Advocacy

The Double Pandemic: Protecting Protesters From Covid-19 and Police Brutality

By June 13, 2020 June 23rd, 2020 No Comments

By Grace Jin, a blog contributor at GetUsPPE.org.

GetUsPPE formed out of a fundamental conviction that when lives are put at risk, we all need to step up. That’s why we’ve rallied together to coordinate donations and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. That’s also why we stand in support of protests against police violence and structural racism, set off by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and other Black Americans.

As the pandemic continues, cloth masks are an essential piece of PPE for those taking to the streets in protest. Wearing a mask is one of the harm reduction suggestions urged by 1,288 health professionals who signed an open letter in support of the demonstrations, calling them “vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States.” They highlight that white supremacy drives both police violence and the social, political, and economic systems that put Black people at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.

Expressing “solidarity and gratitude toward demonstrators who have already taken on enormous personal risk to advocate for their own health, the health of their communities, and the public health of the United States,” the letter offered guidance on what protesters should do to minimize COVID-19 spread. Recommendations include: 

  • Use of face coverings
  • Distance of at least 6 feet between protesters, where possible
  • Demonstrating consistently alongside close contacts and moving together as a group, rather than extensively intermingling with multiple groups
  • Staying at home when sick, and using other platforms to oppose racism for high-risk individuals, and those unable or uncomfortable to attend in person

Beyond the support expressed in the open letter, healthcare professionals around the country are joining protesters to draw attention to the impact of racism on public health. This includes the physicians of GetUsPPE DC, who helped organize White Coats for Black Lives at the Capitol early Saturday morning. Dozens of health workers held up signs with the messages, “Racism is a public health crisis” and “Racism is a pandemic too.” Similar demonstrations flood the country as health workers kneel in solidarity. 

Photo credit: GetUsPPE D.C. White Coats for Black Lives on Saturday, June 6.

Protesters Need PPE to Stay Safe

Amidst the outpouring of energy for Black lives, we’ve seen a wave of police violence against those exercising their rights for expression and assembly, with video footage shared across social media capturing the lethality of police forces established to protect systems of white supremacy. 

In what some have seen as a move to quell anti-racist protests, law enforcement agencies last week seized thousands of masks intended for #BlackLivesMatter protesters. The cloth masks, labeled “Stop killing Black people” and “Defund police,” were produced by a family-run business in Oakland, CA for the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) in four U.S. cities. The shipment was stopped by federal agents Thursday and released by the Postal Inspection Service later on Friday.

“Police have rioted coast to coast, beating and gassing protesters who have called for an end to police violence, with the explicit approval of President Trump,” said M4BL spokesperson Chelsea Fuller to HuffPost. “Now, it appears they want to ensure that people who protest are susceptible to the same deadly pandemic that they have failed miserably at stopping.” 

This is not the only incident of police disrupting the efforts of protesters trying to stay safe and healthy. In Asheville, North Carolina, a SWAT team destroyed a medic station providing water, food, bandages, and sutures. Police departments in New York and Austin have attacked and arrested medics helping injured protesters. As GetUsPPE co-founder Dr. Megan Ranney tweeted, “police attacks on medics at protests is the ethical equivalent of targeting the Red Cross or MSF in conflict zones.”

GetUsPPE Commits $50,000 to Makers to provide PPE for protesters

GetUsPPE holds equity as central to its mission and stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are providing cloth masks for protesters and medical-grade PPE for street medics in cities including Los Angeles, Fullerton, Portland, and Washington, D.C. 

To meet the urgent need for widespread coverage, GetUsPPE has dedicated $50,000 in grants for makers to provide handmade PPE to protect protesters. The shortened grant application can be accessed here.

We are dedicated to continuing our support for innovative makers and regional affiliates getting PPE to protesters against racial injustice.

Grace Jin

About Grace Jin