‘Be Still Mondays’ Begin in Newark to Combat COVID-19

New York Amsterdam News' Cyril Josh Barker reports

In an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus in Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka recently announced the installation of “Be Still Mondays” asking for a complete shutdown of the city once a week.

Beginning this Monday, “Be Still Mondays” will happen each week through May 11. While not an executive order, the weekly shutdown is a request that discourages all businesses except for health, safety, and welfare emergency services to close.

“We want to shut down the whole City,” Baraka said during his Thursday night Facebook Live briefing. “We’re sending out letters to all businesses asking them to close. Businesses that provide food and shelter for the homeless population may operate but the City is asking soup kitchens to limit their operations from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“If we continue business as usual those numbers will continue to grow,” Baraka said. “So, we are asking everybody: stay home, stay inside, stay alive,” he said. “Be still.” Baraka added that the idea is to show community-wide solidarity in the face of the aggressive coronavirus pandemic that is especially ravaging Black and Brown communities nationwide. Newark officials would like businesses deemed “essential” by prior executive orders, such as food stores and pharmacies, to also close, as well as downtown corporations and manufacturing companies.

Blacks make up 22% of COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey, half of the state’s Black population. Gov. Phil Murphy announced during a recent press conference that 22% of COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey are Black, even though Blacks make up 15% of the state’s population. Black fatalities from COVID-19 are at least 50% over the representation of the Black community in the state.

“The African American number of 22%, that is relative, let’s not forget this folks, relative to about 14% or 15% representation of the general population in New Jersey and that’s something that we’re seeing elsewhere in the country, and that’s something that we’re very focused on,” Murphy said.

Two notable African Americans in the state that have died from COVID-19 include Sam McGhee, the first African American elected to serve as mayor of Hillside in 1988 who died last week. McGhee also served 32 years as dean of admissions at New Jersey City University. He was 79.

The Rev. H. Gene Sykes, who was the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Bayonne, also passed away last week from COVID-19 complications. Sykes served as pastor of the church for over 25 years. He also served as vice chairman of the board of commissioners of the Bayonne Housing Authority and was vice president of the Bayonne branch of the NAACP.

Former Jersey City Councilwoman Viola Richardson passed away from COVID-19 complications on Friday. Richardson served the people of Jersey City for 12 years as a member of city council, first as council member of Ward F and then as council member-at-large. Prior to being elected, she was a police officer.

While Murphy has released numbers when it comes to race about the COVID-19 deaths, numbers have not been released about infections by race. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) says more racial data needs to be released.

“Because of structural racism, Black people suffer from higher rates of the underlying conditions on which COVID-19 preys,” said NJISJ President and CEO Ryan Haygood, Esq. “The only way to ensure that our communities get the support and resources we need during and after this crisis is by knowing the facts on the ground that this data will reveal.”

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