Boxes containing more than 2,000 Black Lives Matter cloth face masks intended to protect protesters were seized by law enforcement agents in California, says the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL).
The masks, which had the messages “Stop Killing Black People” and “Defund Police” printed on them, were sent on Thursday to help protect protesters from spreading and contracting COVID-19, which has hit black communities disproportionately hard across the U.S. The masks were intended for demonstrations to cap off the M4BL “Week of Action.”
But as the Huffington Post reports, the masks never made it to M4BL chapters in D.C., St. Louis, New York City and Minneapolis. In fact, they never left the state of California. Tracking numbers from the U.S. Postal Service show that the packages were “Seized by Law Enforcement.” Further instructions were given to contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for more information.
Chelsea Fuller, a spokesperson for M4BL, told The Root there was no update on the state of the packages and by what agency they were seized as of Friday morning, though M4BL has been working with an attorney to locate the masks.
Fuller said the seizure of the packages show a “gross disregard for black life” on the part of law enforcement and government officials, adding that those institutions are “aiding and abetting in the spread of the virus, which is disproportionately affecting black and brown people and folks living in poverty.”
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Many protesters have taken a calculated risk to demonstrate during a pandemic, wearing face masks, bringing hand sanitizer, and taking other precautions to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Despite the risks COVID and aggressive police tactics—including pepper bullets, tear gas, and beatings—pose to protesters’ health, millions have turned out to Black Lives Matter protests in every state in the country, collectively deciding that “police brutality and state violence are just as dangerous a pandemic as COVID-19,” says Fuller.
“People have had enough. We’re not even that far into 2020 and the police have already shot nearly 400 people,” Fuller said (the latest numbers from The Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” project, which tracks police killings, actually has that number surpassing 450 as of Friday morning).
She compared the government’s seizure of the face masks to efforts by the federal government to stymie black liberation and civil rights movements of the ’60s and ’70s. Attorney General William Barr has not shown support for the anti-police brutality protests, personally making the call to forcefully clear protesters near the White House on Monday so Donald Trump could stage a photo op at a nearby church.
“The fact that the government would confiscate cloth masks that were really an offering of love to keep people safe really speaks to the hate and the complete disregard and devaluing of black life that this administration has,” says Fuller.
She’s been heartened by all the people who have reached out offering to help find the confiscated masks, and by the diverse scores of people who have united to protest throughout the last two weeks. M4BL’s “Week of Action” continues today with a virtual, nationwide rally at 2 p.m. ET to cap off the week.
“The majority of our folks truly believe that a world without police brutality is possible,” she said. “We believe there is a world where all of us can stand in our full humanity, and be shown the dignity and respect that all people deserve.”