Law Enforcement Should Use Care When Enforcing COVID-19 Measures

April 6, 2020

We urge everyone reading this to follow the orders of our County Health Officer, Dr Wilma Wooten.  We are undergoing a pandemic the likes of which has not been seen since 1918.  We at the NAACP San Diego Branch, founded just the year after that pandemic, know that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.  We understand the need to avoid large gatherings and maintain social distancing. 

We read with some dismay the statements from Chula Vista, where the Mayor and Police Chief indicated they would start citing and possibly arresting people for disobeying the health orders.  We would like to think that this is mere saber-rattling to try to convince people to follow the guidelines voluntarily.  We were not, however, born yesterday.

We are concerned that this pandemic may be used to exacerbate the unfairness and discrimination in our system.  The Health orders are broad and sweeping and subject to interpretation.  We know that when law enforcement is given vague mandates, enforcement often falls most heavily on the African-American community, and other communities of color.  We know that laws with broad scope are often used to target communities, such as black and brown youth, for reasons unrelated to the purpose of the laws. We do not want to see the law enforcement using these laws to, through bias explicit or implicit, further unfairly target black and brown folk.

We are concerned that law enforcement may make the crisis worse by over-zealous and authoritarian enforcement of the health orders. We get that people should stay home.  We get that disobeying the order is disobeying the law, and subjects people to citation and arrest.  What we question, however, is what purpose would be served by such citations and arrests.

Obviously, our brave law enforcement officials are at high risk for contracting COVID-19.  Just as obviously, citizens who foolheartedly congregate are also at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.  Why bring these two high-risk populations into close physical contact, as is required for citation and arrest?

Jails are perfect COVID-19 incubators.  Should law enforcement make actual arrests, defendants will be placed in those jails, which will endanger their lives far more than talking in a park.

We are facing a time of economic peril.  The most modest fines may push low-income folks over the edge, causing them to forgo health care or lose their homes.  Thus, even citations pose too great a risk.

We call on law enforcement to continue their efforts to educate, and refrain from punitive enforcement.  We call on the public to cooperate.

Thank you,

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch