Picture this: New York City. Three weekends ago. Parking garage. West 54th Street, 10 pm. Police officers who seem to think they are immune to a global pandemic. A literal fistfight occurring on all four sides of your 2011 Volkswagen CC.
This is a real-life pickle I recently found myself in. And the fight wasn’t even the craziest thing that happened that night. The crazy part went down when the NYPD pulled up.
The actual context of why the NYPD was called (if you assumed it was because the fistfight, you’d be correct) isn’t important. They were simply responding to a call. But something about the interaction with the people filing a complaint rubbed me the wrong way.
They weren’t wearing masks.
Police officers are, by definition, public servants. It is the duty of a public servant to keep the citizens of their precinct safe, and there is no easier way to protect the people than putting on a mask.
My first instinctual reaction to police involvement is typically one of disgust. Many, if not all of the issues I take with cops in the United States are directly related to brutality and racism. At first, this particular incident on this particular night seemed to be entirely unrelated to me. But it’s actually not.
At its core, the nonchalance the police officers displayed towards wearing their masks is just another facet of the indifference, malevolence even, that police bear towards people of color.
Police brutality disproportionately affects black and brown people at astonishing rates––rates not dissimilar to the disproportionate number of people of color who have contracted or died from Covid-19. This is no coincidence, as data shows black neighborhoods often have stricter policing and lower quality healthcare than their white counterparts.
The most basic step to taking care of a community, and notionally the purpose of policing as an institution, is ensuring its physical health. The solution is obvious and readily available––so readily available, in fact, that it was literally dangling right in front of them.
This isn’t to say half a dozen police officers are responsible for a global pandemic––simply that they should be held accountable. Officers seemed comfortable endangering lives and flaunting the CDC guidelines in the parking garage of a boujee hotel in Manhattan… imagine their protocol in less wealthy neighborhoods.
If we as Americans can’t practice what we preach, how do we expect to recover from a parking garage scuffle, let alone a global pandemic?