Kevin Cooper Original View From Death Row

View from Death Row: The Disproportionate Blues

We African Americans have often been told that times have changed. We are tired of pretending.

By Kevin Cooper

Here in the year of 2020 of the 21st century, we descendants of the people who created and first started singing the blues set to music, way back in the 19th century, are still singing the blues today. Those people who historically gave us the reasons to write and sing the blues because of our ill treatment and overwhelming oppression could not truly understand, appreciate or relate to our historical or present-day pain and suffering. 

We African Americans have often been told that times have changed. We have been told by the powers that be throughout this country’s history and our existence to stop crying, to get over it, to move on, and for the most part we have tried to do so. We have tried to stop complaining and crying about our collective pains, and that is why the blues was created. It was the only form that black people could use to express the pain and seemingly never-ending suffering that we were and still are experiencing. 

It was the only form that we could use that would not get us murdered by those in power who wanted us to be content enough to not stand up and speak out against everything negative that was happening to us.

We are tired of pretending that times have changed and hearing how much times have changed because in reality the times have not changed all that much in certain aspects of American life. We know this from the brutal killing of George Floyd by a white policeman in front of the eyes of the world. We know this when certain catastrophic events happen that reveal just how times have not changed, events like hurricane Katrina or other natural and man-made calamities that have exposed the truth about this country’s treatment or lack thereof concerning black and brown people. 

This modern-day coronavirus pandemic is just the latest example of how much times have not changed. Just as former President George W. Bush did not care about black people during hurricane Katrina, as rap and hip-hop artist Kanye West stated back then, this present-day President Donald J. Trump doesn’t care about black people either before, during and after this Covid-19 pandemic. The exposure to this pandemic is one more spot on a long list of examples of just how vulnerable black people are to dying from lack of access to health care, as has been true throughout our history in this country. 

Our tortured history has shown over time that health care, or lack thereof has played a pivotal part in our lives, and more important, our deaths, especially in preventable deaths. But America as a whole is not about prevention, it is about reaction. Well, preventable deaths for the rich and powerful is a given, but for the rest of us, especially we black, brown and Native Americans, it sometimes seems as though our deaths are welcomed by the healthcare system which is an arm of the rich. Neither cares about us, and if they can’t make money off of us and our suffering, then the hell with us. 

African Americans make up on 13 percent of the population in this country, yet no matter what state you go to we are the majority of the people who are dying from this coronavirus, except in certain parts of New York where Latinos are the majority, and on reservations where Native Americans are the majority. 

It appears that in every positive index in America, black people are at the bottom of the list, from jobs to home ownership, to wealth, to life expectancy, to health care access, to college or higher education and more. 

Yet we are always at the top of the list when it comes to negative things in this country: mass incarceration, the death penalty, lack of health care, historical racism and injustice, generational poverty, institutional racism, discrimination that is built into all public and some private policies, police brutality, and just about everything else negative in this country. 

People wait for a distribution of masks and food in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP

Yet, it is we who are blamed by those in power and their supporters for our own demise and ill treatment. We are blamed for having to eat processed foods and cheap foods, for having to live in food deserts. We are blamed for being overweight, for having diabetes and hypertension. We are blamed for all the underlying health care or medical problems that we as poor and marginalized people have. We are blamed for living in rat- and roach-infested ghettos because of social or economic pressures out of our control. We are blamed for being black, for all the negative things that happen to us because of the color of our skin. 

This is why we are still singing the blues, as this is our past, present and probably future in the good ol’ US of A. 

The modern day plantation/prison system in this country is having its own problems with the coronavirus pandemic. This is because historically speaking, the prisons have been used to warehouse its unwanted and expendable people: black people. Inside these modern-day plantations, real health care is virtually non-existent. There is no social distancing, and depending on what state you’re in, there is no hand sanitizer or anything else. But this is just fine for most of Americans because they see black people as a problem people who should be locked up. 

When a white person does something illegal, he or she is just one bad person. But when it’s a black person, he or she is from a problem people, and all problem people should be put away in cages, or murdered. This is all part of the history of black people in all states, especially in those ex-slave states like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and others, that all now have Republican governors, all voted for Trump, and all have disproportionate numbers of black people who have suffered and died from  coronavirus. Those are also the states that did not and do not want their residents to have Obamacare. So while in some cases chronic health conditions play a part in why blacks are disproportionately getting and dying from the coronavirus, the country’s historical treatment and social factors have a large part to play in this disaster. 

As was stated recently by Stephen Thomas, professor of health policy and management director of the Maryland Center of Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health: “The data is clear and has been clear for decades, African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups live sicker and die younger.” He also said: “We cannot close our eyes or put up blinders to the disproportionate impact of this disease on racial and ethnic minority communities.” 

I say, “Nor can we close our ears as to the real reason why black people continue to sing the blues.” 

Here are some examples of the different types of blues that we sing, although our blues are close to what many others are experiencing at this point in history.  Still,  in disproportionate numbers are our pain, suffering and deaths.

  • The Depression blues
  • Another black person was brutally killed by a white cop blues.
  • Police brutality blues.  
  • My loved one died from Covid-19 blues. 
  • I ain’t got no health care blues.  
  • I ain’t got no health care insurance blues.  
  • I can’t get a doctor to treat me blues.   
  • I lost my job blues. 
  • I don’t have a job blues. 
  • I need a job blues. 
  • I’m homeless blues.  
  • I ain’t got no money blues.  
  • My house was foreclosed on in 2008 blues. 
  • I’m still called a nigger blues. 
  • I don’t have any food blues. 
  • I can’t feed my children blues.
  • I’m still in prison blues. 
  • I’m innocent on death row blues.  
  • I was stopped while driving in a white neighborhood blues. 
  • I was stopped driving while black blues. 
  • I was arrested for walking while black blues. 
  • They think I’m a criminal blues. 
  • I can’t even get welfare blues.
  • I’m followed around the store without getting service blues. 
  • I go to a segregated school blues.  
  • I live in a segregated neighborhood blues.  
  • Mitch McConnell and his Republicans don’t care about black people blues.  
  • White supremacy is still alive and well in America blues.  
  • I experience racism and discrimination blues.  
  • We have lead in our drinking water blues.  
  • I got life in prison without parole blues.  
  • I got the coronavirus blues. 

I could go on and on about why black people sing the blues, but my point has been made. That, along with this: According to the APM research lab staff’s May 5, 2020 report, “If black Americans had died of Covid-19 at the same rate as white Americans, about 9,000 of the nearly 15,000 black residents who have died in these states would still be alive.” 

These are states such as Kansas, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and others. I think it’s about time that we stop singing the blues, and start crying the blues because this is a low down dirty shame! 

Kevin Cooper
Kevin Cooper

In 1985, he was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld from the defense. Cooper has become active in writing from prison to assert his innocence, protest racism in the American criminal justice system, and oppose the death penalty. His case was scrutinized in a June 17, 2017, New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof and by 48 Hours, March 21, 2020  Visit and for more information. 

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