We Will Not Allow the Weaponization of COVID-19 Data

Read the report from the Data for Black Lives Movement Roundtable

At Data for Black Lives, our mission can be summarized in a few words: make data a tool for social change instead of a weapon of political oppression.

We believe that data must be reclaimed and reimagined. For those of us living on the margins, who have found a way to thrive in a country that has made Black life dispensable and Black survival optional, data is protest, data is accountability and data is collective action.

We know that alone we are easily ignored, but that there is power in a number. And where there is no recourse, no transparency, no accountability, we have the data: our own collective lived experiences, that will be the roadmap for justice, for restoration and for the solutions needed in our communities.

When we began tracking COVID-19 open data by state and tracking disparities, we knew that these data would not exist in a vacuum, but in a political system that is inherently punitive and violent. The recent murders of Ahmad Aubrey and Breonna Taylor both reveal the extent to which this is true. We knew that it would be irresponsible and potentially harmful to solely share the data - we also needed to shape the narrative by putting the voices of Black epidemiologists, policymakers, activists, and organizers at the center.

On April 15, 2020 the Data for Black Lives Movement held a roundtable to serve as a pulse check for our movement. Today we release the report of this historic event, a culmination of voices and expertise that provides a roadmap for how we must coordinate, organize and mobilize during this crisis and beyond. In this report we also articulate demands for data integrity, accountability, ethics and justice as it related to the collection and use of COVID-19 data by those in power including federal and local government, health agencies and other decision-makers who literally hold the power in deciding whether our communities will come out of this alive.

“We demand the use of COVID-19 data for the abolition of the structures, systems, policies and narratives that have made Black people indefensible and vulnerable to COVID-19. We reject any current use of COVID-19 data to police, surveil, control and target Black communities, and any use of COVID-19 data to reinforce the narratives about Black people that have made race a risk factor, while blatantly ignoring the central role of racism.”

We demand the use of COVID-19 data for the abolition of the structures, systems, policies and narratives that have made Black people defenseless and vulnerable to COVID-19. We reject any current use of COVID-19 data to police, surveil, control and target Black communities, and any use of COVID-19 data to reinforce the narratives about Black people that have made race a risk factor, while blatantly ignoring the central role of racism.

Click here for the full report from the D4BL COVID-19 Movement Roundtable

I. We demand accurate, comprehensive and transparent collection and public reporting of COVID-19 data, which should be used for advancing structural racism interventions to best reduce the impact of COVID-19 in Black communities.

II. We will not tolerate nor allow the weaponization of COVID-19 data in any form: in media narratives, policies that reinforce redlining, and in particular, the creation of automated decision making systems.

III. COVID-19 Data should move public health agencies, elected officials and decision-makers to take immediate action by:

Releasing individuals at risk of dying from COVID-19 in jails, prisons, and ICE detention facilities

Develop transparent, accountable, and community-informed protocols on automated decision systems used for contract tracing and other public health concerns

Implementing consistent testing protocols and workflows in Black communities

Make available and accessible testing sites and tests that meet the health needs of Black communities in light of the social determinants that cause racial health disparities

Establish moratoriums on negative credit reporting, late payment fees, rental evictions, foreclosures, and debt collection, and wage garnishments

Suspend rent payments in federally-subsidized housing programs and in low-income neighborhoods for one year

Suspend consumer and business credit payments (including mortgages, car, student, personal loans, and credit cards)

IV. We organize in this moment because we believe the tremendous loss of life we have experienced cannot be in vain. And if there is any call to action, it is that this moment will be about more than temporary relief and reform, but long term structural change. COVID-19 data can help point us in the right direction.

The COVID-19 pandemic is happening at a time of growth for our organization— the scaling of our operations and the expansion of our Policy & Research agendas led by our new Director of Policy Nicole Triplett and our Director of Research Jamelle Watson- Daniels.

Many people have used the word apocalypse to describe the sudden changes we are experiencing. By definition, apocalypse is Greek for disclosure, or a revealing. And if there is anything this crisis has revealed is the urgency and necessity for us to build on, expand and scale the work we have been doing for the last three years.

Yeshimabeit Milner, Founder & Executive Director

Executive Director at Data for Black Lives @data4blacklives