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For night-shift workers, curfews can be costly

Police arrest a protester
Police arrest a protester on suspicion of a curfew violation at Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards in Hollywood on Monday.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

At the end of his shift at a Home Depot warehouse in Joliet, Ill., Elgin Hodges drove home about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, splashes of blue and red light from police cars illuminating his way.

Joliet’s mayor had declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in response to unrest that broke out over the death of George Floyd.

Hodges checked that he was obeying the speed limit, scanned the street and shadowy parking lots for officers and nervously adjusted the paperwork he keeps on the dashboard detailing his status as an essential worker during the pandemic.

In recent days, many workers in cities with curfews have struggled to make their early-morning shifts or get home late at night. They’ve had to contend with public transportation shutdowns, suspensions of service by ride-hailing companies and police blocking off roads and exits.

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Some employees saw their wages cut as businesses shortened hours in response. Others were forced to forgo wages as they called off shifts in the face of travel impediments or safety worries, or left early to be able to get home before the start of curfew.

Hodges, who is black, worried the curfew would make him a target for police harassment.

“Growing up I’ve been taught to keep my head on a swivel. But now I’ve been working double time to ensure my safety,” he said.

Many cities and counties have relaxed or lifted their curfews, including Los Angeles, where the Sheriff’s Department said Thursday it would not impose restrictions, although it said individual cities were free to maintain their own.

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In Joliet, where Hodges lives, the curfew, pushed back to 10 p.m., remained in place as of Thursday night. Every night since the curfew went into effect Monday, Hodges has taken backstreets to avoid the main streets crowded with police, adding about 10 minutes to his usual 20-minute commute.

Black people and Latinos fill jobs that operate outside the standard 9-to-5 hours at higher rates than workers from other demographics. Experts expressed concern that curfew enforcement disproportionately affects black people and other marginalized communities.

Additional scrutiny from law enforcement during protests on top of pandemic restrictions serve as a “double whammy” for people of color, said Brenda Muñoz, deputy chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

“Even for those workers deemed essential and exempt from enforcement, people are afraid to be out during curfews due to fear of police brutality, given the most recent killings,” Muñoz said.

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L.A. officials eased restrictions a day after the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter filed suit against the city and county and the city of San Bernardino to end the curfews, calling them an “extraordinary suppression” of political protest that plainly violated 1st Amendment rights and curtailed necessary freedom of movement.

Kimberly Beltran Villalobos, a plaintiff in the suit, was cited for violating curfew after she went to pick up her mother from her workplace in East Los Angeles about 11 p.m. Monday. She was also cited May 30 while participating in a protest over the death of George Floyd.

Still, in cities across the country, curfews linger, as does the prospect they could return in force elsewhere in response to resurgent weekend protests.

In New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio extended an 8 p.m.-to-5-a.m. curfew through Sunday, Taylor Shubert was stopped by police around midnight Wednesday at the exit he usually takes on his way home from Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan, where he works as administrative support staff.

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“I’m an essential worker, I’ve been told that I can get home,” Shubert told police. The officer at Shubert’s window refused to let him pass, and told him to take a different route.

Over a loudspeaker another officer said, “How about take that bumper sticker off his car too,” according to a video of the encounter Shubert recorded. Shubert has stickers indicating support for former Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar on the back of his car.

At the bridge, Shubert was stopped by police again. He took another detour. The third time he was stopped, he begged an officer to let him go home for several minutes before he was allowed through.

It took Shubert two hours to drive to his home in Inwood, where he finally hopped into bed around 3:30 a.m., he said. His six-mile commute usually takes 25 minutes.

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“They disagreed with my politics and wanted to antagonize me,” Shubert said. “We’re essential workers fighting a pandemic. I don’t know how not letting hospital workers go home makes my neighborhood safer.”

For lower-income workers, who rely more heavily on public transportation, the cost of curfews can be measured in dollars and cents, said Erica Groshen, a faculty member at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Willowbrook, a neighborhood in South L.A., Sofia Cuevas said her co-workers at the hospital’s cafe, where she works as a barista, have had to forgo wages and leave work hours early in order to catch the train before curfew starts.

Cuevas, 25, said she has a car, so she hasn’t had as much trouble completing her shifts this week, which end at 9:30 most nights. By that time, the staff she sees left at the hospital are the doctors and nurses on night shifts, and the janitors and custodians who clean the rooms of patients.

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“Being a Latina, I worry about getting pulled over because you never know what could happen,” Cuevas said. “I have fair skin, so I might be OK, but I don’t want to risk it.”

Darren “Tree” Wallace, who is on the cleaning staff at Kaiser Permanente, a hospital on Sunset Boulevard, worries the red rectangular sticker on the back of his badge designating him an essential worker offers thin protection.

Wallace, who is black, moved into temporary lodgings — a hotel room a five-minute drive to the facility — on Monday because of concerns about safety.

The policy allocating hotel rooms for workers was originally negotiated by Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West for staff who test positive with the coronavirus or are working overtime because of the pandemic.

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When law enforcement is given discretion in applying the law, people from stereotyped groups, particularly those who are black, are going to suffer discrimination, said Jody David Armour, a professor at the USC Gould School of Law studying racial profiling and use of excessive force by police.

“That is one of the points the protest is driving home,” he said.

When crafting policy, Armour said, even rules around the most low-level, nonviolent offenses, lawmakers should ask, “Am I willing to live with the possibility that somebody may die when this policy is enforced?”

Times staff writers Johana Bhuiyan and Samantha Masunaga contributed to this report.


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