Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, summed up the core goal of the recent uprising in a single word: accountability.
Speaking about the police murder of George Floyd, Cullors told Nightline in June, “Everybody wants to be apologized to. Everybody wants to be told, ‘I'm sorry. What I did was wrong. It was unacceptable. We won't do it again and, in fact, this is how we change.’” The BREATHE Act, developed by the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, similarly highlights the need to hold law enforcement officials accountable for harm they cause to Black people and Black communities. In states and localities across the country, activists are fighting to enhance accountability, repealing laws that keep police abuses secret and demanding independent reviews of the use of force.
The BREATHE Act recognizes that accountability cannot stop with law enforcement.
At the same time, the BREATHE Act recognizes that accountability cannot stop with law enforcement. The proposal demands passage of H.R.40 to study reparations for the continuing harms of slavery and discrimination, as well as the establishment of commissions to design reparations for mass criminalization, from the War on Drugs to the systemic violation of the U.S. government’s treaty obligations to Tribal nations. Affirming that Black Lives Matter entails demanding accountability for all people and institutions that deprecate and disregard Black life. This includes not only holding people and institutions responsible for past actions but setting up structures to ensure that those who cause harm in the future know they will be held to account for it.
Yet in parallel to the Black-led push for accountability throughout American society is a massive corporate lobbying effort to pass legislation providing blanket legal immunity to businesses that fail to protect workers and customers from COVID-19. With coronavirus cases soaring to more than 3.3 million in the United States, Black people are 2.7 times more likely to contract coronavirus than white people and nearly twice as likely to die from the disease. But under the proposal Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is advancing as his top legislative priority, workers and customers will not be able to hold companies accountable in court even if these companies refuse to take basic steps to prevent exposure to coronavirus. The central purpose of the measure is to make business less accountable for contributing to the deaths of Black people.
Among the corporations that stand to benefit most from legal immunity for failing to protect people from coronavirus are fast food giants like McDonald’s. McDonald’s was one of the most vocal companies claiming support for the Black Lives Matter uprising in its advertising, publicly naming Black victims of police violence and insisting that “we stand with Black communities across America.” Yet the company is already facing a lawsuit from its own Black and Latinx employees in Chicago, who contend that McDonald’s put their lives at risk by failing to give workers enough masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to protect themselves from infection, by not training workers on how to keep themselves or customers safe, and by neglecting to inform workers who had been exposed to the virus. “We are suing to make sure the company prioritizes our lives over burgers and fries,” said lead plaintiff Taynarvis Massey. If a corporate immunity law barred the doors of the courthouse, this critical avenue for accountability for Black lives would be lost.