Social Distancing Criminal Charges

A new excuse to harass and jail black and poor people.

by David Forbes –

So let’s talk about how that “stay at home” order is being enforced, and against whom. Last week, these fliers started going up in public housing, posted by housing authority staff backed by cops. Notice the emphasis on criminal charges. Several sources have reported increased police presence in public housing over the past week.

I had to make a trip to pick up medication. On the way back I drove through the wealthier part of north Asheville. It was sunny, and the sidewalks were full of people who clearly didn’t care one iota about social distancing. Not a mask or glove in sight.

But what I also didn’t see were cops, or any of these fliers. So far, these only seem to be posted in Asheville’s (overwhelmingly Black) public housing complexes. Local governments’ “stay at home” communications to the general public have downplayed criminal charges. This highlights it.

Late at night I’ve walked around downtown. These signs weren’t posted outside condos, even though plenty of their residents aren’t taking social distancing particularly seriously either (which makes venturing out, even for essential trips, a lot harder for the rest of us).

When people in frontline communities don’t social distance, it’s overwhelmingly because they can’t. They’re low-paid essential workers at businesses that don’t provide proper equipment or protect their employees safety. People are dealing with homelessness or poor housing conditions that make space and sanitation difficult or impossible.

When well-off gentry don’t social distance, it’s because they could, but a lifetime of entitlement means they don’t care about the consequences they inflict on other people and can’t imagine themselves ending up as another death in a tally.

Meanwhile, every arrest and every jail is a major vector for the spread of COVID-19. This is not theory. Rikers has the highest density of cases in the world. Arresting people — and they are almost entirely marginalized people — for violating social distancing just worsens the virus instead of stopping it.

But local government and the cops have a long, long history of harassing Black people, our houseless neighbors, and anyone grappling with poverty. They’re not just going to stop, even during a pandemic.

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