The masks were being distributed by an activist organization to limit the spread of COVID-19 during protests against police brutality.
After facing significant backlash, the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has released a shipment of face masks intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those protesting police brutality around the country.
The Postal Inspection Service had “set aside” the shipment, which contained thousands of masks, after they were flagged as potentially non-mailable. The masks, distributed by the Movement for Black Lives in Oakland en route to Washington, D.C., St. Louis, New York City and Minneapolis, contained messages that read “stop killing black people” and “defund the police.” The story was first reported by HuffPost.
“These packages were originally set aside for further investigation because there were indications that they contained non-mailable matter,” a spokesperson told Government Executive. “Once Postal Inspectors confirmed the contents of the packages were in fact mailable, they were immediately placed back in the mail stream to be delivered at their intended destinations without further delay.”
After sending the first four boxes with the masks, a tracking page on the USPS website instructed the sender to contact the Postal Inspection Service as the packages were “seized by law enforcement.”
USPIS declined to comment on why the packages were flagged as potentially non-mailable, with a spokesperson saying techniques used by inspectors are "sensitive and must remain confidential." The official added such strategies, deployed to keep USPS employees and other communities safe, are "effective in helping to locate non-mailable matter of all kinds." The seizure came after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield testified to Congress on Thursday that protests had the potential to be a “seeding event” for coronavirus hotspots.
The Trump administration has taken an aggressive approach on cracking down on the mostly peaceful protests that began after video surfaced of George Floyd being killed by Police in Minnesota, repeatedly highlighting the incidents of vandalism and looting that have taken place. Attorney General Bill Barr and other Justice Department leaders detailed on Thursday the array of investigations they had launched into “extremists” who have “hijacked” the protests to sow discord.
FBI Director Chris Wray said his agents, including those comprising the bureau’s 200 Joint Terrorism Task Forces around the country, are gathering as much information as they can on those agitators as they work to identify, investigate and stop them.