Protesting racial injustice during a pandemic: Should I?

As protests across the country following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police have increased in size and number, many of us are faced with the pull to protest despite the recommendations that we should stay at home. During this pandemic, the fear that underlying conditions, age, or contact with people in our lives with compromised immunity have kept us home. We may feel guilty as the size and scope of the protests increase and we watch from our living room.

Some states are seeing increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, as they “open up,” and those numbers have fallen from the headlines. In our immediate area here on Cape Cod, there has been a small uptick in cases recently as visitors arrive and more people are heading out, but, overall, hospitalizations and deaths in MA are decreasing. We hear about the fears of a surge in cases in the fall, and we also hear that the protests may create their own surge.

Meanwhile racial injustice is it’s own epidemic. People of color have been suffering disproportionately in too many ways for too long, not just from the insidious systemic institutional racism in our police and justice system, but from economic disparities, healthcare disparities, disparities in natural disaster impacts, infant and maternal morality, education, housing access, employment limitations, and so much more.  In these dystopian times the disparities are also evident in the rates of sickness and deaths from COVID-19.  We cannot ignore that the more people on the streets demanding change, the more changes are beginning to come.

Each of us has to make our own decision about whether or not to protest, and each of us must feel comfortable with our decisions.  With the exception of the man playing president in our White House, most human beings are equipped with empathy and we want to show our support for this important movement, but if you don’t feel protesting is safe for you, don’t feel guilty.

As you make your decision, consider this from a professional ethisist:

Dr. Karen Stohr, PhD, associate professor of philosophy at Georgetown University and senior research scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University:

In one sense, this is an easy question. Protesting racial injustice is an essential activity. Attending a demonstration might be riskier in a pandemic, but that certainly doesn’t make it unethical. Human lives are at stake either way.  

In an interview with The Guardian, three health experts, physicians Georges Benjamin and Kim Sue and epidemiologist Lauren Powell, give their perspectives and this advice if you do decide to go:

What advice would you give people who want to protest?

Benjamin: Go out in a smaller crowd, wear a face mask, bring hand sanitizer with you. Avoid shaking hands and giving high fives – try to physically distance. Limit your time out there. Obviously, if you have any symptoms of Covid-19, don’t go out.

Engaging online in chat rooms and having virtual protests is certainly less risky than walking in the streets. But [protesting] is something that many people feel they have to do, and we – the American Public Health Association – support their right to do that.

Powell: If you wear a mask, keep it on all the time. I’m seeing some protesters remove their masks to chant along, and that’s the moment that you need it the most because of potential Covid transmission through droplets.

Sue: Covid is easily transmitted in shared, indoor living environments – so if you are part of a household, there should be a collective understanding and agreement about the risks and benefits of going out.

I’d recommend that people not be out there every single day. From a disease transmission point of view, I would recommend people maybe go once a week and do some other organizing inside and online.

This article from Life Sciences, You attended a protest during a pandemic. Now what? also gives a lot of great advice if you choose to protest in person, including getting tested afterwards, quarantining before any contact with others, especially those who have any health issues that put them at risk.

Most information about making these decisions note that the majority of protestors are younger. With schools and colleges not in session, many are able to be out there every day.  Even then, nothing is without risk, this author’s own 30+ “child,” despite taking precautions recently went out for a medical appointment and ended up getting the virus and got sick, but with no comorbidity and despite some serious pain and discomfort, recovered in two weeks and protested this past weekend.

As an alternative to protesting in person, some communities are now organizing protests caravans, giving people a chance to protest from their cars. Here on Cape Cod, we have one scheduled for Tuesday (see the poster below.) Check social media, ask friends, find your local Indivisible or Black Lives Matter to see if one is being organized in your area. If not, organize one!

Overall the advice is to know and weigh your own risks, and the risks of those you live with or see regularly, and if you can do it without too much risk, GO.  If not, there are many other things you can do to support those who protest, don’t feel guilty about making the choice not to go, you can do plenty from home: RESOURCE LIST: How to support the BLM protests against injustice.

There are many other ways to use your voice.



(If you see errors or omissions please contact

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