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Law and Privilege in The Time of COVID-19

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been criticism and questioning aimed at how the government has handled precautions, public safety measures, virus testing, and more. These critiques, however, expand even further than the general scope of public health in the time of coronavirus. It shows a connection between the law and how privileged individuals are being treated and seen by it versus how marginalized groups and communities are being policed.

One of the examples that caused outrage throughout social media has been the case of Kori Watkins, an American that came to Puerto Rico as a tourist without complying with the travel protocols set due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He made videos on his YouTube channel where he showed how he traveled from his home state to the island without any regard for public health or the protocols that airlines, airports, and other public spaces have set to avoid the further spread of the virus.

This example is a clear indication of what many activist groups and individuals have been saying about how the government has treated tourists differently to people on the island who still need to comply with the strict safety measures set in place. See, the problem doesn’t stem from Puerto Rican not wanting to comply with quarantine and social distancing. On the contrary, this disparity in treatment poses a problem because it allows tourists to disregard these health rules. Situations like these, in turn, put others at risk and can cause many setbacks in the advances being made to try to control the pandemic and its further spread.

The fact that Watkins celebrated traveling without getting tested for COVID-19 at any airport and without wearing a mask is alarming and unsettling. The picture he uploaded to social media shows him with a document that indicates that “he is exempt from using a mask” because of risks to his physical and mental health. Many found this troubling because, if he was unable to take the necessary precautions, then it might not have been safe for him to travel during such a crucial time in the first place. Many have gone on to say that his actions were extremely irresponsible, especially when there is no vaccine, and the government is still working on controlling the spread of the virus within the island.

Situations like his that have been circulating on social media demonstrate how the government has failed to take action in these cases while policing impoverished, vulnerable, or marginalized communities on the island. The ties between the law and privilege are present in the social dynamics and policing on the island, and situations like the coronavirus only make it much more apparent.

A 22-year old writer and Comparative Literature student with a Certification in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. Passionate about poetry, storytelling, languages, translation, editing, art, pop culture, cinema, theater, and social justice. Writing has always been her passion and she wants to use her words to effect change, to contribute something meaningful; focusing on topics of social justice such as feminism and activism to shed light on vulnerable commmunities and amplify the voices of those who are often ignored.