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'When I was a kid police would shoot you if you had a mask on' | Some fear racial profiling during the pandemic

CDC recommends wearing a mask in public, but some fear being profiled because of it.

WASHINGTON — Experts say racial profiling in the pandemic is a growing concern among African Americans.  

“To be young and black in America is to be, on some level, fearful every time you step out the door with or without a mask,” said Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. 

Dr. Kendi is one of America's leading historians and anti-racist voices. He is also the director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University.  

“It's a concern for myself, even when I go out and I run in the morning with a mask on. I'm always concerned whenever I pass the police car,” Kendi said.

And it's not just Kendi who's concerned.

“I can tell you some stories that happened to me when I was kid out there in the streets that would make you cry,” said one 79-year old D.C. native who spoke to WUSA9, but asked not to be identified. “When I was a kid the police would shoot you if you had a mask on.” 

As of this week, masks are mandatory at all District grocery stores. The Centers for Disease Control also now recommends wearing a mask anywhere you go public to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus.  

“It's already well known among us that when we wear particular clothing, when we look a particular way, we look even more 'dangerou,' so I think that's why it's a major concern for many black men,” said Kendi. "But at the same time, if someone, a police officer or regular citizen does something to us, because we're wearing a mask, they are the problem, not us. And so that's what I'm trying to tell myself.”

Two black men in Illinois posted a video to YouTube when, they say, they were escorted out of a Walmart for wearing masks. 

In Maryland, advocates are demanding a police investigation after a Muslim man said a security guard at LA Market in Columbia tasered him.

RELATED: Muslim man says he was tasered for wearing a mask to a grocery store

Dr. Kendi is calling on elected leaders to not only recognize racial profiling can be heightened during the pandemic, but act on it. 

“Right now, they can initiate policies that would severely punish any police officer that who does that,” he said. "They can initiate laws that would severely punish any security guard who escorts someone out of a business or grocery store.”

As for the 79-year old D.C. native and so many others like him, Dr. Kendi said protect yourself and like always – do your best to reduce the conflict.  

“As black people often have to do, in a way, it's on us to make police officers or other Americans not fear us as opposed to the other way around," Kendi said. "And I'm going to do that, because this is a very vicious disease.”


RELATED: Howard University's president discusses COVID-19, why African-Americans may be skeptical of testing and tracing

RELATED: COVID-19 pandemic highlights socioeconomic health care disparities

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