As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, concerns over how police are enforcing orders to help quell the spread of the virus are coming into question.
Reports indicate that the NYPD is enforcing social distancing regulations. Violating them can get you arrested with a fine of up to $1,000 or merely a summons. Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers to call 311 on citizens who are not obeying social distancing rules. There is even a texting number to send photos to.
Two recent notable incidents that occurred last week have the community concerned that even with the threat of a major disease killing thousands, police are not scaling back on alleged racial targeting.
Police say that last week a large number of members of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community gathered at a synagogue in Crown Heights. NYPD officers reportedly gave the group warnings. Three men were arrested during the incident.
Video posted earlier this month on social media shows NYPD officers slowly riding down a street filled with Hasidic Jews ignoring social distancing rules to attend a funeral. Officers played a recording about the rules from their vehicle in an effort to break up the group. Reports indicate no arrests were made.
Meanwhile, last Saturday in Canarsie, Brooklyn, police reported that dozens of people were at a barbershop for a party that started out as a rap video shoot on Avenue L. Sixty people were given summonses and two arrests were made. The NYPD said that the two people arrested were charged with weapons and drug possession.
“The NYPD enforces the law fairly and equally, and works tirelessly every day to keep every neighborhood safe,” said a police spokesperson. “During these unprecedented times, the NYPD is looking for compliance and that is mostly what we are seeing. However, in order to stop the spread of the virus, we must remain vigilant and follow the social distancing and stay at home orders. Anyone who disregards these orders is putting lives in danger. When we see gross violations of these orders, we will take enforcement action.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is calling for the release os NYPD social distancing enforcement demographic data. He has concerns that enforcement is disproportionately impacting communities of color. He sent a letter this week to de Blasio this week requesting the data.
"As COVID-19 continues to spread and fatalities increase across the five boroughs, we must recognize the disproportionate spread of the virus versus adequate medical resources sent to communities of more color," Williams said. "With this in mind, I'm sure we all share the goal of not exacerbating inequity through enforcement."
Anthonine Pierre, a leader of Communities United for Police Reform and deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, stated during a recent interview that the city should look into how regulations are being enforced.
“What has happened is that COVID-19 has exacerbated everything,” Pierre said. “One of the ways we are seeing that is the way the law is being enforced. We can enforce social distancing in ways that don’t criminalize people or put people in jail.”
Another topic on many Black New Yorkers’ minds, particularly men, is the issue over face masks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently ordered that all New Yorkers wear face coverings in public to slow the spread of COVID-19; however, some Black men are resistant to wearing one for fear of looking threatening leading to racial profiling by police.
Incidents across the nation have popped up on social media where Black men wearing masks have been approached by law enforcement. Earlier this month two Black men wearing surgical masks alleged they were kicked out of a Walmart in Illinois after a police officer followed them. In Miami, a Black doctor wearing a protective mask was reportedly handcuffed outside of his home.
“The majority of New Yorkers are going to be outside with face covering,” Pierre said. “In this moment when everyone is wearing a mask, law enforcement cannot profile.”
U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris and Cory A. Booker recently led a letter to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray demanding racial profiling training for all law enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the ongoing public health emergency, it is more important than ever for law enforcement to build trust with communities of color,” the letter said. “Accordingly, we urge your agencies to immediately provide training and guidance on bias, policing, and disproportionate or selective enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also urge your agencies to encourage the use of federal guidance to create model recommendations at the state and local level.”