Do Police Treat Minorities Differently on Social Distancing?

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Lockdown protesters rally in Arizona. Photo by roy_17 via Flickr

Critics charge that some police are targeting minorities more aggressively than whites over social distancing,

Last weekend, police responded to a party in the predominantly African-American Hyde Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with riot gear and side-handle batons, according to the story, while predominantly white demonstrators protesting stay-at-home orders were allowed to gather across the state without a similar reaction from law enforcement, NBC News reports.

The attendees at the Hyde Park party were mostly women who had been celebrating the birthday of a baby who had just turned 1. There were no reports of arrests, “but the heavy-handed tactics” prompted some to  complain about police bias in this and another incident in south Los Angeles, NBC said.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) denied  the charge.

LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein said by email, “The Los Angeles Police Department is consistent in the way we enforce the Mayor’s ‘Safer at Home’ Directive,” according to Yahoo.

“The South L.A. parties “were ‘disturbance’ calls for service and not random enforcement of the ‘Safer at Home’ directive,” said Rubenstein.

Similar complaints have emerged in other cities.  In Chicago, concerns were raised about an incident of multiple squad cars surrounding a group of children playing in an African- American neighborhood and ordering them into their homes, according to Streetsblogchicago.

On that same sunny day, in a nearby white neighborhood, people were reportedly gathered in conversation and “frolicking in the park” without being targeted by law enforcement.

“While it would be appropriate for an officer to tell a large group of kids to disperse, clearly police in three squad cars surrounding a group of young children was unnecessary and harmful,” said the article.

In New York City, an incident filmed earlier in April continues to rankle: a group of police officers at a Harlem subway station “grabbed and restrained a child who was apparently selling chips and candy,” reported The Intercept.

“In the video, the officers are seen struggling with the boy, who is crying, and kicking a bag of snacks he was holding, while a woman claiming to be the child’s mother begs them to let him go and bystanders angrily shout that he is ‘a little boy.’”

The Intercept reported: “The number of arrests in the city has dropped in recent weeks as crime has plummeted. But particularly in poorer neighborhoods that are home to many essential workers — the neighborhoods where the risk of contracting the virus is highest and where aggressive policing is most common — arrests over minor, nonviolent offenses and ‘quality of life’ infractions have continued.”

Some critics contrast the heavy-handed tactics with the comparatively kid-gloves  treatment of demonstrators in another cities against lockdowns.  Most of the participants in those demonstrations are white.

The NBC News report said that when stay-at-home demonstrators “hit the beach” in Encinitas, California, on April 19, no citations or arrests were made.

“The same weekend, dozens of stay-at-home demonstrators, some without masks, gathered in downtown San Diego, and no citations or arrests were reported.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom,  who issued statewide stay-at-home orders on March 19, was asked about the lack of arrests last week, and said he “believed protesters were supposed to be observing social distancing.”

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report.

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