The Baltimore Police Department says it’s investigating a video that appears to show a sergeant deliberately coughing as he walks past several Black people amid heightened fears of the novel coronavirus.
In the video, an unidentified sergeant can be seen holding his hand to his chest and coughing — without covering his mouth — as he passes the woman holding the camera.
“Ha, ha, ha! Hey, Officer Friendly with the cherry cheeks,” the woman with the camera can be heard saying at the start of the video as the officer approaches down a sidewalk running through a housing complex.
The officer can be seen putting his hand to his torso and letting out several uncovered coughs while he passes her.
The woman and several other witnesses immediately start shouting and swearing at the officer for the gesture, which they say was deliberate.
“Y’all get that s—, Black people don’t,” the woman with the camera says, in an apparent reference to a myth that Black people can’t catch COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The officer in the video is white.
“I should call the CDC!” she adds.
WARNING: The following video contains coarse language that some readers may find offensive. Please watch at your own discretion.
It’s unclear exactly when the video was recorded, but the reactions to the cough strongly indicate that it occurred during the current pandemic.
The earliest version of the video appears to have been posted on a Baltimore news Instagram page on April 7, according to Storyful.
Baltimore police commissioner Michael Harrison says the department’s bureau of public integrity is looking into the video.
“After watching the full video, it its entirety, it is not only disturbing, but incomprehensible, especially considering the high level of strong and clear guidance that we have provided from the beginning, regarding COVID-19,” Harrison said in a statement. “Members are always expected to be sensitive and professional to the community, but what we saw in the video is alarming because this pandemic is affecting lives not only nationally, worldwide, but right here in our own police department.”
Police say they will be reviewing the officer’s bodycam footage as part of their investigation, but the incident is not being treated as a criminal case at this time.
Police are still trying to rebuild their relationship with Baltimore’s Black population five years after the death of Freddie Gray, who died of a neck injury sustained in police custody in 2015. The incident sparked widespread outrage and major protests and helped fuel the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement. All charges were eventually dropped against the officers involved in the death.
Kobi Little, president of the local branch of the NAACP, called for the sergeant in the video to be held accountable for the sake of the community.
“This incident is emblematic of the force’s failure to respect and build trust with the people of Baltimore,” Little told the Baltimore Sun.
Eight Baltimore police officers and two civilian employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the department said in a statement on Monday. It added that one station and all of its associated vehicles were recently sanitized after an officer tested positive.
The city has recorded more than 500 cases of the virus to date.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
—With files from The Associated Press