Police Are Using Social Distancing Rules to Harass Black People

June 26, 2020

Illustration showing a police officer arresting Black people while helping white people, both groups are gathering similarly outdoors

We have always been direct when it comes to racial justice. And last week we made it abundantly clear exactly where we stand on the murder of George Floyd and the urgent need to dismantle white supremacy. 

As we wrote last week, George Floyd’s murder was not an isolated incident, but rather the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy.

Even as we battle a global pandemic, that same culture of white supremacy is on full display in how police nationwide are enforcing vital social distancing guidelines.


People of Color Are Being Unfairly Targeted

We are seeing evidence that police are using social distancing enforcement as a tool—and an excuse—to engage in race-based harassment. In New York, 81% of social distancing-related summons issued from March to May 4 were for Black or Latinx people, despite the groups only making up 24% and 27% of the population respectively. In Ohio, Black people are at least four times as likely to be charged with violating the state’s stay-at-home order as white people. Meanwhile, majority-white protestors demanding to end stay-at-home orders—some of whom openly identify as white supremacists—are largely being left alone.


The Consequences for People of Color are Higher

The footage of police handing out masks to white violators of social-distancing rules juxtaposed with the footage of sometimes violent take-downs in communities of color by police show a radically different approach to “enforcement.” And the consequences are far more dire for Black people. Of those taken into custody, 95% of white defendants were released without bond, compared to less than 50% of Black defendants brought in for the same offense. And in most places, if you can’t afford to pay bail, you can’t get out of jail. We already know there’s no such thing as social distancing if you’re locked up. That’s a cruel—and potentially lethal—sentence to serve if you’re already at greater risk from COVID-19.


We Can’t Let COVID Be an Excuse for Racial Persecution

The righteous howl for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud ArberyTony McDade and so many others has brought hundreds of thousands of Americans into the streets, regardless of social distancing rules. But even as those protests grow nationwide, the racial bias of social distancing enforcement is just another  wound in what’s become death by 1,000 cuts for Black people and other people of color. We must hold our officials accountable.


We Must Dismantle White Supremacy

Back in April, Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker called for racial profiling training for all law enforcement during the pandemic. As of last week, lawmakers were still divided over how to pass reform legislation, but cities around the country immediately started responding with calls for radical change. In New York, a law that effectively covers up past police wrongdoing may soon be overturned. In Minneapolis earlier this week, the city started the process of dismantling the police force, sending a clear signal that traditional approaches to law enforcement aren’t working. In D.C. on Monday, Congressional Democrats introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which would ban chokeholds, certain no-knock warrants, and establish a national database to track police misconduct. We’re seeing some positive changes across the nation—but we still have 401 years of systemic oppression to overcome.

The biased nature of social distancing enforcement is just one more example of why we must dismantle white supremacy and work to reverse centuries of discrimination. Stand with us, and with others calling for justice, like Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of Black Lives Matter, who calls for “transform[ing] the world so we can start something new.”

“We have to push and challenge officials across the country to stop tactics of terror,” Cullors writes in an op-ed published in Vogue. “Support the local organizations that are putting their bodies on the line by getting involved, sharing resources, amplifying their efforts, and donating to the cause. The world is watching and we need you.”

It’s time to take action. Do your part to put a stop to endless daily injustices that built up this system of ongoing racism and create a fairer, safer world for everyone.