The death of Elijah McClain last August in Aurora, Co., is a reminder of how police interventions based on apprehension of a “suspicious person” calls can spiral downwards.
McClain, a Black man, was the subject of a 911 call while wearing a knit ski mask pulled up over his mouth because of a medical condition.
Police officers approached him, a struggle ensued, and McClain, who had been walking home from a local convenience store with tea for his brother, died several days later. The case is being investigated by the Colorado Attorney General.
In the age of COVID-19, there have been other calls to the police labeling as “suspicious” people of color wearing masks. A Black doctor wearing a protective mask outside of his Miami home was approached by police, handcuffed and questioned.
Two Black men wearing masks while shopping in an Illinois Walmart were approached by an officer because they were reportedly acting suspiciously. Six U.S. senators called on the Justice Department to “provide training and guidance relating to bias in law enforcement during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”
See also: The Newest Twist in Racial Profiling: Wearing Masks While Black, The Crime Report, June 11, 2020
As a result of these incidents, Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP), a firm headed by University of South Florida criminologist Lorie Fridell that has trained law enforcement agencies across the nation, produced an eight-minute training video for police.
The video, which can be accessed at the firm’s website, discusses these incidents in the context of the science of implicit bias and provides guidance for law enforcement response.
Narrated by retired Police Chief Noble Wray of Madison, Wi., the video is designed both to reinforce training on implicit bias awareness for police departments that have already used it, and for police departments that have yet to provide such training, FIP says.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report