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Oregon county rescinds racial profiling mask exception

NEWPORT, Ore. — A coastal county in Oregon has rescinded a face mask policy that made exceptions for people of colour worried about racial profiling after a backlash spurred by an article in the New York Post that went viral.

The Lincoln Country Board of Commissioners initially passed the policy on June 17 that gave leeway to those concerned about “racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public.”

As masks have become mandatory in communities across the U.S. to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some Black people have raised concerns that wearing a mask in public will make non-Black people perceive them as threatening or suspicious.

After the Post article, thousands of people inundated the county of 50,000 people earlier this week with phone calls and emails expressing outrage about the exception. Many were from outside Oregon but some came from local residents, the board said.

Late Wednesday, the commissioners said in a statement that the exception, while well-intentioned, was doing “more harm than good” and would be rescinded.

Lincoln County has been dealing with a virus outbreak at a seafood processing plant in Newport, about 130 miles (209 kilometres) from Portland, that spread to the wider community.

“We included the protections for those within our communities of colour who historically, and often personally, found themselves the victims of harassment and violence,” the Board of Commissioners and County Management team said.

“We are shocked and appealed at the volume of horrifically racist commentary we have received regarding this policy exemption. ... All this only a month after George Floyd’s death."

The commissioners said several people of colour in the county called to ask that the exception be revisited because it was making them “possible targets for more hate.” The board agreed to do so and is working on a broader plan to address racism in its communities.

“While we would like to be done with this virus, it is not done with us,” the statement said. “Wear your face covering, be kind to each other. End racism now.”

Now, the only exceptions for the mask requirement involve people with medical conditions made worse by face coverings, children under 12 and people with disabilities that prevents them from using the face covering.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown required people in the state’s hardest-hit counties to wear masks in indoor settings starting Wednesday. The statewide policy also has some exceptions, but doesn’t include anything as specific as Lincoln County’s original directive.

The Associated Press