Nationwide protests in honor of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held him in neck restraint, haven’t put a pause on a collection of ongoing traumas–the covid-19 pandemic, the economic precarity that has come in its wake, or the essential workers risking their lives to carry on in public spaces. But officials in major cities are using the protests as an excuse to suspend vital services that are especially crucial because they impact all of the above. Cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami have instituted closures that have canceled food distribution and cut transit hours, leaving countless people bereft of basic needs.
Hold food and transit hostage to demand compliance. It’s a deeply manipulative strategy that uses poor people as armor to ensure that nothing, structurally, will ever change.
In Chicago, Chicago Public Schools suspended a food distribution program that provides meals for students amidst covid-19 induced school closures. The rationale: Citywide protests. The announcement came late Sunday night, with a social media post stating that due to “the evolving nature of activity” the city would suspend meals starting Monday. This came after the CPS president sent a letter to parents earlier in the evening assuring them that the meal program will continue without issue.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the CPS has given over 12.5 million meals since the start of the covid-19 crisis. Given that over 75 percent of Chicago’s public school students are low income, the suspension could lead countless children to go without meals for however long the city decides to drag this out. These communities were hurting before the pandemic and before the uprisings across the city; now, they’re being used as collateral damage.
But Chicago isn’t alone in its decision to disrupt key services. On Saturday, the Miami Herald reported that Miami-Dade abruptly suspended transit service county-wide over the weekend, suspending commuters coming home after late-night shifts. Though Miami-Dade Transit announced that service will be back in order on June 1, its return is conditional. The official Twitter account for Miami-Dade Transit tweeted, “We will continue to monitor the current situation & as events evolve, adjustments may be made.”
Meanwhile, Philadelphia also announced closures: Transit was suspended from Sunday evening to Monday morning, and all city-wide food relief supersites are closed Monday.
Cities are attempting to regain control of a series of protests that have left protesters injured by overzealous police officers and buildings vandalized by disaffected citizens. That the most vulnerable have to pay the price for some graffiti is unconscionable. But the pop up pantries in South Minneapolis, the epicenter of the original protests following Floyd’s death, are a single heartening example that show that in lieu of help from public services or other outlets, communities can and do come together to fill a void.
It just shouldn’t be their responsibility.