One huge benefit of the coronavirus lockdown is that this is the longest that a lot of the issues that happened in everyday life no longer occur. For example, no more school shootings, less crime, and my personal favorite, the harassment or fearing harassment from, the police.The good times cannot last forever because as the saying goes, “All good thing must come to an end”.
Black people who just want to catch a bit of fresh air have already caught hell from the police. Eventually, the country will force all of us to “reopen” and, as it does, police will be more empowered than ever to stop and brutalize black and brown people. That’s because the cops will use—are already using—“social distancing enforcement” as an excuse for more racially biased harassment. Reopening will force African Americans back into the crosshairs of two predators. On one side, Covid-19 will be waiting for us and on the other our alpha predator, the American police officer.
Just this past weekend, as spring finally hit the East Coast, New York City was not a tale of two cities so much as a tale of two races. In the West Village, predominately white crowds gathered in blatant violation of social distancing rules. Friendly neighborhood police officers could be spotted handing out masks. Meanwhile, in the East Village, a black man was brutally beaten and arrested for allegedly not keeping social distance from a woman companion as they left a deli. After the beating, one of the plainclothes officers was photographed casually sitting on the man’s head as he lay prone on the pavement.
This is the kind of unequal and brutal treatment African Americans can expect and have always expected from police. “Normal” for black people is being in potentially mortal danger every time we are within six feet of a police officer, whether or not the cop has Covid-19.
The new normal for black people will include all of the old reasons cops use to harass us, plus new excuses that will be used to justify brutality in the name of “public health,” of all things.
Every time we give cops power to interdict citizens, they use that power in a racially biased way. Black people are 20 percent more likely to be pulled over while driving. Black people are more likely to be prosecuted for drug possession or use. Black people are more likely to be stopped for walking down the damn street.
A society committed to racial and social equality would be looking for ways to strip power from police forces that have so completely shown they are unable or unwilling to wield it fairly. Instead, the coronavirus has made this society eager to give even more power to law enforcement.
What is particularly maddening is that black and brown communities haven’t been the biggest violators of social distancing rules. White confederates are the ones menacing state governments with guns. White confederates are the ones who have decided that wearing a mask is just like “slavery”, and that being told to shelter-in-place is like being put in a “concentration camp.” White confederates have turned public health rules into grounds for a culture war. But when it comes time for cops to meet their quota, you better believe that the police brutality we’ll see will be visited upon black and brown communities.
We know white people will congregate at beaches without keeping appropriate distance from each other, while black people will be chased off courts and playgrounds by the police who are enforcing new rules. We know that white bars will exceed occupancy guidelines with impunity, while black clubs will be fined for packing too many people inside. We know white people who violently threaten police officers trying to enforce social distancing will get off with a warning, while black people who so much as talk back to a cop will get the snot beat out of them, or worse.
We know what’s going to happen, because it’s already happening. Yet many white politicians will end up defending the police for the brutal measures they take to enforce new public health guidelines. And even the best white leaders will only manage to be “shocked” and “appalled” when the thing they allowed to happen inevitably continues to happen.
“Saw the video from the Lower East Side and was really disturbed by it. The officer involved has been placed on modified duty and an investigation has begun. The behavior I saw in that video is simply not acceptable.”
-Mayor Bill De Blasio
Whenever the discussion of racially biased police brutality comes up, there’s always a chorus of people who claim that cops wouldn’t harass black people if black people followed the rules. That’s always a ridiculous argument, but the coronavirus is going to expose the weakness of that logic even more than usual. That’s because black people will be harassed for not following social distancing rules, but we’ll also be harassed if we do. Earlier in the crisis, a video went viral of a black man being kicked out of a Walmart for, apparently, wearing a mask in the store.
I cannot emphasize this point enough: Every piece of advice I’ve had scolded into me by my parents tells me to never, ever wear a mask or a scarf or any kind of face covering around white folks, even when it’s freezing. I’ve own many, many hooded sweatshirts, and a fe of them are stamped with my university insignia, which in my mind reads, “Don’t Shoot: I went to College.”
Maybe this coronavirus changes white people’s reactions to black people wearing masks, but I’m not willing to bet my life on it.
This is the reality I have waiting for me when the government forces us out of our “cop-free” quarantine. I will become vulnerable again. One cop could see me as a menace if I walk around with a mask. Another cop could see me as a lawbreaker if I stand too close to my girlfriend. One neighbor might call the cops on me if my mom invites her friends over for dinner. Another might call the cops on me if they see a masked black man taking a solitary walk near their home. No matter what I do, it will be my fault for inviting whatever harassment I get.
Quarantine is probably the closest African Americans will ever come to living like a white person in terms of all this freedom and liberty the coronavirus has provided.
But it won’t last. Our society won’t open up without giving law enforcement additional excuses to put black people back in a choke hold.