A Black doctor who’s been testing homeless people in Miami for the coronavirus was racially profiled last Friday causing a backlash against the Miami-Dade police department.
According to ABC News, Dr. Armen Henderson was handcuffed right in front of his home by a police sergeant as he loaded up a van with supplies he says he was transporting to the homeless.
Dr. Henderson is an internal medicine physician at the University of Miami Health System and he said that once or twice a week, he links up with a homeless outreach group to hand out supplies in downtown Miami. “We’ve been out there once or twice a week for the last four weeks, handing out tents, toiletries, masks, socks,” he told ABC News. “We’ve been testing individuals for COVID-19 because it’s the most vulnerable population. If you want to control the spread you have to go right to the source and take care of these individuals first.”
Miami-Dade Police Chief Jorge Colina said that his department had been receiving various complaints from residents of Henderson’s Flagami neighborhood saying folks were illegally dumping trash on the streets. He says this was the impetus of Henderson being stopped on Friday.
Soundless security footage from Henderson’s home shows him wearing a protective mask, loading supplies into a white cargo van, and placing bulky trash on the sidewalk when the sergeant pulls up and appears to start questioning Henderson.
“He just said, ‘Are you littering over here?’ Do you live here? Do you work here?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I live here. This is where we put our bulky trash and the city comes to pick it up every week at this same place,” Henderson said.
He continued that when he tried to walk away from the sergeant, the incident quickly escalated.
“I’m like, ‘OK, thank you, officer.’ And then I turned around to get back to what I was doing,” Henderson said. ”I guess he must have thought that I had disrespected him or something like that. He jumped out of the car and started yelling, ‘You call me sergeant when I’m talking to you, and blah, blah, blah. And, you know what, give me your I.D.”’
Henderson said that when he explained that he didn’t have his identification on him, the sergeant retrieved his handcuffs and placed them on Henderson. Then he walked the doctor to the front of the squad car. Henderson said he called out to his wife, who was inside their home with their two young kids, to come out with his I.D.
When Henderson’s wife presented the I.D. to the sergeant, the sergeant took off the handcuffs and released Henderson.
“He didn’t apologize. He just got in his car and drove away,” Henderson said. He explained that he didn’t even get the chance to tell the sergeant that he was a doctor.
”My hospital is becoming fuller and fuller, more and more people are coming in for COVID-19. I take care of the bulk of those patients just because I work at night. The majority of the patients that I’m seeing right now are COVID-19,” Henderson said. ”It’s ironic because the police department released a whole video that morning saying, ‘We thank first responders.’ But even if I wasn’t a doctor, why do you feel the need to stop me during a pandemic? Don’t you have other things to do?”
Henderson said that one of the aspects of the incident that concerned him the most was also the fact that the sergeant didn’t have a protective mask on. The altercation happened just three days after Colina announced that at least six of his officers had tested positive for the coronavirus, and another 125 had been quarantined and are awaiting their results. In a video, Colina pleaded with the public to help protect his officers, saying, “Please, stay inside, adhere to social distancing, wear a mask or a cloth face covering and be responsible. We’re here for you. Please do your part for us.”
Meanwhile, the sergeant who approached Henderson was profiling someone who could very well take care of him should he contract the coronavirus. He was also endangering the doctor and his family’s life.
“He put me at risk,” Henderson said. “Now I feel like I should get tested, honestly. Most likely I will because he definitely was spitting in my face. I could feel it while he was yelling at me.” Henderson believes he was detained because he is Black. Colina said an investigation is underway for the incident.
Henderson, seems to have an active involvement with the community, according to an Instagram page under his name, which shows pictures of his family as well as public safety events organized by The Dream Defenders and Free The Block Miami. One post for a “We Keep Us Safe Summit” event is captioned, “Together we will discuss the crisis of jailing in Miami-Dade County and why we need to end pre-trial detention and money bail once and for all and re-invest the millions spent locking people up towards community wellness instead: healthcare, trauma counseling, housing, jobs, education, and childcare.”
Henderson is the latest Black person who’s felt the racial implications of wearing a mask and maneuvering outside during the coronavirus pandemic. Black people have already reported anxieties for wearing face coverings out of fear of being racially profiled.
Just last month, two Black men wearing surgical masks captured themselves on video being followed by a cop as they departed a Walmart in Illinois. “He just followed us from outside, told us that we cannot wear masks,” one of the guys said in the video posted on YouTube, which shows the cop following the two guys with a hand resting on his gun. “The coronavirus is real. This police officer just put us out for wearing masks and trying to be safe.”
The men described the encounter to The Telegraph as “terrifying” and said they felt the officer was stalking them as if they were “prey.”