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Daycare workers in DeKalb, other counties report being stopped by police over COVID-19 orders

Avondale Estates Business COVID-19 Crime and public safety Decatur Kirkwood Metro ATL Tucker

Daycare workers in DeKalb, other counties report being stopped by police over COVID-19 orders

A DeKalb County Police vehicle. Photo obtained via Wikimedia Commons
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DeKalb County, GA – Daycare workers in DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinett Counties reported getting pulled over by police officers on their way to work on suspicion of violating shelter-in-place orders.

The daycare workers, most of them people of color, were asked where they were going and were told that letters provided by their employers weren’t proper documents. The stories were relayed to Decaturish by Ellen Reynolds, Chief Executive Officer of the Georgia Child Care Association.

“The vast majority of childcare center staff are women of color, so this has been a particularly distressing issue for our childcare employees who are afraid police might mistake them getting a letter … for them reaching for a gun,” Reynolds said.

The reports prompted the governor to issue a press release on April 8 reminding the public that under his shelter-in-place order, which went into effect April 3, people are not required to carry an authorization letter to be on Georgia’s roads.

“We have received recent reports of law enforcement stopping people to ask for a letter authorizing their travel,” the Governor’s Office said.

The situation is complicated because many counties and cities in Georgia adopted their own shelter-in-place orders because the state resisted doing so.

Three of the stops occurred on the morning of April 3. Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-in-place order went into effect later that day, at 6 p.m. One incident occurred in Cobb County on Monday after the governor’s order took effect, Reynolds said.

Kemp’s order nullified the local orders. County sheriffs and police officers working for the state have been authorized to enforce it. Prior to the governor issuing his shelter in place order, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett counties had their own shelter in place orders.

Officials with the DeKalb County and Gwinnett County Police Departments said they were unaware of any stops related to their shelter-in-place orders. A DeKalb Police spokesperson said the department would investigate it.

“We are unaware of such incidents; however, we are looking into the matter,” the spokesperson for DeKalb County Police said. “Meanwhile, we will ensure that our officers stay informed so they can perform their duties without causing any unnecessary distress to our citizens during this challenging time.”

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A Gwinnett County Police Department spokesperson had no knowledge of any stop like the one Reynolds described. Cobb County Police did not respond to a request for comment.

In DeKalb and Gwinnett’s case, the orders were primarily being enforced through education.

Maj. Jason Rozier, chief of staff for the Gwinnett County Police, said that Gwinnett’s shelter-in-place order did not require people to provide documentation.

“It authorized law enforcement to go out and educate and advise folks,” Rozier said. “We were not out asking people for any sort of paperwork, asking folks if they were essential or not essential.”

DeKalb County’s shelter in place order also contained no provisions requiring people traveling to produce authorization letters, and neither did Cobb County’s order.

But the daycare workers insist that’s what happened.

Here are the specific allegations, as they were told to the CEO of the Georgia Child Care Association.

– On Monday morning [April 6], GCCA board President Sharon Foster said one of the teachers she employs, a Hispanic man, was pulled over by Cobb County Police on his way to work. He showed a letter but was told he needed notarization and he received a warning, Reynolds said. This happened between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“Many childcare staff have to drive during that hour to open schools up by 6 a.m. so that people (like nurses) who have a shift change at 7 a.m. can drop their children off on the way to work,” Reynolds said.

– On April 3, a female daycare worker — described as a person of color — said she was pulled over by DeKalb County Police at 6 a.m.

“The police asked where she was going, and she presented a letter provided by her employer,” Reynolds said. “The police told her the letter wasn’t good enough and that the letter had to be certified or have a bar code. We have no idea what bar code they were referring to, but they told her the next time she was pulled over, she might be issued a ticket. It was a very distressing experience for her.”

– On April 3, two other daycare workers – one a white woman, another a woman of color – were pulled over by Gwinett Police after 6 a.m. Both showed the officer a letter and said they were told the letters weren’t enough and they needed to be notarized.

Reynolds said she isn’t raising the issue because she wants to disparage law enforcement. She said she recognizes the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging situation for everyone.

“I think everyone is doing their best in constantly changing circumstances,” Reynolds said. “Childcare center employees just want to provide stability and love to children of first responders and critical infrastructure employees’ families. The police just want to protect the public and stop the spread of the virus by making sure people who are not essential workers stay home. I don’t blame anyone. We’re all doing our best in really difficult circumstances.

“[The Georgia Child Care Association] asked for help because we had enough reports of [stops] happening across metro Atlanta that we needed to make it clear for everyone — police and childcare providers — that childcare staff can go to work without providing proof of letters, especially in light of the demographics of our workforce.”

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