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Police kicked two black men out of Walmart for wearing face masks because of coronavirus

Published Apr 7th, 2020 2:41PM EDT
Coronavirus racism
Image: Anton Gvozdikov/Shutterstock
  • “We’re all in this together” is a phrase you hear a lot during the current coronavirus pandemic — but it’s one that doesn’t necessarily account for racial disparities that are starting to emerge.
  • In terms of the virus’s impact so far and the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths to-date, we’re starting to see in many cities where blacks are a small minority of the population, that they also comprise the vast majority of cases and deaths.
  • Racial disparities can also be seen in other situations related to this disease, such as two men who were kicked out of a Walmart store for wearing surgical face masks. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

One of the phrases you’ve probably been hearing repeatedly since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak is how “we’re all in this together” and that the virus doesn’t respect borders, gender, class, or ethnicity as it silently seeks out victims to infect. This notion that we’re all dealing with the pandemic together, though, starts to fall apart once you take a closer look at who all is being affected because you’ll quickly be confronted with sobering realities — like the fact that around 70% of the people in Louisiana who’ve died from the coronavirus have been black, even though African-Americans only make up some 32% of the state’s population. Those numbers are similar in Chicago, where around 30% of the population is comprised of black residents, while 70% of the city’s coronavirus victims have been black.

And it’s not just in the death toll where you can find racial disparities in different communities’ coronavirus responses. A local newspaper in Illinois, The Telegraph, recently reported the story of two black men — Jermon Best and Diangelo Jackson — who were shopping at an area Walmart for supplies. They were wearing surgical masks, which are now the subject of new CDC guidelines that people should limit their public interactions because of the coronavirus but that if they have to leave home to be sure and wear a face mask.

As they were shopping, a police officer started following them and then told them they had to leave because they weren’t allowed to be in the store with a mask on. A video the men posted to YouTube records the interaction:

“We’re being asked to leave for being SAFE,” one of the men says during the video, as the officer slowly follows them out.

According to The Telegraph’s report of the incident, local police chief Brad Wells said he’d been reluctant to make a public statement about what happened “because the video didn’t look good on the surface.”

Said Wells, “There’s not much I can say. I backed the officer by what he tells me. Just like anything, there’s more to the story.” He added that the incident happened before most people started wearing surgical masks in public because of the virus.

According to the chief, the officer’s “one error” was that he was mistaken about the Walmart store’s policy prohibiting masks. The two men, he went on, “immediately went into the race issue.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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