Authorities Seize Masks Oakland Printer Made For Protesters
Above photo: San Jose, June 3, People march down East Santa Clara Street during a demonstration over the police killing of George Floyd in downtown San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group.
The family that owns an Oakland screen printing business said they feel “angry, concerned and threatened” after they learned that cloth masks they made for protests around the country were temporarily seized by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which suspected they might be “non-mailable matter.”
Rene Quinonez of Movement Ink in Oakland said he and his family stayed up late and worked for several days to produce 2,500 masks, which read “Stop killing Black people” or “Defund police.”
The masks had been ordered by The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a Black Lives Matter-affiliated organized, to distribute to protesters in New York City, Washington D.C, St. Louis and Minneapolis. The masks have a dual purpose: To help protesters prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to convey their anger about the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Quinonez said he took four boxes of 500 masks each to the West Oakland post office on Wednesday, with the expectation that the boxes would arrive at their destinations by noon the next day. When they didn’t arrive Thursday, Movement for Black Lives organizers checked the tracking information on the U.S. Postal Service website and saw that they had been “seized by law enforcement.”
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Update! Law enforcement has seized these masks and are not stating why! When your called to support you step up or step back. Sending energy and prayers to those on the front lines! Right on community appreciation to all of you interested in supporting please hit up @thepalmtreepapi if your interested in supporting! @mvmnt4blklives
“This is all kind of messed up,” Quinonez said, explaining that he regularly ships overnight packages of apparel from that post office. Employees there also helped him prepare the packages for mailing. Now, he said he wonders whether the government is watching him or the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“This is really alarming and disappointing,” said Quinonez.
In a statement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service confirmed that it had “set aside” the packages for “further investigation because there were indications that they contained non-mailable matter.”
“Once Postal Inspectors confirmed the contents of the packages were in fact mailable, they were immediately placed back in the mail stream to be delivered at their intended destinations without further delay,” the statement read.
Quinonez said it was upsetting to think that the masks might not have reached their destination. He said they are “not a weapon. They are about keeping the community safe.”
That message was echoed in a statement from the Movement for Black Lives, a collective of about 150 organizations that aim to “end the war on black people” and to achieve economic and community justice and political power.
Spokeswoman Chelsea Fuller said that the seizure of the masks was part of an aggressive law enforcement response to demonstrations, which has been encouraged by President Donald Trump and the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr.
In a speech Monday at the White House, Trump threatened to deploy the military if states and cities failed to quell the demonstrations.
The Movement for Black Lives has made the coronavirus pandemic one of its key areas of concern, given data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a disproportionate burden of illness and death among African-Americans and other people of color.
This week, CDC director Robert Redfield also expressed concern that the George Floyd protests, largely organized and attended by black groups, could become “seeding events” for COVID-19. He suggested that anyone who attends a protest get tested. State officials also have expressed concern that coronavirus could spread rapidly during protests.