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Gov’t Overreach on Corona Quarantines: A New Extremism?

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A protest against the overreach of government-mandated quarantines in Ohio (Photo: MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images)
A protest against the overreach of government-mandated quarantines in Ohio (Photo: MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump just designated a white supremacist group as extremists, but the latest extremist spotlight goes to a number of states in the union, which are putting into effect overreaching laws concerning quarantines while fighting the coronavirus.

In a bid to protect citizens from coronavirus, some elected leaders have taken quarantine to a whole new level by innovating what proper isolation looks like and punishing those who do not adapt to their oftentimes arbitrary new set of rules.

Some of the new preventative measures seem to be pulled right off the pages of the most dystopian fiction — from Black Mirror’s robot technology to keep populations orderly to Orwellian certification that a citizen is properly categorized and approved.

Law enforcement is already relying on drone surveillance technology to ensure social distancing (ironically, quite a bit of that technology comes from  China). Drones may also be deployed to detect fevers and coughing.

Within the U.S. and abroad, there’s conversation about requiring individuals to have a certificate that validates a successful coronavirus antibody test in order to return to work, travel or otherwise move about in public day to day life. While regulation of individual movement is already being controlled by the state, local officials are also directing citizens to activate themselves as surveillance extensions of the state.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garrett encouraged residents to report neighbors who violate the stay-at-home order, going so far as to say that “snitches” will be rewarded. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested residents submit non-compliance reports directly to the state by snapping a photo of businesses that fail to offer adequate social distancing or in fact have done “anything” that displeases the customer during the coronavirus outbreak.

Google, often first in helping authoritarian rule boot stomp a population, has also risen to the occasion.

The question is: How far do these measures get taken in our American democracy? One thing is certain: In the 40 days of quarantine, we’ve witnessed exactly how happy certain government officials are to exact them.

In Los Angeles, a paddle boarder was cited for paddle boarding in a completely deserted beach. A Venice skateboarding park was filled with sand to encourage social distancing.

In Colorado, a father was handcuffed in front of his six-year-old daughter for not adequately social distancing while throwing a ball in a park.

In San Diego, you can be fined for having picnic or watching the sunset, even while fully distanced from other people in your car.

Faith has also been on the chopping block under government overreach during coronavirus quarantines. It seems Americans can’t participate in a socially distanced drive-in church without being threatened with citations and a blatant cancellation of their First Amendment rights.

The above incident in Greenville wasn’t an isolated occurrence, either.

Senator Ted Cruz has been at the forefront of calling out the absurdities of governments in their efforts to stop the spread of the disease, In an op-ed for the New York Post, Cruz blasted petty authoritarianism:

“Stay-at-home orders must not become tools for opportunistic authoritarians. To be constitutional, these orders must be narrowly tailored to restrain only those activities that pose a significant risk to the public health.”

Of note is that government overreach has not extended to inmates, many of whom have been released over concerns of a coronavirus outbreak in prison populations. Over 1,400 inmates were granted early release in New York City alone. In late March, the Los Angeles sheriff’s department culled about 10 percent of it’s inmate population, releasing 1,700 prisoners, adding to L.A.’s burgeoning homeless population since many of the released had no home to go back to.

Within weeks that number escalated to 4,000, releasing up to 25% of the inmate population even though only 11 inmates had been infected with coronavirus.

Americans, fed up with government overreach, are beginning to rise in protest, most notably in Michigan where Governor Gretchen Whitmer placed a restriction on stores selling gardening seeds but not on the purchase of drugs and alcohol.

While the mainstream media is busy identifying protests across Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio as Right-wing extremism, the bigger picture tells a different story.

While it’s true that race supremacists are using the crisis to further their goals, the larger truth is that most people are simply reacting to the disproportionate government response to the virus — and it is disfiguring their relationship with the rule of law.

When laws regarding coronavirus quarantines can change on a county-by-county basis, there is little uniformity in the rule of law. Add unconstitutional violations of First Amendment rights to that mix as well as arbitrary enforcement of those laws, paired with new ordinances that violate common sense.

A functioning society needs a single unifying language, and that language is a shared law. That law is upheld when there is trust in law enforcement as well as the elected officials who determine codes of law.

Yet, when quarantines appear to be determined by political agendas and whims, our governing social order falls into the realm of radicalization —  the belief that there is only one way to live.

When that belief system is enforced through law at the cost of our foundational freedoms, that is extremism — forcing others to live by a radical belief.

So while a spotty batch of protests might feel like a demonstration of extremism — and while some race supremacists are piggy-backing off those opportunities — the real extremism here is government overreach.

Absent a tangible, common sense solution, what we’re witnessing by just day 40 of the quarantine is nothing short of a cultural and political experiment.

It’s also an experiment being closely watched by foreign enemies, many of whom are simply waiting to outlast the United States.

For America to survive, it must remain true to its foundational principles. The U.S. Constitution should not be undercut during this crisis; it must stand absolute.

 

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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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