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A New Civil Rights, Racial Profiling Issue During the Pandemic: Being Arrested for Wearing a Mask—While Being Black


A serious civil rights and police misconduct issue has come up during the coronavirus pandemic, and involves innocent African American men being arrested for wearing masks in accordance with recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). For example, earlier in April, an officer in Miami arrested a black man who was wearing a mask moving items near a van, and who turned out to be a doctor volunteering to test the homeless for the virus. Others have also reported being followed in stores for being labeled as “suspicious.” Conversely, police have also been recorded brutally arresting African-Americans because they are supposedly not not wearing face coverings while on public transportation when they are supposed to, highlighting the fact that racial biases are heightened at this time.

As a result, several senators are now demanding that the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation provide anti-bias training for law-enforcement.

Where The Hesitation Came From When The CDC & Local Mask Requirements First Started

Racial profiling has long been present in a number of police interactions with African-Americans such as traffic stops, shootings, stop and frisk, wrongful arrest, and more. Now, it is clear that the pandemic is amplifying what is already a serious inequality issue. As a result, when the CDC first recommended that everyone wear facemasks, a number of African-Americans were hesitant, pointing out that already-existing racist perceptions of criminality to police could create a serious safety issue, and their choices appeared to be risking their lives with police by wearing a mask or risking their lives with the virus by not wearing a mask.

How Racial Bias Translates Into Wrongful Arrests And More

At the heart of the problem is the assumption that African-Americans are at the heart of the crime issue and, unfortunately, a number of police continue to act on these assumptions. Unfortunately, this also forms the basis of reasonable suspicion, which then leads to discriminatory policing practices, such as stop and frisk, and most of those stopped are minorities who end up being innocent of suspected crimes. In fact, one federal judge even ruled that certain stop and frisk policies were effectively “indirect racial profiling.” Studies also suggest that the same phenomenon applies to traffic stops, where innocent African-Americans are more likely to be pulled over and searched due to this implicit bias. Add masks, and the problem is exacerbated.

Defending Against These “Crimes”

Anti-bias training and the assistance of civil rights attorneys are very necessary in this battle, but training will only go so far – fighting back legally must sometimes force peoples’ hands. We must also know more about how police agencies are treating crime differently right now; for example, if they are arresting people for coronavirus-related crimes, how are they identifying these crimes, etc. This is going to be crucial for providing a defense and upholding people’s civil rights, as there are indications that police are arresting people for crimes that do not exist and stretching statutes beyond what they were intended for (for example, charging people with terrorism in association with the virus).

Contact Our Florida Civil Rights Attorneys with Any Questions or Concerns

If you are facing criminal charges in Florida and/or have concerns that your civil rights have been violated, contact our Orlando civil rights attorneys at The Baez Law Firm today for a free consultation to find out how we can help.



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