Just as they are more likely than white people to be stopped and frisked, to be pulled over for traffic violations, and to be charged with drug crimes, Black individuals also appear more likely to be targeted by police for simply wearing masks. In a heartbreaking calculus, many are choosing not to wear them at all.

“Which death do they choose? Covid-19 or police shooting?” asked Vickie Mays, a distinguished professor of health policy and management at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health who studies health disparities and has been tracking incidents where Black men wearing masks were harassed. “We have African Americans who have been dragged out of stores, who have been ordered by police and store guards to pull their masks down or take their masks off.”

“You also see people protesting during this pandemic because people feel strongly what is happening to them is worse than the risk of death,” said Mays, who is also a professor of psychology. “These are horrible risk assessments no one should have to make.”