A teen being given a citation for merely driving in her car. Hiking trails closed. Church congregants for Easter services having their license plate numbers taken down by the police so that they can be told to be in quarantine for 14 days no matter what kind of social distancing was being practiced.
That’s where we are now, and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik isn’t particularly happy about it.
In a tweet Thursday, Kerik blasted officials who are using the coronavirus outbreak as a pretext to clamp down on freedoms that wouldn’t necessarily affect the spread of the virus.
“Yesterday, governors/mayors shut down walking trails,” Kerik tweeted.
”Some police have been ordered to arrest people for walking outside their homes. The government is considering a #coronavirus surveillance system.
“WTF! Americans better start paying attention and getting vocal! #Constitution.”
Yesterday, governors/mayors shut down walking trails.
Some police have been ordered to arrest people for walking outside their homes.
The government is considering a #coronavirus surveillance system.
WTF! Americans better start paying attention and getting vocal! #Constitution
— Bernard B. Kerik (@BernardKerik) April 8, 2020
He went on to criticize New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, for his decision to stop construction projects.
“Today @GovMurphy stopped all non-essential construction,” he tweeted.
“Construction is a profession in which many will not be able to receive government assistance.
“Instead of mandating by order that they wear protective equipment and follow CDC directives, this will destroy them/families.”
Today @GovMurphy stopped all non-essential construction.
Construction is a profession in which many will not be able to receive government assistance.
Instead of mandating by order that they wear protective equipment and follow CDC directives, this will destroy them/families.
— Bernard B. Kerik (@BernardKerik) April 9, 2020
Murphy had announced the halt to construction the day before Kerik’s tweet.
“We must continue to work together to flatten the curve of new COVID-19 cases in New Jersey,” Murphy said in a statement.
“By ceasing all non-essential construction projects and imposing additional mitigation requirements on essential businesses, we are furthering our aggressive efforts to enforce social distancing and limiting our public interactions to only the most essential in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
In the executive order, Murphy also limited the number of customers who could be in an essential retail outlet at any given point in time and required those outlets to mark 6-foot increments on the floor in order to indicate how to socially distance, among many, many other things.
Park systems, meanwhile, have been shutting down across the country.
Here’s part of Oregon’s explication for closing its state park system late last month: “A single person walking on a trail is fine. There are a few million people in the west who are thinking the same thing, and then next thing you know, people are parking alongside roads to get into a park. That’s bad for you, it harms other people, and it puts stress on local groceries and health care systems.”
It’s not just the hiking trails that have been shut down. The status of churches varies from state to state, with some listing them as an essential service and others shutting them entirely.
Kentucky is one of the states in the latter category — and it managed to make a show of it this weekend when police took down the license plate numbers of the 50 people worshipping in the Maryville Baptist Church and put quarantine notices on their car, according to USA Today.
Newly elected Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has engaged in a high-profile battle with a handful of churches that are still holding in-person services. In a move that absolutely won’t escalate the situation, state police threatened “further enforcement measures” for individuals receiving the quarantine notices if they decide not to quarantine.
At least there was some good news in this department last Wednesday, though: A 19-year-old Pennsylvania woman who was cited for “going for a drive” will have the ticket dropped, according to the York Dispatch.
Anita Shaffer became one of the most prominent victims of over-officiousness in the time of coronavirus when Pennsylvania State Police hit her with a $200 ticket because she needed to get out of the house. She was the first person ticketed under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order.
A few days later, officialdom decided it was probably best not to pursue the case.
Beside the fact that the troopers cited her under the wrong statute, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday felt that ticketing Shaffer didn’t serve “the interests of justice.”
“Ironically, if Ms. Shaffer had lied to the [trooper] and stated that she was driving to obtain food, medicine, or to a path to engage in outside exercise, Ms. Shaffer could not have received a citation for violating the stay at home order because no facts would exist to support its issuance,” Sunday wrote in his request to have the charges dropped. A district court judge granted the request.
I suppose kudos are in order to Mr. Sunday, a man who can probably figure out how to be six feet away from someone on a hiking trail. Alas, we live in a time when the government can’t trust us to hike or shop or drive correctly.
Mind you, this isn’t to say that all of this is smart.
No matter how much social distancing you practice and how much closer you feel to God when you go to church, you’re significantly better off if you decide to just go online. That said, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of religion are both enshrined under the First Amendment, so I wish Kentucky good luck defending that quarantine in court.
Kerik, by the way, isn’t exactly a wild-eyed libertarian. This was the top cop in New York City under Rudy Giuliani and during 9/11. That’s not the kind of resume that leads one to flights of anarchist fancy. He’s bringing up a very real concern that our rights have taken a backseat to trying to beat this disease.
In some respects, that’s understandable. However, we’re about to be met with very sticky constitutional issues, including contact tracing and coronavirus “passports” to prove someone has antibodies and can re-enter society.
If the Constitution takes a backseat here, there’s the inevitable slippery slope: It can take a backseat anywhere.
The fear is understandable, but fear cannot be allowed to set our rights afire.
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