[UPDATE: The decision has now been reversed. Click here to read an update on the issue].
A county in Oregon is exempting non-white people from a new order that requires facemasks be worn in public.
The reason? To prevent racial profiling.
Lincoln County health officials announced last week that all residents must wear face coverings when in public places in which they are likely to come within six feet of another person who is not from their own household.
“But people of color do not have to follow the new rule if they have ‘heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment’ over wearing the masks, officials said,” The New York Post reported.
Those exempted from wearing face masks, Lincoln County’s June 16 directive states, are “persons with health or medical conditions that preclude or are exacerbated by wearing a face covering,” “children under the age of 12,” persons with certain disabilities that do no allow them to wear one, and “people of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public.”
“No person shall intimidate or harass people who do not comply,” health officials said.
The Post cites ACLU Racial Justice Program Director ReNika Moore, who told CNN, “For many black people, deciding whether or not to wear a bandanna in public to protect themselves and others from contracting coronavirus is a lose-lose situation that can result in life-threatening consequences either way.”
CNN quoted Trevon Logan, who is black, as saying a mandate to wear face coverings are “basically telling people to look dangerous given racial stereotypes that are out there. … This is in the larger context of black men fitting the description of a suspect who has a hood on, who has a face covering on,” said Logan, an economics professor at Ohio State University.
“It looks like almost every criminal sketch of any garden-variety black suspect,” he said.”We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of black men in general. And then we have the advice to go out in public in something that … can certainly be read as being criminal or nefarious, particularly when applied to black men.”
Some on social media agree. “I don’t feel safe wearing a handkerchief or something else that isn’t CLEARLY a protective mask covering my face to the store because I am a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive,” Aaron Thomas wrote on Twitter, which has more than 123,000 “likes.”
I don’t feel safe wearing a handkerchief or something else that isn’t CLEARLY a protective mask covering my face to the store because I am a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive.
— Aaron Thomas (@Aaron_TheThomas) April 4, 2020
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday instructed people to wear “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
The federal guidance included a video of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams showing how to turn a bandana, scarf or T-shirt into an acceptable mask.
“Health equity, and the complex interactions between race and health, have always been an area of emphasis for my office,” Adams said in a statement sent to CNN. “I understand the concerns communities of color would have about being racially profiled, and am working with the NAACP, the NMA, and other organizations representing people of color to ensure no one is unduly harmed by COVID-19, or our response to it.”
Adams notably said on March 1 on Twitter: “Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS!” saying they are “NOT effective in preventing [the] general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
This article has been expanded to include more details from the Lincoln County health directive and reformatted for clarity.
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