Racism Charges Force Police to Rethink Pandemic Enforcement

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Photo by Laurel F via Flickr

New York City police no longer require people to wear masks in public, unless the absence of a mask presents a “serious danger.”

The change is part of a reset of police enforcement of emergency rules after controversial encounters between officers and members of the public, some of them caught on video. One involved a confrontation between officers and a woman in a subway station, over whether she was wearing her mask properly, NPR reports.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says police will continue to enforce rules against large gatherings as a matter of “saving lives.”

NYPD police data released this month showed between March 16 and May 5, police officers issued 374 summonses for social-distancing violations. The data showed that 193 summonses went to people who are black while 111 were given to Hispanics, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The city has pushed back on the racism charge, saying that in nearly a million police encounters with the public over social distancing, only a few dozen people have been arrested.

Conservative groups are circulating the video of Port of Seattle police officer Greg Anderson calling on fellow officers not to enforce “tyrannical orders against the people.”

Police departments are worried about getting caught in the cross-fire over social distancing. Sue Rahr, a former sheriff who runs the police academy in Washington state, says “Clearly, the public is not united on what should be done in the community to keep people safe from the virus. And so the cops really do get trapped in the middle.”

One solution may be to move officers back from the front lines of enforcement. Clearwater, Fl., is using civilian “ambassadors” to roam beaches reminding the public to keep social distance, while police hang back.

New York City will send out 2,300 civilian ambassadors to remind New Yorkers to keep their distance as the weather warms up.

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