The U.S. has entered The Cool Zone. People are gathering in the streets of America to protest police brutality, and the cops responded by arresting people, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds, attacking journalists and killing local chef David McAtee in Louisville, Kentucky. Various cities have had curfews, some as early as 6 PM, and called in the National Guard.
During all this, delivery drivers and couriers kept working, making deliveries for people who just had to eat Olive Garden during a time of national crisis and in cities roiling with police violence that is indiscriminate and out of control. Do not be one of those people.
If you live in a city and area affected by the protests, curfews, and increased police presence, don’t order from a delivery service. Many of them are still running, despite the potential danger it puts the drivers in.
It's important to understand that, in many cities, delivery drivers are overwhelmingly people of color, undocumented immigrants, and from communities that are otherwise disproportionately targeted by police (in San Francisco, for example, 78 percent of ride hail and delivery drivers are people of color).
Let's say you order food an hour before a curfew specifically goes into effect. You have no idea whether or not the person delivering it will get to the restaurant and to your house before the curfew kicks in, whether they have other deliveries to make, where they live (since they have to get home from your house, too) and whether your delivery will cause them to be out past curfew. If they have a run-in with police, you have no idea whether or not an officer will simply accept that they are an "essential" worker and let them go, or try to arrest them.
On Reddit, delivery app drivers are describing instances of companies ignoring the protests, offering monetary incentives to drivers who will work during the protests, and declaring their drivers to be essential workers.
“The curfew doesn't apply to me. In Chicago, food delivery drivers are essential workers,” Kelly Farrell, a delivery driver in Chicago who works for Postmates and Shipt, told Motherboard in an email. “On Saturday, restaurants were still open, even though stores were being looted all around them. Driving through that insanity to pick up deliveries was terrifying but also very profitable in terms of customers' tips.”
Different companies have had different responses to the protests.
“Our teams on the ground are working closely with each individual city to best support them based on their needs and the local situation,” an Uber spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. “Some cities have requested that we suspend operations during curfew hours while others want to ensure Uber is available for essential services.”
Lyft told Motherboard that it’s “following local direction when relevant.” It provided a website that lists service suspensions which, as of this writing, listed all 50 states as open for business.
A Grubhub spokesperson told Motherboard it’s “monitoring closely and will not hesitate to take action if needed to protect the safety of our drivers, restaurants and diners.” Other services have said similar things: the delivery companies are complying with local law when asked.
As for DoorDash, the company said it "is tailoring operations based on the guidance we have received from governments, such as reducing hours to abide by local curfews."
“I've heard precisely nothing from Postmates, which I find disconcerting, to say the least,” Farrell said. “By Sunday, I logged into a barrage of delivery requests. I tried to pick up 8 deliveries (about 3 hours of work) but every place I went to was, understandably, closed due to the riots. There was no guidance from Postmates whatsoever. I also drive for Shipt. They have a message on their sign-in screen telling people they're welcome to pick up orders but to be aware that many stores in urban areas are closed and, if we decide to deliver, to please be safe.”
Delivery workers sharing their experiences on Reddit have reported wildly different experiences from the apps in different areas. On /r/courriersofreddit, one Los Angeles area user shared a push notification from Postmates. “Postmates is currently operating as an essential service & delivery volume is high in your area,” the push notification said. “We urge everyone to prioritize your safety first.”
Another user posted a screenshot of Postmates offering a $1 bonus to drivers working in areas affected by the protests on Sunday.
Despite Postmates drivers reporting being on the job after curfew, the company said in a statement that it is adhering to curfew orders.
“While we respect the right to organize and make voices heard, trust & safety of our fleet, our merchants and our customers are of paramount priority,” Postmates told Motherboard in an email. “We’re adhering to curfew orders around the country and are working directly with Mayoral administrations to balance our essential services designations with the curfew orders as each municipality has a distinct approach.”
Offering bonuses to deliver to areas of heavy protest and police presence is dangerous, and despite its miserliness it is still hard for some drivers to turn down.
Farrell said she felt economic pressure to keep making deliveries during the protests. Delivering food is a side gig for her and she’s economically secure. But that wasn’t always the case. “I lost everything and was on the streets homeless during the recession in 2009,” she said. “So a not-so-small part of me feels an immense pressure to draw in income from any possible avenue because the thought of being homeless again is always in the back of my mind.”
The video and images coming out of the protests are terrifying, as they show police willing and eager to inflict violence and trauma on the entire public, regardless of their role or occupation. As the protests continue, don't send someone out to risk their lives being altered or even ended by police violence so that you can eat some takeout. If you want to help financially, consider donating to any number of bail funds, mutual aid groups, and labor organizations that can help make things better. Hell, give money to someone you know who needs it right now. Anything is more useful than eating a hamburger in safety while the person who brought it to you puts their body in front of the police ready to break it.