Kristin Urquiza at her father's burial site in Avondale, Arizona, a few days after Mark Anthony Urquiza’s funeral this month. She is holding up The Arizona Republic newspaper with her dad's story on the front page. (Photo courtesy of Kristin Urquiza)
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By Levi Sumagaysay
He was “just a very regular person who cared a lot about his community,” Kristin Urquiza said of her dad, Mark Anthony Urquiza. But the obituary she wrote for him after he died of COVID-19 went viral after she placed the blame on politicians.
An excerpt from the obituary that appeared in The Arizona Republic: “Mark, like so many others, should not have died from COVID-19. His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.”
Mark died June 30 at the age of 65. The Mexican American man had no preexisting conditions, his daughter said on a Race and Coronavirus podcast. What he did have was trust in Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who was among the last governors in the nation to issue stay-at-home orders (end of March) and among the first to open his state back up (mid-May) as the pandemic raged on.
Urquiza, who lives in San Francisco and is an only child, said she kept in touch with both parents in March and April to make sure they were staying home as much as possible. But she said, “Once the governor of Arizona rushed to open up the state, I lost my battle. … My dad said back to me: ‘Why would the governor say (it was safe to go shopping or go out to dinner) if it’s not safe’?”
Now she is turning her pain to purpose, seizing the social- and news-media attention to promote a campaign called Marked By Covid, which is a play on her dad’s name and a call for others to tell their stories about being affected by this pandemic. On Twitter, the campaign’s bio reads: “Elevating the truth about #COVID19 in hopes of saving others.” Barely two weeks old, the campaign has more than 13,000 followers on Twitter and about 3,000 on Facebook.
Urquiza, who is raising money through GoFundMe, will also sponsor “honest obits” for families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“Obituaries are expensive, and I want to sponsor more obituaries for BIPOC folks so that we can help show our stories and be able to shine a bigger light on their real loss to our broader communities who quite frankly, are the folks that have been keeping our skeleton economy alive,” she said.
Latinos, who make up 18% of the U.S. population, comprise 34% of the coronavirus cases nationwide, according to CDC numbers. Urquiza’s mom, Brenda, also tested positive for the virus but has recovered, she said.
(Screenshot courtesy of Kristin Urquiza)
Urquiza mentioned no politicians by name in the scathing obituary, but she wrote Ducey a letter and invited him to her dad’s funeral. The letter read in part: “My father contracted the virus during the period when you forbade local governments from implementing their own safety measures, such as mandating the wearing of masks, to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19.”
The governor’s office has not responded to her, and it has not returned a request for comment from Race and Coronavirus, though it did release a statement of sympathy for her family to other national media outlets that have written about Urquiza’s story.
Urquiza knows she is not alone. Many others are blaming other politicians and President Donald Trump for mixed signals and inaction as the nation’s death toll from the coronavirus has risen to more than 140,000.
In a recent Gallup poll, those who agree their Republican governors are “communicating a clear plan of action for addressing the pandemic” have dropped from 54% in early June to 43% in late June. During the same time period, those who say their Republican governors care about the safety and health of the community declined from 61% to 53%. The poll found barely any change in the ratings of Democratic governors in other states.
“People should be able to trust their elected officials to act in the interest of public health and safety,” Carl Bergstrom, an infectious disease biologist at the University of Washington, told Race and Coronavirus. “Reopening a bridge that is likely to collapse due to known structural damage? That would be a huge scandal, no matter how important the bridge was to transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, we have not seen the same level of caution with respect to COVID-19.”
In Arizona, which has been a recent hot spot for coronavirus cases, Ducey is now asking the state’s residents to stay home. He continues to face pressure over his response to the pandemic, not just from Urquiza, but also students and educators who are worried about their pending return to school and are urging him to issue a statewide plan.
“If I die from COVID, please politicize my death,” one teacher says in a video campaign aimed at Ducey.
Other Republican governors in states with many cases are also feeling the heat. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is reportedly slipping in polls and is facing a lawsuit filed Monday over the state’s plan to reopen schools. In Texas, which is seeing record numbers of deaths from the pandemic, mayors and county judges are asking Gov. Greg Abbott for their emergency-management authority back. In South Carolina, another hot spot, Gov. Henry McMaster is refusing calls to mandate mask-wearing and is pushing for the reopening of schools despite concerns from his state’s residents — and even his fellow Republicans.
Meanwhile, the U.S. president and his administration have continued to downplay the pandemic, insisting that it is best for schools to reopen despite rising infection numbers, and threatening to withhold funding if schools don’t have in-person instruction. The administration also is reportedly looking to block new funding for testing, tracing and the CDC in the next stimulus bill. (In a Tuesday press conference, Trump did acknowledge that “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” and urged Americans to wear masks, a turnaround from when he mocked people for wearing them.)
Urquiza includes Trump — who her dad voted for — among the politicians responsible for his death and the continuing coronavirus crisis. Her dad, who she said loved life and “was the kind of guy that you could call when nobody else would answer the phone and he would do his best to help figure out how to help you.”
“I could not compete with the mismanagement, mixed messages … with Gov. Ducey, who was taking a page from the Trump administration,” she said.
Pandemic and gun violence both results of federal failures
After the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, took the lives of 26 people, including 20 children, firearm sales spiked by millions amid fears of stricter gun regulations.
This spring, the nation saw a similar spike in gun sales, spurred not by the threat of much-needed gun reform laws, but by social unrest and anxiety brought on by two institutional failures: the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd.
According to The Washington Post, Americans purchased an additional 3 million firearms from March to June, compared with the same period in previous years. The rise in sales, according to two studies by the Brookings Institute and UC Davis, are due “in large part to racial animosity stoked by widespread protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as anxiety over the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Not surprisingly, the increase in sales has translated to increased gun violence since the pandemic hit. Firearm fatalities went up by 16% in April and 15% in May compared to the same months in 2019, according to data from Gun Violence Archive.
For many, these are all just numbers and statistics, much like I fear the number of deaths due to the pandemic are becoming to the American public. But at a time when people are sheltering at home, consider the elevated risk for domestic abuse, suicide, guns falling into the wrong hands, and accidental shootings: 4.6 million children and teens live in homes where loaded guns are kept unsecured, according to Giffords.
Before the pandemic, I was focused on doing my part to reduce gun violence through the Robby Poblete Foundation, the nonprofit I created in 2017 in honor of my son, who was shot and killed on Sept. 21, 2014. The weapon used to take his life was obtained illegally, then sold on the streets where it was used to commit another crime. Because of this, one of our core programs is a gun buyback with the goal of getting unwanted firearms out of circulation, and preventing them from falling into the wrong hands.
After the mandated shelter in place, I took some comfort in knowing that now people would be safe at home. But I was tragically wrong. I saw footage of lootings after the sun would go down on peaceful protests and saw reports of thousands of guns being stolen from gun shops and sporting goods stores, both of which are under no federal regulation to safely store their firearms after business hours.
I thought of all the work we have done to get those guns off the streets, only to have thousands more to fear. Guns that are not registered. Guns that can be used to commit numerous crimes and take numerous lives. Guns that are not traceable.
What I have learned in the three years of running our nonprofit, is that hopelessness and a feeling of isolation are most often the basis of violent crime. Today, we are seeing a pandemic, an economic downturn and a national reckoning with social injustice and police brutality — all of which have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income populations. In the midst of this pandemic, we cannot ignore the epidemic of gun violence that has continued to plague our country year over year.
Gun homicide rates in the United States are 25 times higher than any other high-income country in the world. Of the 610,654 COVID-19 deaths around the world as of July 21, 140,914 are from the United States, far outpacing all other countries. In both cases, black and brown communities make up a majority of the victims.
The pandemic has laid bare institutional inequities across our country, punctuated by failures by our federal government to take swift and decisive action to prevent the unnecessary loss of lives. On May 8, an article in the Atlantic read: The coronavirus was an emergency until Trump found out who was dying.
Is it any surprise, then, that we have yet to declare gun violence an emergency?
This podcast features an interview with Kristin Urquiza, pictured at right, with her dad, Mark Anthony Urquiza, in 2016. Her dad died of COVID-19 last month, and her obituary for him — in which she blamed politicians for contributing to his death — went viral. And because this is our last podcast, we also talk about what we learned from this project, and our concerns for the future as this pandemic rages on.
This is the last Race and Coronavirus newsletter, although as we said on our podcast, we each plan to continue to address some of these issues in some way. The stories and podcasts will remain on raceandcoronavirus.com.
Thank you to our subscribers, readers, guests and the many people who talked with us for our stories over the past couple of months. And gratitude to our partner, Bay City News and Local News Matters, copy editor Sherman Turntine and the creator of our logo, Giovanni Cruz at Giographix.