Police Face Backlash Over Virus Rules. Enter ‘Violence Interrupters.’

NEW YORK — When Iesha Sekou began passing out surgical masks and disposable gloves in Harlem early in the pandemic, some people laughed and said she was taking things too far. It was an unfamiliar role for Sekou, the founder of a nonprofit that usually works to prevent gang violence.

But as deaths from the virus mounted in predominantly black neighborhoods like the one where Sekou’s group operates, people started chasing her and her workers down the street to get supplies, she said.

Even young skeptics who “had their little theories” about the virus dropped their resistance after Sekou and her volunteers warned them that the police could stop them for not having a mask, or worse, they might get infected and unwittingly pass the disease along to their grandmothers.

“That’s a soft spot that we were able to hit and get them to know that if you don’t want

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