Why I don’t feel safe wearing a face mask

By Furman Avery

This was original titled “Why I don’t feel safe wearing a face mask” and I was going to write why being a person of color in this country wearing a mask could be harmful to my life.  I’m a Black man living in America. I want to be safe, but I also want to stay alive.  There are too many instances of people of color being harassed by police and other whites for having the mask on the protect themselves.

However, recent events in Minnesota, Kentucky and Georgia have made me rethink my stance. 

I had numerous examples of harassment by the police.  For example, Miami police officials are investigating the detainment of a black doctor, who was handcuffed by a patrol sergeant outside his own home as he loaded up supplies to tend to the city’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Armen Henderson, a doctor with the University of Miami Health System, is now concerned over his own health because the unnamed officer, who was not wearing a mask, got “all up in (his) face,” according to ABC News.

Henderson believes he was targeted by the sergeant because he is black. Miami-Dade Police Chief Jorge Colina said Saturday, the day after the confrontation, that it is being investigated by the department

Another example is the New York Police Department is facing backlash after video on social media showed officers forcing a mother to the ground and handcuffing her in front of her young child after a confrontation over how she was wearing her face mask, Newsweek reports.

In video published online, 22-year-old Kaleemah Rozier and her child are seen being escorted up the stairs from a subway platform by police. The mother is heard shouting “Don’t touch me” before seen to be slapping away the hand of an officer. Multiple officers then crowd around the mother before forcing her to the ground and handcuffing her as bystanders urge them to stop, saying: “This is unnecessary.” “She’s got a kid,” one bystander is heard saying. “That’s too much, man.”

NYPD officers escorted a young woman with her toddler (both wearing masks) up the subway platform stairs, then forced her to the ground & handcuffed her.

These examples would normally be enough to raise the hair on my neck but the senseless killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis MN, of Breanna Taylor in Louisville KY and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick GA have taken me to the next level.

Mr. Floyd was held to ground in handcuffs while a white police officer held him down with his knee in the back of Mr. Floyds neck cutting off his breathing.  Repeatedly Mr. Floyd said he couldn’t breath as other officers stood by and did nothing.  There were four officers in and around when Mr. Floyd already in handcuffs how much of a threat could he be?

In Louisville KY Breanna Taylor was shot and killed in her own home when police served a “No Knock” warrant on her home looking for drugs that were never found and for a man that police already had in custody.  Imagine you’re a single black woman in your own apartment and the police burst in yelling, shouting with guns drawn and they shoot without announcing themselves. Remember this is America where you are innocent until found guilty unless you are a person of color.

In February Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog in a predominately white neighborhood when he is attacked and killed by a former police officer and his son. Why would you attack and murder someone jogging because of the color of their skin? 

I am of a certain age that I can remember the riots in Chicago when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.  The west and south sides were ablaze. Business burned to the ground police, state police and the nation guard were called in city was on total lock down with a dusk till dawn curfew. At the time I couldn’t understand why business in our community were being set on fire.

Then you have Ferguson MO 2014 when Mike Brown was murdered and the “Black Lives Matter” movement was started. Once again, our own community went up in smoke and fire.  If you’re white you most likely look at this and say why do they burn their own communities?  I will answer that for you shortly.

In response to the incident in Ferguson President Obama created some reforms that were to hold police departments accountable.  However, when Trump was elected one of the first things he did was have his then Attorney General Jeff Sessions begin to dismantle the policy.

Why is it that police think they can mistreat anyone of color as if we were still slaves and have to do what the master says?  For too long people of color have been shortchanged, pushed aside as if we don’t have rights.  Oh by the way keep in mind blacks couldn’t even vote in this country until the Voting Rights Bill was passed by a white president an majority white government. 

This country was founded on the backs of people of color from 1619 when the first slaves arrived on the shores of the so-called new world.  We were never viewed as full human beings and in some peoples minds we still aren’t.

In the back of every black’s mind when he leaves his home is the worry over being stopped and questioned, or even attacked is always there. That fear has long persisted in minority communities, brought on by the history of institutionalized racism and brought to the surface after any highly publicized act of violence like Arbery’s shooting, said Anna Lee, psychology professor at North Carolina A&T.

“For many black people, this is an everyday tension. Being followed around in a store. There is always this feeling or anxiousness around other people perceiving us as a threat,” Lee said. “So with the face mask covering, especially, I think, for black men, the mask, not being able to see someone’s complete face, may make them seem or appear to others as threatening in some way.”

One question whites are asking “Why do they set fires in their own communities?” The flippant response would be “What do you think would happen if a thousand angry fed up people of color started marching and protesting toward a white community and with the intent of starting fires?  There would be a thousand dead people of color. Justice would be swift and deadly.  Think of how this country has reacted to other things in association to race.  As long as drug were in the black community killing it was ok, but soon as white youth started dying there was a call to action, this country has a huge drug problem and it must be stopped.

This also leads to another issue that is that the criminal-justice system is racially biased, or should I say “systemic racism.” When you consider that much of the criminal-justice system was built, honed and firmly established during the Jim Crow era — an era almost everyone, conservatives included, will concede was rife with racism — this is pretty intuitive. The modern criminal-justice system helped preserve racial order — it kept black people in their place. For much of the early 20th century, in some parts of the country, that was its primary function.

That anger and rage has been pent up in people of color for so long that when another unjust police murder happens it boils over into the streets and cities are like powder kegs, add in the high rate of unemployment of minorities, let alone how this pandemic is much more prevalent in minorities communities it doesn’t take must to light the fire (excuse the pun).

You may be asking do I condone and agree with the riots and unrest.  I don’t condone the destruction of anyone’s property, but I do understand and feel the anger, how many more people of color must die at the hands of police for something to be done. What of the institutionalized racism that is rampant in this country, the people with power don’t want to give that power up let alone share it with people of color who they deem unworthy.  We had a black President and look at the racism he faced, being called a liar during a State of the Union address.  Being faced with a group of congress men saying they would be against any legislation he put forward. Do I really need to add the harassment he faced from the current occupant of the White House about his birth certificate and whether he is a citizen or not?

I was relieved when I heard the four police officers were fired for killing Mr. Floyd, however the officer that had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck was charged with Murder in the Third Degree I was appalled!  WHAT THE HELL IS Murder in the Third degree?  Is that saying that a black man’s life is only worth the third of a white person life?  What this tells me is they are already trying go light on this horrible man by charging him a lessor crime. I’d be willing to bet if I held someone down the way this officer did I’d be facing murder in the first charges and looking at spending the rest of my life in jail if not facing the death penalty. I hope the two in Georgie that killed Mr. Arbery, and those that killed Ms. Taylor stand for the crimes they have committed. 

In closing I want to suggest that everyone who takes the time to read this blog also take time to look up Jane Elliott and her “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise.  In addition, read Tim Wise’s view of George Floyd’s murder.

Image Credit: George Floyd mural in Minneapolis by Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain, Niko Alexander, and Pablo Hernandez