LINCOLN COUNTY, OR (KPTV & CNN) - After mounting pressure from numerous groups, Lincoln County has decided to drop an exemption it issued that would allow people of color to not wear masks if they had heightened concerns about racial profiling.
The decision was made Wednesday evening, with county officials saying they revised the policy to address concerns from both sides of the issue.
Initially, a Lincoln County commissioner said the board felt the exemption was the right thing to do due to concerns of racial profiling. It was the of the first counties in the US to exempt people of color from wearing masks to prevent racial profiling.
According to guidance from the Oregon Health Authority, businesses should take into account that requiring people to wear face coverings impacts everyone differently, including people of color who may have heightened concerns about racial profiling.
Commissioner Claire Hall says the county’s received a lot of feedback on both sides of the issue.
“Certainly, we've got a lot of very angry white people saying we're out of our minds and worse,” Hall said. "I'd say our office has heard from at least a dozen people of color. You know one of them said aren't you aware that the virus disproportionately impacts communities of color? And I said oh yeah absolutely. But also the same people saying that you know they fear an unintended consequence of a well-intentioned policy. Let's say a person of color comes into our courthouse and chooses not to wear a face covering, they're actually more likely to be harassed and profiled than if they don't."
The County issued a statement on Wednesday evening regarding the decision.
“We are shocked and appalled at the volume of horrifically racist commentary we have received regarding this policy exception,” that statement said in part. “The expressions of racism regarding the exception has created a ripple of fear throughout our communities of color. The very policy meant to protect them is now making them a target for further discrimination and harassment.”
Lincoln County, home to nearly 50,000 residents, is almost 90% White and less than 1% Black, census data shows. But it's also home to the Siletz Reservation and a growing population of Latino residents.
The county said it will continue to recognize and fight racism.
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