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Police Violence in the Time of COVID-19
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Police Violence in the Time of COVID-19

In early May the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the Wisconsin Governor’s extension of the state’s stay-at-home order was an unlawful overstep of his authority. The Republican legislature had filed suit because they believed that extending the stay-at-home order would hurt many of the businesses in the state. At the same time, across the country, white Americans engaged in armed protest to oppose stay-at-home orders. Those protestors faced no consequences or violent pushback to their violent protests. They wanted to go back to work, despite the lives being lost to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

Those events stand in stark contrast to the draconian curfews and military force currently being used to quell the simple request by Black Americans to not be brutally murdered by police. As Black people and their allies take to the streets to protest the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other Black people, they are consistently met with an aggressive and violent police response.

Yet, the overwhelming focus has been on property damage. Businesses are being boarded up and the National Guard is positioned outside to protect those buildings from harm. The so-called President of this country is calling protestors “thugs” and actively advocating for violence – because of property damage. Where was this energy when lives were being lost to the virus?

The difference in the response to the white anti-mask protestors and Black protestors demanding to not be killed is lost on no one. It’s almost comically obvious. Where were the rubber bullets, the tear gas, and the curfews when white America stopped adhering to stay-at-home orders and engaged in armed protest outside of federal buildings? Perhaps they were simply expressing their constitutional rights, but Black protestors are too. The racism is almost too blatant. The resulting message seems to be that many do not believe Black people have the same rights to protest. Because Black protest, no matter the form, is always seen as an aggressive act.

When will legislatures allege that the curfews, and the arbitrary nature with which they are applied, are an overstep of authority? The difference here might be that the curfews are justified by some form of security logic and the stay-at-home orders were a matter of public health. Meaning, that the curfews are somehow deemed more necessary and important than the stay-at-home orders. However, the security argument here is nonsensical. The idea that the protection of property is a greater justification for the aggressive measures we’re seeing today than the actual loss of life due to a pandemic is almost laughable. That the curfews are actually being enforced with arrests and criminal penalties, whereas the stay-at-home orders were not, is a transparent indication that Black presence and support for Black lives is viewed as more of a threat than a highly contagious and deadly disease.

The point here is not that stay-at-home orders should be extended, but rather that the protection of property and business is always held to a higher standard than the protection of Black life. Rather, the point is that there is a clear and conscious choice on the part of this nation’s leaders to seriously expend resources to protect businesses and property at the expense of Black life.

It is well known that both the COVID-19 pandemic and police violence disproportionately harm Black people, and the law is the biggest aid to this racial violence. As a young Black law student, and more generally as a young Black person, there’s a sense of anger and frustration here. What is my role as a young lawyer when hundreds of protestors are being shot at, arrested, and killed for exercising their right to assemble and protest consistent and abject racism? How do you learn to use the law to preserve people’s civil rights when every day Black people’s civil rights are violated and all anyone can focus on is property damage?

It’s disheartening, but all is not lost. By supporting movements and policies led by Black lawyers and activists, we can create change and ensure Black lives and Black rights are protected. As non-Black people reckon with the racist roots of policing and American law, we can begin defunding these institutions that devalue Black life and affirm that Black lives really do matter.

 

Jaz Buckley is a rising third year law student at UCLA School of Law. She is the former Co-Chair of UCLA’s chapter of the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and is enrolled in the school’s Critical Race Studies program.

 

Suggested citation: Jaz Buckley, Police Violence in the Time of COVID-19, JURIST – Student Commentary, June 3, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/06/jaz-buckley-police-violence-covid-19.


This article was prepared for publication by Brianna Bell, a JURIST staff editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org


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