Race and Equity Demands for Black Oakland

An Open Letter to Alameda County Leaders:

The data emerging from the past few weeks on how COVID-19 is impacting the African American community is alarming. It shows that African Americans are suffering and dying at disproportionately higher rates.

On April 14, 2020, Alameda County released its COVID-19 Dashboard. This was an initial effort to show demographic data by race and geography. However, the data is incomplete and insufficient. Of the recorded cases, the “unknown” category is the largest. There must be tools the County has for collecting and reporting the data more effectively. They have the responsibility to give the public clear and accurate information.  For example, 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Chicago are African American, even though African Americans make-up only twenty-nine percent of the population. Journalist Maria Zamudio was able to get this data on COVID-19 deaths from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Why has the County failed to require race and ethnicity data be submitted with laboratory results? Why hasn’t the County reported deaths by race?

Oakland’s African American population, like Chicago, has poor access to jobs and health care. Structural racism and social determinants of health like access to housing and healthy food have shaped the chronic conditions in these African American communities. Oakland is the largest city in Alameda County and also has the largest African American population. East Oakland residents have some of the highest rates of asthma hospitalization in Alameda County. 

In 2008, the Alameda County Office of Public Health published Life and Death From Unnatural Causes. It reported that, “Compared with a White child in the Oakland Hills, an African American born in West Oakland is 1.5 times more likely to be born premature or low birth weight, 7 times more likely to be born into poverty, 2 times as likely to live in a home that is rented, and 4 times more likely to have parents with only a high school education or less”. 

The Study outlines the health disparities found in Alameda County by neighborhood, income level, and race. It also shows the Intersectionality between these disparities and existing economic and social inequities. In Alameda County, these facts are particularly glaring for low-income African Americans in Oakland. 

The 2018 City of Oakland Race and Equity Report, which evaluated Oakland on how well the City is addressing racial issues, gave the city a D+ grade. The score, 33.3 out of 100, was based on the evaluation of 24 indicators. The data shows that African Americans are 22% of the population and 70% of the shelter-less in Oakland. Homelessness has risen to 47% over the past two years, with African American women representing the highest increase.

The recently published Alameda County Public Health Department data map of the COVID-19 cases in Oakland continues to unveil the stark impact on East Oakland in particular. The map is typical of geographic data maps of East Oakland that demonstrate disproportionate impacts that lead to disparities. We are pleased that more data is coming out; thus far, this data is only confirming an anticipated equity challenge that must be addressed.

Decision makers must move resources using an equity frame.”

The Equity Challenge

In their relief and recovery response, Alameda County must address the historic and systemic and structural inequities that disproportionately impact the African American community in Oakland. Decision makers must move resources using an equity frame.  Some equity questions Alameda County should ask are:

  1. How is ‘shelter in place’ affecting low-income Oakland’s African American families? 
  2. How many of the essential workers, exposed daily to the Coronavirus, are African American?
  3. How many African Americans have lost jobs and have no sick leave?
  4. How many small African American businesses are closed or are struggling to stay afloat?
  5. How many African American elders are shut in with no food or contact?
  6. What resources are available for mental and behavioral support for African Americans?
  7. How much has the un-housed African American population increased since COVID-19?
  8. How many of the un-housed African Americans have been afforded the opportunity to relocate to a Hotel?  How many have PPE? How many are receiving food, supplies and support?

“The public health officer should order that everyone in the jail be tested. At a minimum, individuals should be tested prior to release back into the community.”

In the short term, the County should immediately increase access to testing and treatment in the African American community. It is also imperative that testing in the jails increases. About 35% of the tests done in jail are positive, but only about 5% of the jail population have been tested. Hundreds are being released without being tested, and many are going into shelters, encampments, crowded households, etc. posing a public health threat. The public health officer should order that everyone in the jail be tested. At a minimum, individuals should be tested prior to release back into the community.

Additionally, we are requesting:

  • Door to door testing in high-risk neighborhoods
  • Testing with treatment
  • Educational campaign (bull horn announcements)
  • Link food delivery programs with testing and education

In the long-term, the County should develop policies that address the historical legacy of racism and the accompanying structural issues that continue to kill us. The County must rethink all of its policies and practices that continue to make things so unequal. The County should ask itself, how the legacy of racism and structural inequities have made the coronavirus pandemic worse for African Americans and use this as an opportunity to address these issues.

We thank you for your attention and look forward to your response. 


Black Organizing Project, Jackie Byers, Executive Director

Brotherhood of Elders Network, Greg Hodge, Chief Network Officer

Black Women Organizing for Political Action, LaNiece Jones, Executive Director

East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Collaborative, Carolyn Johnson Executive Director

East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, Nehanda Imara, HUB Manager

East Oakland Youth Development Center, Regina Jackson, Executive Director

Roots Community Health Center, Noha Aboelata, MD, Chief Executive Officer

Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal, Shomari Carter, Executive Director

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Oakland Voices or the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

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