WASHINGTON (AP) — Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines advising Americans to cover their faces to help slow the spread of COVID-19, recommending cloth face coverings in lieu of surgical masks.
But for some African American men, covering their faces in public raises another concern: being racially profiled as a criminal or a gang member.
“When a brother puts on a mask, then you only are potentially upticking something possibly happening … All over Facebook, you can see instances of black men in Walmarts or Targets, and ‘Five-O’ (police) is following them and throwing them out,” said Detroit resident Malik Shabazz.
A video uploaded to YouTube last month showed two black men being followed by a police officer out of a Walmart store in Wood River, Illinois. The man who posted the video claimed it was because they were wearing surgical masks.
“We’re being asked to leave for being safe,” he said.
The video has received more than 275,000 views on YouTube. The Wood River Police Department said the incident was being investigated internally.
The virus is taking a disproportionate toll on African Americans and other nonwhite populations. The latest Associated Press analysis of available state and local data shows that more than 30% of those who have died from COVID-19 are African American, although black people make up roughly 13% of the population in the areas covered in the analysis.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.