Wearing protective masks can lead to harassment for many black Americans

Black people have taken heed to the precautionary measures sent out by the CDC. 
Photo courtesy Nallah Brown 

Black Americans are dying at an alarming rate due to COVID-19 and many socioeconomic factors, but now wearing masks during the pandemic can lead them into trouble with the law.

A study done by the Center for Disease Control identified the rate of black deaths to be 92 deaths per 10,000 of the population. In response to the numbers, the CDC has urged all Americans to use a mask or similar facial coverings to protect themselves from the virus. But for some black Americans, this cloth of protection can bring uninvited harassment. 

Jaciah Lumpkin, a third-year sociology student, left her home with her face mask on to grab some groceries from Walmart. 

A white female approached her asking why she was out in the public and proceeded to say, “you shouldn’t be here, black people can catch it quicker than anybody else.”

“I was mad and sad at the same time,” Lumpkin said. “I didn’t react in a mad way because I have experienced racism where I lived before.” 

Lumpkin lives in LaBelle, Florida, where the incident happened. She said if the policemen were involved, she probably would have been looked at as the criminal in the situation. 

All Americans have been urged to stay at home unless you are an essential business worker. The risks become higher for the workers due to exposure to many different people and areas. 

According to the CDC, nearly a quarter of employed African American workers are employed in service industry jobs compared to 16% of white Americans. 

Takeia Davis, a third-year psychology student, works in the customer service department at Publix. She was wearing a mask and gloves for standard precautions. As she was bringing in carts from outside, a white male, put his hand in her face and demanded her to stay six feet away from him. 

“For someone to be perfectly fine walking through the store but the minute I walk past, all of a sudden you have a mental breakdown,” Davis said. “That situation doesn’t equate in my head.”

Davis said she calmly walked away from the man and later reported the incident to her supervisor. 

Before the CDC issued its recommendation, two black men recorded themselves being escorted out of a Walmart by a police officer in Wood River, Illinois. In the video, the men were wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from COVID-19.

One of the men, Halo Dale, was telling the viewers that the officer told them that they could not wear masks and it was a presidential and state-mandated order. 

This video will show how even during a pandemic law enforcement is still targeting African Americans,” Dale said in the caption of the video. 

Dale’s video has reached over 286,000 views on YouTube and garnered attention from the black community and black politicians. 

Nikema Williams, a Georgia senator, wrote a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp asking him to suspend the state’s mask law. 

Mayor of Atlanta, Keshia Bottoms shared how appalled she was at the incident. She then signed an order stating that Atlanta policeman does not enforce the state’s mask law during these unprecedented times. 

The order is set to last 60 days. 

It is unclear how many more incidents have happened around the country since the CDC urged the precautionary measures. 

The supply of surgical masks is low, but the demand remains high. As a response to the low supply, people around the country have started sewing their own fabric masks to protect themselves.  

Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to comment on Florida’s mask law and whether he will take precautions in preventing situations like this. If there are no suspensions to the state law, black Americans may continue to be targets of harassment, citations, or arrests.