was 8 going on 9. And so we were very close, and it's been a very difficult time for our family.

SHAPIRO: Were you able to hold a funeral?

HATCH: No, we couldn't. No. We - you know, we got this social distancing and maximum of 10 people, and our family is large. And, you know, we just thought it best not to take any risk with having people trying to come out and regulate the numbers of people in.

SHAPIRO: And so as you're experiencing this personal loss, you're also a faith leader trying to help your community through a time when so many people are experiencing loss. How do you do those two things at once?

HATCH: Well, it's been incredibly difficult. I just had - my sister was buried in a cemetery called Oak Ridge. I've had four trips to that cemetery in the last five weeks.


HATCH: So it's just - it's been very difficult to try to carry, you know, the personal load of myself and my family. My sister and I were extremely close. But then to help - to try to help others as well - so it's sort of like the proverbial wounded healer.


HATCH: You know, you try to minister to other people's wounds while you tend to your own.

SHAPIRO: And the things that usually help - giving somebody a hug, providing someone with food - you're not allowed...

HATCH: You can't do it.

SHAPIRO: ...To do right now.

HATCH: No, you can't do any of that. I mean, it was just bizarre when we got the news that my sister passed and we couldn't embrace family members. We couldn't touch each other. We couldn't hold hands and pray. We obviously used the language of love more readily - you know, verbally saying, I love you. And that's really about all you can do and then frequently check on each other once or twice a day by phone.


HATCH: That seems to be very important.

SHAPIRO: Could I ask you to take a step back for a moment and talk about the impact of this disease on black people in America generally and what comes to mind when you look at the impact that COVID-19 is having on people of color?

HATCH: Well, I've pastored in a community called West Garfield Park in Chicago, a predominately African American community. And we already had a 16-year disparity in life expectancy from the Chicago Loop, which is, like, five train stops from my neighborhood before the pandemic.


HATCH: So we could have almost predicted that something like this would disproportionately impact people who already, you know, had a lot of challenges that come along with poverty, especially access to health care and fresh food and exercise. And I think some of us are really concerned about the way the national dialogue is going to proceed once this looks more like a black disease in that, you know, the underlying narrative of American life is that black life is worth less. And so I don't know that we'd be seeing this rush to open the country up if it was the Americans who were considered to be at such high risk of dying other than black Americans. That's what some of us are very concerned about.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Marshall Hatch, thank you for telling us about your experience, and I'm sorry for your loss.

HATCH: Thank you very much. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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