Disparities in Social Distancing Enforcement
The arrest of Kaleemah Rozier, a Brooklyn mother trying to enter the subway with her young child, was horrifying.
But, tragically, it was not surprising. Like the majority of people arrested or issued tickets for allegedly not wearing a mask or maintaining social distancing, Kaleemah Rozier was Black.
As we have seen in a series of incidents across New York City, police enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions has been directed almost entirely at communities of color.
Only a few days earlier, Donni Wright, a Black man in the East Village, was walking to the store when a police officer threw him to the ground, then punched and slapped him repeatedly into the sidewalk. Donni Wright hadn’t done anything wrong.
At the same time, predominately white crowds enjoyed the warm weather at Domino Park on the posh Williamsburg waterfront, openly flouting rules mandating masks in public and six feet of distance between individuals. Their punishment? Police politely asked people to separate and distributed masks. Nobody was tackled to the ground, punched, or handcuffed. There were exactly zero complaints of excessive force.
It was truly a tale of two cities.
A report from the Kings County District Attorney documented appalling disparities: of the 40 people arrested in Brooklyn between March 17 and May 4, 35 were Black. Another 4 were Latino. And more than one-third of arrests were made in a single neighborhood, Brownsville.
COVID-19 did not by itself create the pervasive disparities that have too often defined our city.
But the epidemic has exposed major structural deficiencies in health care, housing, criminal justice, and other areas imposing a terrible burden on communities of color throughout New York.
Even as people of color have been on the front lines fighting the epidemic as health care providers and other essential workers, we have been placed at the end of the line to access COVID-19 tests and needed medical treatment. Too many of our neighbors have been denied admission to hospitals, only sent home to die.
In the present crisis, we cannot allow disparities in the enforcement of COVID-19 to continue.
As Chairperson of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, I joined 62 of my colleagues in calling for an immediate end to the racially biased enforcement of social distancing and mask wearing.
I want to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio, who listened to our concerns and has announced that social distancing ambassadors, rather than police officers, will handle most enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions.
Following the rules benefits everyone - wearing a mask and gloves and maintaining 6 feet of distance has already flattened the curve in our region, saving lives and speeding our recovery.
These rules are best enforced with encouragement and assistance - providing a mask or gloves to people in need, rather than the threat of violent arrest.
The individuals and communities who are carrying our city through this crisis on their backs have the right to expect nothing less than the full support of our law enforcement and other government agencies.