Even before the statewide mandate, Pinellas County government issued an order to restrict the spread of COVID-19 virus by encouraging people to shelter-at-home. The Pinellas County order is enforceable by law with local law enforcement and “regulatory officials” authorized to enforce these rules including possible arrest and detention. This pandemic generates anxiety for residents and law enforcement alike, increasing the chances for racial dynamics to play out in the enforcement process.
Bureau of Justice Statistics show that nationally, Black residents are more likely to be stopped by police than White or Hispanic residents and when police initiate an interaction, they are twice as likely to threaten or use force against Black and Hispanic residents than White residents. Closer to home, the Equity Profile for Pinellas County shows that Black residents experience disproportionately higher rates of arrest.
Recently, the Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit (Pinellas, Pasco), Anthony Rondolino, issued an Administrative Order stating that anyone who violates an order of isolation or quarantine related to this health emergency has committed a second degree misdemeanor and can be arrested. Furthermore, if a person is arrested and is “reasonably believed to be infected” with the coronavirus or “reasonably believed to have been exposed,” there will be no bond. In other words, he or she will be jailed. Increasing the number of people incarcerated increases the risk of COVID-19 infections.
This highly charged environment is ripe for Black or Hispanic residents to be excessively arrested for violation of stay-at-home orders. Let’s hope that there are no arrests related to this order. What will it take to ensure that the crisis of COVID-19 becomes a launchpad for policies and practices that are racially just?
Image Credit: Salud America