A subway rider wears a mask and a bandana to protect himself against COVID-19 in New York. (Photo: AP)
Democratic lawmakers want police departments to be vigilant about any racially biased policing during the coronavirus pandemic, as people in communities of color express fears of being profiled while wearing masks or other face coverings in public.
In a letter sent Friday to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Sen. Kamala Harris of California and other Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee urged federal law enforcement agencies to provide anti-bias training and guidance to police officers. The officers may increasingly encounter masked residents as the nation weighs a gradual reopening of the economy in the coming weeks, the senators said.
“With the ongoing public health emergency, it is more important than ever for law enforcement to build trust with communities of color,” the senators said in the letter, which was first shared with The Associated Press.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people who go out in public wear a surgical mask or a cloth covering their nose and mouth to prevent the spread of the virus. And already, some black men have reported incidents of racial profiling while following the recommendations.
“If communities of color — especially African American communities — feel at risk of disproportionate or selective enforcement, they may avoid seeking help or adopting precautionary measures recommended by the CDC,” the letter reads. “This, in turn, could have dire public health consequences.”
The toll of COVID-19 on African Americans has been disproportionate, preliminary public health records show. The latest AP analysis of available state and local data shows that nearly one-third of those who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, are black.
African Americans are roughly 14% of the population in the areas included in the analysis.