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We, here at The New Orleans Tribune,  want Black Americans to get vaccinated. And we will use our influence to encourage members of our community to do their research, evaluate the pros and cons so as to make the best choices for them and their families. But if it takes a little more convincing, a little more campaigning, a few more boots on the ground, and a few more dollars to reach out to our communities, our government and the medical establishment ought to be up for the task because this distrust and this fear, this skepticism are of their own making.

Rick Snyder, the former governor of Michigan, has been indicted for his role in the Flint water crisis, which resulted in the deadly poisoning of the largely Black community of Flint, Mich. According to media reports, charges against other Michigan officials are pending. 

Here’s why a federal grand jury is saying Snyder is at least partly responsible: Two years after the water crisis first began, two years after it was clear that the water that Flint’s residents were using was poison, Snyder still refused to replace the corroded pipes, which led to the environmental disaster that resulted in a dozen residents dying of Legionnaires’ disease and dozens more getting sick. 

In fact, the entire saga is one of the grossest examples of environmental racism in our times—plain and clear. With the city of Flint under state control in 2013, an appointed emergency manager made the decision to stop piping in treated water from Detroit to Flint residents in favor of a cheaper alternative. And in this case, cheaper did not mean a bargain. It meant low-grade, sub-standard, inferior quality water used by people to drink, to cook, to clean. Of course, we question whether a “cheaper” alternative would have even been considered if Flint’s residents were overwhelmingly White. But what happened next removes any doubt. Even after learning that the pipes being used to get water to Flint were toxic—full of lead and copper—leaders like Snyder and others did nothing. They didn’t even replace the pipes. We have no doubt that if Flint’s residents were not mostly Black, much more regard would have been given to their health and their lives. What happened was criminal. 

The misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty that Snyder faces could carry penalties up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine—a small price to pay for the indifference that this elected official showed for the lives of people he was elected to serve.

And this is just one of the many reasons—historical or modern-day—that African-Americans have to be skeptical about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. While history holds plenty of examples of Black bodies being mistreated, subjected to cruel medical experimentation and worse through events and activities that have been sanctioned and even funded by our own government, the truth is we don’t have to look very far in history to find examples of Black Americans being hurt and irrevocably harmed in the name of science or profit or indifference or outright hate. 

It is one of the reasons that skepticism among Black Americans toward the COVID-19 vaccine is real and must be taken seriously by those encouraging African-Americans to get vaccinated. We understand that it is important in our nation’s battle against this deadly virus for as many Americans as possible to get  vaccinated. And given the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black people, it is especially important that more of us consider taking the vaccine. Still, it is a mighty big ask of a people who have ample reason to distrust its very own government and the medical establishment.

To be sure, we want Black Americans to get vaccinated. And we will use our influence to encourage members of our community to do their research, evaluate the pros and cons evaluate and make the best choices for them and their families. But if it takes a little more convincing, a little more campaigning, a little more reassuring, a few more boots on the ground, and a few more dollars to reach out to our communities, our government and the medical establishment ought to be up for the task because this distrust and this fear, this skepticism are of their own making.

In short, those tasked with the duty of reaching out to Black Americans to persuade us take the vaccine must not approach this task as if it’s some fallacy or foolery. To be sure, Black people in America have plenty of reasons to not drink the water.