Last night, a Caviar deliverer was arrested on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, about a half hour after the city’s 8 p.m. curfew went into effect. Videos show his delivery bag sitting beside his bike as he’s questioned by at least six officers. He pleads with them to show proof that he is an essential worker, who is allowed to be out after curfew, but instead cops tell him to “calm down” and arrest him.
NYPD officers arrest an essential worker—his Caviar bag is sitting by his bike, 27 min after curfew at 108 and Central Park West in Manhattan— peter hess (@PeterNHess) June 5, 2020
city and state officials assured essential workers they are exempt
at least three white shirts (commanding officers) are present pic.twitter.com/92aI7UdODU
He was released without a summons, and even received a tweet apology from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, specifying that New York’s curfew considers food service workers “essential,” and that they are exempt from the restrictions. But as cities around the country continue to implement curfews in an attempt to quell protests over police violence and anti-black racism, the rules about just how they work remain murky. Most states have carved out exceptions for “essential workers,” but have not always specified exactly what that means. Delivery apps say they have been working with local governments to provide their contractors with guidance as to where and when they can work, but these ad-hoc curfews are generally allowing police to selectively enforce the temporary rules on whoever they choose. And even though things ended fine for this deliverer, recent history proves not every police interaction ends so peacefully.
The fact is the courier wouldn’t have had this interaction at all had someone not placed a delivery order close to the end of curfew in the first place. Ordering food in might be even more necessary in these times of restaurant closures and coronavirus, but when there’s a curfew involved, it’s outright dangerous. And everyone should be questioning whether they really need to before clicking “order.”
With a pandemic still raging, food delivery has become newly crucial for many people who, because of health risks or ability, have no other way to obtain food. It’s precisely why restaurants and delivery have been considered “essential” businesses. But there are also plenty of people for whom delivery is solely an act of privilege, who would think, five minutes before a curfew, “I could really go for some sushi,” and put in an order without thought to the state of the city. We have no idea what the impetus was for the order the Caviar deliverer was transporting, but had it been placed an hour before, he may not have been in a situation to be harassed, arrested, and detained by police.
Delivery has become essential not just for those without other options to obtain food, but for the workers themselves — and asking them out onto the streets during a curfew forces them to weigh personal safety against paying their bills. As unemployment has skyrocketed, food delivery is one of the few industries profiting, and is actively hiring “gig economy” workers who receive no employment protections or benefits. Often, these gig economy jobs are paid per order, incentivizing workers to take as many orders as possible in order to come close to making a living wage. And with dining rooms largely still shut down or operating at limited capacity across the country, the restaurants utilizing these apps are likely struggling to stay afloat as well. Even with the risk, no one is in the position to decline an order.
This shouldn’t even be a risk. But the fact is police are using the curfews to excuse plenty of questionable or downright violent behavior. They’ve claimed the curfew as an excuse to begin beating peaceful protesters with batons, blocking access to public transportation for people trying to get home, and even keeping medical workers from crossing barricades. And it’s not hard to imagine, should the curfews continue, that police will again detain or arrest food deliverers or other essential workers, even if the law says they shouldn’t.
In the past few months, most people have been asked to think deeply about their actions, which are essential and which aren’t, which keep others safe and which encourage needless risk. Putting in a delivery order that’ll arrive after curfew is a needless risk. It does not take much to plan one’s night around that, whether it’s by ordering earlier or not at all. But the onus should not be on those ordering tacos as to whether their order might end in an arrest or violence, or to balance that with the worry that their tip might be what allows that service worker to pay rent that month. These risks are the fault of the police, the gig economy, and the government that has provided paltry support in the midst of a pandemic. We shouldn’t be putting delivery workers in harm’s way. That means both not making them come to your house in a curfew, and speaking against precisely what has led that ask to, in this moment, become so dangerous.