Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Citation

18 Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 555 (2021)


Despite the recent movement against police violence, police officers have been endangering their communities by engaging in a new form of violence— policing while refusing to wear facial coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many states advise people to wear masks and to socially distance when in public spaces. However, police officers have frequently failed to comply with these guidelines as they interact with the public to enforce these COVID-19 laws. Police enforcement of COVID-19 laws is problematic for two reasons: (1) it provides a method for pathologizing marginalized communities as biological threats; (2) it creates a racialized pathway for the spread of the virus.

First, these new laws allow police to exercise what Michel Foucault described as “biopower,” a form of power that allows the State to target populations relying on biological justifications. The racialized nature of the biopower and necropolitics of COVID-19 is reflected in the social and political order that allows for people of color to die from COVID-19 at a higher rate than the rate for White people. There is a real risk that relying on the police to manage the spread of COVID-19 will allow police to construct already marginalized communities as contagious threats. Second, as the racially-biased nature of policing is well-documented, enforcement of COVID-19 laws may contribute to the racialized spread of the virus by encouraging police officers to interact with marginalized communities. There are already reports of maskless police officers enforcing mask mandates in Black and Latinx communities, demonstrating the urgency of this threat. As politicians step up calls for law enforcement to become involved in enforcing COVID-19 mandates, anyone serious about protecting the health of all communities should question police involvement in this project.