In an effort to help protect protesters from Covid-19 and prevent the spread of the virus, an advocacy organization sent thousands of cloth masks that read “Defund Police” and “Stop Killing Black People” to major cities across the U.S. as demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd continue to grow nationwide.
But as HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly reported late Thursday, law enforcement officials have seized shipments of the masks that were destined for New York City, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. without providing any explanation.
“It’s not entirely clear what law enforcement entity seized the masks,” Reilly reported. “But the Justice Department, led by Attorney General William Barr, has taken an aggressive posture against demonstrations and on Thursday expressed concern about ‘extremist agitators’ who are ‘hijacking the protests to pursue their own separate and violent agenda.'”
In a tweet late Thursday, President Donald Trump touted a letter from his former attorney John Dowd describing protesters as “terrorists.”
Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)—which spent tens of thousands of dollars on the masks—shared a U.S. Postal Service tracking alert that says the shipment was “seized by law enforcement.”
In a statement to HuffPost, M4BL spokesperson Chelsea Fuller said that “police have rioted coast to coast, beating, and gassing protesters who have called for an end to police violence, with the explicit approval of President Trump.”
“Now, it appears they want to ensure that people who protest are susceptible to the same deadly pandemic that they have failed miserably at stopping,” said Fuller. “The continued surveillance and disruption of social movements under this administration is as chilling as it is dangerous. It should be roundly condemned.”
The seizure of the masks sparked widespread outrage on social media, with activists calling the move unlawful and morally unconscionable. “This is criminal,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue.
“One of the first things M4BL organizers discussed last week was getting masks to protesters,” tweeted activist Leslie Mac. “Today they were seized by law enforcement. Imagine. Seizing face masks during a pandemic.”