Curfews Leave Restaurant Workers Confused and at Risk

For food service employees, citywide curfews are causing new problems.

In the days following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, demonstrations have erupted across the country, protesting police brutality and standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many elected officials have made efforts to control protests by imposing curfews, including in cities like Minneapolis, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, where demonstrations have been particularly dense and widespread. Essential workers, including those who cook and deliver food, are technically exempt from the curfews, but they have been affected nonetheless. Many of the dozens of curfews have been announced last-minute, leaving workers with little time to prepare and forcing them to travel through militarized streets to get to and from their jobs.

How Curfews Hurt Restaurant Workers
Benjamin Clapp / Alamy Stock Photo

While restaurants are exempt from such measures as "essential businesses," curfews have moved many restaurant owners to close down shop anyway to give their employees time to get home safely. Doordash, Grubhub, and more delivery app companies have modified their hours to comply with local curfews. On Tuesday, June 2, after almost a week of protests across New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an 8 p.m. curfew—three hours earlier than the day before—to remain in effect through at least Sunday.

The rollout has been disorienting. On Monday night, New York City council person Mark Treyger tweeted, "The fact that city food delivery workers who work overnight to restock shelves are messaging me frantically right now not sure if they can work tonight with the abruptly announced city curfew tells you a lot about the state of government right now." Curfews mandate that you "stay in place." For food delivery workers, that's impossible, and they may be in transit as curfews take effect, if they were announced last-minute or their restaurants didn't close. Over the past week, police have been using rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and more violent tactics on protestors.

Indeed, there is confusion surrounding curfew enforcement: How are police to tell, upon a quick glance, who is and isn't exempt from the rule? This adds another layer of risk to the job of delivery food. These workers, many of them undocumented, are also at higher risk for COVID-19 due to the nature of their jobs. Curfews, as typically enforced, increase the number of police officers in the streets, which can lead to an escalation of violence. Monday's curfew in New York saw the amount of police officers on duty surge to 8,000.

"While I understand the potential benefits of a curfew, this is neither the right moment nor the right process for imposing one and adding an additional 4,000 officers to our streets," said NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in a statement. "At this moment and in this way it could escalate tension, not alleviate them."

The efficacy of curfews in curbing social unrest is unclear, and many activists feel it's a strategy for increasing policing while cloaked in the language of safety. "What we know is curfews increase opportunities for police interaction and police violence over time," Andrea Ritchie, a criminal justice researcher at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, told Vox. We also know that their roll-out can be confusing. As Eater reports, the last-minute L.A. curfews left restaurants confused and blindsided, unable to get their workers home in time or to properly anticipate surges or drops in business. "Staff lost money coming into work and then not working the full shift," Margo chef Devine Johnson told Eater. "It affects everyone."

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