Efforts by Portland-area elected officials to be racially sensitive blocked a mask requirement across Multnomah County earlier this month.
"For Black men, according to The New York Times," Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann said in early June, "the fear is that masks will expose them to harassment from the police."
This concern made Portland an anomaly. Nationally, pushback on masks has been more typically associated with President Donald Trump and his allies in the Republican Party. In Montgomery, Ala., for example, Black leaders and doctors pushed for a mask requirement that was voted down by a white majority of the city council.
Stegmann left the Republican Party in 2018 in response to the racist politics of Trump. She pushed against masks on behalf of people of color who might fear wearing a mask would make them a target of racist policing.
But on Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown announced a plan to require masks in seven Oregon counties, including Multnomah. That requirement goes into effect June 24—five days after the county reopens.
Last night, Multnomah County reiterated its concerns that people of color wouldn't feel safe wearing masks.
In a press conference this morning, however, the governor said that her mask requirement had the backing of leaders from communities of color.
In a June 17 letter to Multnomah County commissioners, two dozen members of the Portland legislative delegation, including almost all of the city's state lawmakers who are part of the People of Color Caucus, supported mandating masks.
”We know that many of our constituents, including BIPOC, the elderly, people with disabilities, and those with serious medical conditions are highly vulnerable to COVID-19,” they wrote. “They will be safer if the people they encounter are wearing masks.”