The Push To Criminalize Mask-Wearing Raises Critical Health And Privacy Concerns

black person with a mask on
Zain Murdock
March 28, 2023

In 2020, we began wearing masks to protect each other from COVID-19. But three years later, NYC mayor Eric Adams and police said “criminals” wear masks, so people must remove them before entering businesses. Storeowners have already started profiling mask-wearers. 

But there’s a big difference between what police say and reality.

It’s true that COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses still exist. And the criminalization of mask-wearing is also rooted in history, long before COVID-19.

In 1845, New York created an anti-mask law after tenants' anti-rent revolt. The NYPD brought it into the 21st century to continue arresting protesters who masked to protect their identities. The KKK inspired other states’ anti-mask laws, which eventually criminalized us, too. And though they’re legal to wear, Black people in head coverings like hoodies and hijabs are still deemed “criminal.” 

After all, police killed Elijah McClain in 2019 after a 911 caller found him “sketchy” for keeping warm with a ski mask.

Associating masking with crime will hit Black immunocompromised people the hardest. The right to mask is critical for disability justice. 

And for protecting our privacy from cops.

Policing means surveillance. It means identifying who we are and criminalizing what we’re doing. It means protecting possible stolen items over human lives. We cannot let this happen in New York, or spread nationwide.

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