Likely worse is what happens after the protests: mass arrests. The classic American police tactic in these situation is to trap groups of protesters into a “kettle” so they can be arrested and booked. BuzzFeed News contacted 30 big urban police departments on Tuesday, and counted over 11,000 arrests. At time of writing, Los Angeles and neighboring cities had arrested nearly 3,000 people alone. A great many of these people have been at least temporarily jailed as a result, mostly for misdemeanors.
We know for a fact that jails are coronavirus hotspots — some of the worst in the country. People crowded into confined spaces with poor ventilation for a long time is where most transmission happens. The danger will be heightened when people are still dealing with the aftereffects of being tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed, which can take hours. In New York and Cincinnati, arestees described being held in cramped spaces for over 24 hours while waiting to be processed by the cities’ dysfunctional criminal justice systems. Even in other cities where processing happened faster, people were still held for hours.
One would think the police would logically take at least some consideration to avoid spreading the virus in their response, if for no other reason than to avoid infecting themselves. Instead, they have been largely cavalier about the pandemic — often not even wearing masks themselves.