by WorldTribune Staff, May 3, 2020
Is the pandemic police state the “new normal”?
Governors and mayors nationwide have not only entered, but are living comfortably, in dystopian territory, analysts say.
As the weather warmed in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio dispatched 1,000 police officers to enforce social distancing measures. The NYPD has made 60 arrests and issued 343 summonses related to social distancing since March 16, according to The Associated Press.
“The public should expect to see social distancing patrol officers on foot, on bikes and in vehicles ensuring that social distancing procedures are followed,” said NYPD spokeswoman Sgt. Jessica McRorie.
“It’s Orwellian to be watched like this,” a 36-year-old park-goer told The New York Post as she tried to enjoy the sunshine at Staten Island’s Clove Lakes Park.
“It’s friggin’ nuts,” the person said of the patrols of NYPD cars, park police officers and bike cops — whose helmets were equipped with video cameras.
“It’s like something out of “1984,” she continued. “What is this, a military state now?”
In Queens, mounted police and unmarked cars joined the patrol at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where the soccer fields’ goal posts were taped up to prevent the too-close contact that comes with organized games, the Post noted.
De Blasio also made headlines after sending police to break up the funeral of a rabbi who died from COVID-19.
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” de Blasio tweeted on April 30. “I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that police will issue citations and possibly arrest any resident who fails to follow stay-at-home orders.
“We will shut you down, we will cite you, and if we need to, we will arrest you and we will take you to jail,” Lightfoot said Saturday during a press conference.
Lightfoot said Chicago police broke up gatherings of between 50 and 150 people on Friday night, and that authorities were tipped off to at least six parties and gatherings that were set for Saturday night, ABC 7 reported.
Authorities aren’t stopping at enforcing their lockdown orders on the ground.
In Elizabeth, New Jersey, authorities deployed drones to enforce social-distancing rules.
“The most important thing you can do to fight this virus is stay at home,” Mayor Chris Bollwage said last month. “Some may notice drones monitoring your neighborhoods. These drones are going to alert people to move away from each other if they are congregating. This is not a joke. It is extremely serious.”
“These drones will be around the City with an automated message from the Mayor telling you to STOP gathering, disperse and go home,” the Elizabeth Police Department wrote on Facebook. “Summonses HAVE AND WILL CONTINUE to be issued to those found in violation. Fines are up to $1,000. You have been advised.”
Reason.com’s Scott Shackford noted on April 24 that “it took all of two days for a Connecticut city’s plan to use drone tech to snoop on citizen behavior to make sure they’re complying with coronavirus rules for an angry public to shut it down.”
On April 19, the Westport Police Department announced it had launched a pilot project in coordination with Canadian company Draganfly to send drones hovering around the city to make sure people in public spaces were maintaining six feet of social distance.
“But these drones were much more intrusive than simply looking for crowds,” Shackford ntoed. “Draganfly’s drone-mounted biometric monitoring tools are even more sinister, dystopian, and potentially abusive. The drone is able to quickly measure whether people are six feet apart from each other, and Draganfly claims it can also measure heart rate, body temperature, and other vital signs, which suggests that a drone might be able to spot potential infections from above.”
Privacy rules “have also been relaxed to allow easier sharing of patients’ medical records with government health officials,” J.D. Tuccille noted in an analysis for Reason.com last month. “And some government agencies are attaching GPS ankle monitors to COVID-19 patients and those suspected of exposure lest they go for a walk in the country or pick up groceries from a curbside.”
Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned: “Government demands for new high-tech surveillance powers are all too familiar. This includes well-meaning proposals to use various forms of data about disease transmission among people. Even in the midst of a crisis, the public must carefully evaluate such government demands, because surveillance invades privacy, deters free speech, and unfairly burdens vulnerable groups.”
Tuccille also noted that “in the U.S., government officials joined with tech companies to paw through the location data that most of us share with cellphone apps. The idea is to determine if people are staying at home as ordered; if not, the information detects where we’re clustering.”
Tuccille added: “If cellphones really do become tracking devices, we might even leave them at home when out and about and in need of privacy. The withdrawal would be tough at first, but we can console ourselves with the knowledge that public health authorities would be keenly aware of the location of our coffee tables, and not of us. We could even back away from posting every detail of our lives, including our health, on social media. As for drones… If only there was some technology appropriate for knocking flying objects out of the air, and available in a variety of shot sizes.
“It would be best if government officials learned to back off and abandon truly temporary measures after the precipitating crises disappeared. But that’s probably a lesson that they’ll have to be taught rather forcefully.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of a statewide stay-at-home order has continued to face pushback, with a Republican state lawmaker challenging the order in a lawsuit accusing the governor of creating “a police state.”
Illinois has been under a statewide stay-at-home order since March 21. Pritzker announced last week that residents would be under a stay-at-home order through May 30.
State Rep. John Cabello’s lawsuit accuses Pritzker of distorting the state’s Emergency Management Agency Act to create a “police state” through his stay-at-home orders. The suit contends Pritzker has used police powers reserved for the legislature to enforce his order and that he has usurped powers to limit travel that are reserved for local health departments.
Pritzker has maintained he is using powers granted to him through the Emergency Management Agency Act.
“Even if well-intentioned by Pritzker, his actions as governor have left every citizen of this state completely devoid of any procedural due process rights to protect their liberty afforded them by the United States and Illinois Constitutions, and further guaranteed them by the legislature under IDPH’s own administrative rules,” the lawsuit said.
In Oregon, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order to extend the state of emergency for another 60 days, keeping Oregonians stuck in their homes until July 6.
As of Saturday, Oregon had recorded 109 COVID-19 deaths out of a population of over 4 million.
“This is not about saving lives and Brown knows it. She is enjoying her newly acquired powers and plans to hold onto them while she can, even though circumstances no longer warrant it,” RedState’s Elizabeth Vaughn noted.
In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear ordered state police to record the license plates of residents who attended church on Easter — and report them to local health departments for quarantine.
Beshear said that those who “make the decision” to be exposed to the coronavirus are “not fair to those that you would spread it to. “We’re having to take a new action, and I hoped that we wouldn’t, and it’s that any individual that’s going to participate in a mass gathering of any type that we know about this weekend we’re going to record license plates and provide it to local health departments.
“Local health departments are going to come to your door with an order for you to be quarantined for 14 days,” Beshear said.
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked provisions of the state Riot Control Act in ordering residents of Gallup to remain home except for emergencies. The governor ordered roads leading in and out of town blocked to nonessential travel and any vehicles carrying more than two people.
Gallup, a modern-day trading post on the southern outskirts of the Navajo Nation, was on lockdown over the weekend under the watch of National Guard troops and state police.
Some who traveled from the Navajo Nation to stack up on supplies found entire sections of the Gallup Walmart cordoned off as sales were restricted to food and other essential commodities, The Washington Times reported.
“They didn’t tell us on the radio or anything,” said Patrick Sandoval of Ganado, Arizona, who came in search of food, games, baby wipes and other items for his family and neighbors. “You don’t find out until you get in there that it’s just essential items.”
In Maine, authorities pulled the health and liquor licenses of a restaurant owner who defied what he characterized as the “ridiculous” coronavirus lockdown orders put in place by Gov. Janet Mills and opened for business.
Rick Savage, co-owner of Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel, Maine, opened his restaurant to diners on Friday despite state orders to keep it closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. He consequently lost his state licenses to serve food and liquor, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Savage opened his doors at around noon, and by 4:30 pm, there was a line around the building to enter the restaurant. By 6 p.m., roughly 250 people had been served, according to an employee. After learning that he had lost his licenses at around 4:30 p.m., Savage planned to continue operating and accept the fines he would incur for not having a license. He then announced he decided against it and closed the restaurant.
“We tried to call the governor. We can’t even get a hold of her,” Savage said. “The lawmakers are left in the dark, both Republicans and Democrats. She’s doing this all on her own. So we’re encouraging all businesses in Maine to open up. We need to open back up, get the summer tourist business going, or we’re gonna lose a third of our restaurants. And who knows how many hotels and other businesses?”
In Florida on April 30, the first day parks and marinas reopened since the coronavirus shutdown, Miami Beach police issued 652 warnings to people who weren’t wearing face masks and had to remove 145 people from parks after closing time, city officials said.
Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales tweeted: “If we continue to experience people refusing to comply with the city’s emergency orders, including wearing face coverings where required (parks, beachwalks, baywalks, etc), we will need to close certain areas. Please wear your face coverings, it is vital for everyone’s safety.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that healthy people don’t need to wear face masks and that doing so won’t provide added protection from the coronavirus.
There’s some evidence that caretakers of infected people can protect their health by wearing masks, the WHO guidance said, but “there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.”
WHO said masks should be reserved for people who have COVID-19 or are in regular close contact with people who have the disease, like caretakers and hospital workers.
People with COVID-19 symptoms like a cough or shortness of breath should wear masks even if they haven’t tested positive, and they should self-isolate, seek medical advice from home, and practice good hygiene, including handwashing and changing their masks, WHO said.
Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology and a mask researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health said that face masks aren’t a perfect public-health tool because they allow room for user error, a point made in the WHO guidance.
WHO officials said healthy people who wear masks might touch their own faces more often than necessary, which could increase their risk for COVID-19.
Cowling said user error was a potential reason studies have yet to show community masking is effective at preventing disease spread.
“Randomized trials don’t support a big effect of face masks, but there is the mechanistic plausibility for face masks to work, right? So why not consider it?” Cowling said. “If you don’t wear the mask properly, and if there’s a lot of chances for you to get infected, then the mask may not do a lot of good.”
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker signed an order that will require all residents to wear face coverings in public starting on May 6. The rule applies to all workers and customers at businesses across the state, according to NBC Boston.
“This is going to be a way of life,” Baker said. “No ifs, no ands, no buts, no doubts.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson noted on his April 29 broadcast that “former President Barack Obama went golfing at the Robert Trent Jones country club in suburban Virginia. He’s a member there. Obama was driven to the course about 40 miles from his house in the District of Columbia by a government chauffeur.
“Obama is clearly enjoying himself. Why wouldn’t he be? It’s beautiful out on the links, and airy. You’ll notice there aren’t many people around. That’s because both Virginia and Washington, D.C. are still under quarantine. Everyone else is locked at home, as they have been for more than a month. Not former President Obama. For him, golfing at Robert Trent Jones was an essential activity.”
Just days after Obama’s golf outing, Washington, D.C. residents began to receive a public service announcement on their phones. The message had been recorded at the request of the D.C. government by Barack Obama’s wife, the former First Lady. Here’s what it said:
Michelle Obama: “Remember, we urge you to stay home except if you need essential healthcare, essential food or supplies or to go to your essential job.”
Carlson noted: “Stay home — except for essential healthcare, essential food or essential jobs. That’s Michelle Obama’s message. It didn’t occur to her that those standards might also apply to her own family. That’s why she didn’t mention essential golf games.
“That doesn’t seem to occur to anyone in power. A few weeks ago, Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, was caught getting her hair done, at a time when Chicago had closed salons to mere civilians. Lightfoot’ s stylist ratted her out on Facebook. The mayor’s excuse? Quote: ‘I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.’ In other words, ‘I’m far more important than you are. Shut up.’ ”
Carlson continued: “Across the country, our leaders are making a mockery of the quarantines they so enthusiastically enforce. They have no intention of abiding by the restrictions they impose on their citizens. They have no interest in any scientific development — and increasingly, there are many of them — that challenges the wisdom of their lockdowns. Day by day, evidence accumulates that mass quarantines aren’t achieving what politicians claimed they would. Huge numbers of people have been infected anyway. Far fewer of them are dying than we expected. Our political leaders pretend as if none of this is happening.”
“People in power abuse their power. That may be the lesson here. The arrival of a terrifying new virus from China gave our leaders more power than anyone has ever had in the history of this country. Six weeks ago, America was something resembling an imperfect democracy. We had an election on the horizon that were were paying attention to. Andrew Cuomo was considered a thuggish, faintly corrupt regional leader. Suddenly, everything changed. This is now an oligarchy, managed by bureaucrats and tech moguls, none of whom are accountable to voters. Our leaders are making decisions that will affect your family forever, with virtually no oversight or accountability. Of course they love it. We shouldn’t be surprised they don’t want it to end. Jeff Bezos has made billions of dollars since the lockdown began. How shocked are you that his personal newspaper, the Washington Post, is arguing at the highest possible volume that the lockdowns must continue? Not very. They all feel that way. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to them. It’s their chance.”