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Written by Scott Roberts


You’ve heard of “driving while Black” and “voting while Black.” Well, now you can add “social distancing while Black” to the list of ways Black people are instantly criminalized for engaging in ordinary behavior:

– In Idaho, they’re kicking Black people out of a Walmart while getting essentials because they wore a mask.

– In Miami, they arrested a Black doctor on his way to help homeless people because he wore a mask.

– But in Philadelphia, they’re dragging Black people off a bus because they didn’t wear a mask.

We’re stuck with the age-old reality of choosing between two unsafe options and fighting for our safety to be respected. In a country that has over-criminalized Black people for everything from listening to music to owning our own bodies, it’s not a surprise that racist fears and systemic racism are driving the over-policing and mass incarceration of our communities yet again.

With the alarming death rates in Black communities across the country, the federal government and local law enforcement should be focusing on ways to help Black families protect ourselves. Instead, they’re finding new ways to criminalize Black people, no matter what.

It should be obvious why Black people want to take as many social distancing precautions as possible. The virus itself is hitting Black communities harder than anyone else. 30% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been Black people. In Washington, D.C., 80% of COVID-19 deaths have been Black people. In Milwaukee, it’s 73%.

We’ve always stood up to these threats as a community. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have all the tools we need to demand the accountability and protections we deserve. In order to flatten the curve, social distancing needs to be safe — for everyone, no matter their race.

Other ways you can help:

– Demand a Humane Response for Incarcerated People During the Coronavirus Outbreak: 2.3 million people are currently behind bars in the United. With U.S. prisons reporting some of the worst outbreaks in the world, we don’t need more people behind bars. Incarceration is a death sentence for anyone with a preexisting condition and we need to release as many people as possible, NOW.

– Guarantee that COVID-19 testing and care reaches Black communities: COBRA allows people who have lost their job to keep their employer-provided health insurance. In this volatile public health and economic recession, no one should be expected to pay for COBRA to be protected from coronavirus.

– Tell your own story of #TheBlackResponse to COVID-19: We have the power to demand the protection and justice Black people need to survive COVID-19 and thrive in its aftermath. It starts with you.


Scott Roberts is the Senior Director of Criminal Justice Campaigns for Color Of Change.