Activists rally after cops aggressively arrest woman for improper face mask

Protest police brutality during social distancing
Chivona Newsome, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York, rallies outside Barclays Center against brutal police arrests related to COVID-19 on May 15.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Civil rights activists rallied outside Barclays Center on May 15 to protest the arrest of 22-year-old mom Kaleemah Rozier, whom cops wrestled to the ground after stopping her for improperly wearing a face mask inside a Brooklyn subway station — arguing that the enforcement shows a pattern of discrimination against minority communities. 

“We call this tactic ‘the new stop-and-frisk,'” said Reverend Kevin McCall, founder of the Brownsville civil rights advocacy group Crisis Action Center. “They weren’t doing this in the white communities of Williamsburg or Park Slope but they’re doing it in the neighborhoods that are black and brown.”

McCall slammed the enforcement of social distancing measures as racially skewed after NYPD stats showed that people of color made up 93 percent of COVID-19-related arrests, and took aim at Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. 

“The police commissioner said his Police Department is not racist, but it is,” said McCall. “And the numbers show it.”

Rev. Kevin McCall, president of the Crisis Action Center, speaks at the rally outside Barclays Center on May 15.Photo by Paul Frangipane

After weeks of sustained criticism from both activists and the police officer’s union, and several high-profile aggressive arrests of black men, NYPD officers will no longer take action to enforce proper face coverings, but they will still they would still act to disperse groups of six or more adults to stem the spread of the virus, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein.

One Bronx civil rights activist who spoke at the Friday rally said she was encouraged by the move away from mask-enforcement, adding she’s seen evidence that police have become friendlier and supportive toward communities of color in recent days.

“We’re definitely happy about the change in policy,” said the co-founder of Black Lives Matter’s Greater New York chapter, Chivona Newsome. “We are seeing in the community that officers are handing out masks and treating people like people.”

An activists raises his fist in protest outside Barclays Center.Photo by Paul Frangipane

However, McCall said that, while the policy was headed in the right direction, there is still more to do to address long-standing issues between the Boys in Blue and black and brown New Yorkers.

“We’ve still got work to do in the police department,” he said. “There’s a virus in the NYPD and it has to be cured with things that can be developed by working together with the community.”

And while Rozier’s improper-face-mask-usage will no longer be treated as a crime, she still faces charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and harassment, according to her lawyer, who called on the District Attorney to drop the charges against her and blasted the NYPD’s actions during her arrest.

“[The child] has emotional trauma from watching his mother get thrown to the ground and brutalized by police,” said Sanford Rubenstein.