Cops Are Using Social Distancing Violations as an Excuse to Persecute Weed Users
While some police departments have publicized a hands-off approach to minor crimes during the pandemic, others have used stay-at-home orders to pursue petty arrests, including pot possession.
Published on May 20, 2020

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Across the US, states and cities are still telling citizens to stay home and isolate themselves to protect against contracting the coronavirus. But while most people are doing their best to self-quarantine, police officers across the country are using social distancing regulations to pursue petty arrests and make otherwise unlawful stops and searches.

In Jackson, Mississippi, local NBC station WLBT reports that police in the city have made 146 arrests that started as social distancing stops, resulting in the seizure of 500 pounds of cannabis and more than $20,000 in cash.

“We heavily patrolled the streets and we came across individuals that were together violating the stay at home order,” a Jackson police department spokesperson said.

But while cops were out looking for groups of people, the police did not report whether officers were wearing masks and making sure to stand at least six-feet-apart themselves. In New York City, where cops in some neighborhoods are handing out free masks to people who aren’t socially distant, a video from Brooklyn shows a throng of unmasked cops attacking and arresting a man for being too close to his friends. After the incident, cops said that the arrest was both for breaking social distancing, and possession of one joint.

When COVID-19-focused social policies were put into place across the country at the beginning of March, police departments across the states, including in major cities like Philadelphia, told the public that they would be taking a hands-off approach to law enforcement, both for the safety of the public and for officers themselves. In the past few weeks, though, it appears that beachgoers and the like are not the only folks getting tired of isolation. Cops are seemingly getting restless, and reports of social distancing policing continue to climb.

In response to the violent arrest caught on camera in Brooklyn this past weekend, a spokesperson at the Brooklyn Legal Aid Society released a statement to the New York Post condemning the cops for continuing to over-police and persecute people in neighborhoods where black and brown people live, while ignoring similar happenings in places like Midtown Manhattan and North Brooklyn.

“Saturday night’s arrest over a marijuana cigarette comes in the context of the NYPD’s pattern of escalating low-level encounters with New Yorkers of color into brutal assaults,” Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney with the Cop Accountability Project at the Legal Aid Society, said to the New York Post. “This misconduct is unconscionable at any time but especially egregious in the midst of a pandemic where each person-to-person contact risks exacerbating the spread COVID-19.”

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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