Having police officers enforce social distancing rules is a recipe for major trouble, according to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, because getting people to wear makes and stay separated is a cultural issue, not a criminal one.
“When you talk about police officers enforcing social distancing, the police department that has historical tension in certain communities, you’re now encouraging the largest interaction with these groups in the history of the police department,” Adams, a former NYPD captain who is running for mayor in 2021, told WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday. “It is alarming.”
Video of a violent arrest and a police officer appearing to instigate a confrontation in Manhattan over the weekend has elevated the question of whether and how the social-distancing rules ought to be enforced. The largest police union has demanded that its members be relieved from the task.
“I said to the mayor that this is a good opportunity to build bridges with the communities that we’ve had historical problems. Have police officers say hello and give out masks to people and talk to them about social distancing but the enforcement of social distancing is not a crime and we should stop treating it like a crime. It’s reculturing. It’s rethinking how we have to exist in a COVID, or any virus-like, environment,” said Adams, whose borough has the second-lowest rate of infection (1.7 per 1,000 people, compared with the Bronx’s rate of 2.7) but has seen almost as many deaths as Queens.
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Adams—often a high-profile critic of the NYPD during his time with the force—suggested that community members and non-uniformed city employees could encourage social distancing and mask use more effectively than armed cops. “This is reculturing not reinforcement. We should not be looking to use this as the modified version of stop and frisk as you saw what happened in Manhattan,” he said. “We need people to be able to communicate, not use citations.”
Police have been tasked with enforcing interpersonal social distancing while also maintaining a de facto ban on protests that Mayor de Blasio says is in place.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said Thursday that, despite the mayor’s argument to the contrary, the right to protest remains intact amid social distancing.
“Health experts, elected officials, and police officers all agree that people can be outside safely while practicing social distancing; there is no reason why demonstrations are any different,” NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. She added: “The right to protest is a bedrock of our nation’s principles, and it is never more important than in times of crisis.”
A gay rights demonstration on Sunday was broken up by the police.
“The protesters punished by the New York Police Department were practicing social distancing and wearing masks, in compliance with the executive orders from the governor and mayor. They were nevertheless singled out for exercising their right to protest,” Lieberman said. “The Executive Order does not give the NYPD unfettered — and unconstitutional — discretion to ban all protest activity even when it comports with public health guidelines for social distancing.”