With many local governments urging citizens to wear protective face coverings when leaving their homes, Democratic lawmakers want police departments to be on high alert for any racially biased policing. In a letter sent to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Senator Kamala Harris and other Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee implored federal law enforcement agencies to provide anti-bias training and guidance to authorities.
"With the ongoing public health emergency, it is more important than ever for law enforcement to build trust with communities of color," the letter reads, per The Associated Press.
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that citizens wear a surgical mask or cloth covering their nose and mouth to prevent spreading coronavirus, several Black people have reportedly been victimized by racial profiling for following the guidelines.
There have also been cases of Black people being harassed by the police for not wearing a mask on public transit. Senators believe that if this persists, then African Americans will shy away from getting the medical help they need.
"If communities of color — especially African American communities — feel at risk of disproportionate or selective enforcement, they may avoid seeking help or adopting precautionary measures recommended by the CDC," the letter continues. "This, in turn, could have dire public health consequences."
Like nearly everything in America, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the Black community. A recent AP analysis shows that close to a third of the coronavirus deaths are Black people. Yet, Black people only make up about 14% of the population.
The executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, is not in favor of the senators' request. Pasco says that the majority of law enforcement workers have already had anti-bias training, and that added more work at a time like this is unnecessary.
"In the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, I find it troubling that anyone is asking the nation’s already overworked officers to take time out of their work for training, based on a few allegations of improper conduct," Pasco said in a phone interview with HuffPost. "This seems like political opportunism, at the least opportunistic time for the country."
The FBI has requested for more time to respond to the letter.