COVID-19 has sparked fear and panic across the world. Every day, the news is reporting the number of individuals who have likely died from the infection. True to the need to report negative news, they are talking about the thousands who have died, but not the hundreds of thousands who have survived the infection.
The virus is virulent and indeed killing people. But there are far, far more who survive it with minor to moderate symptoms and don’t require hospitalization or supportive care. In an effort to “flatten the curve,” or reduce the number who get infected in a short period of time, many countries have created quarantine rules, shelter-in-place edicts and social distancing recommendations.
State governors across the U.S. have declared a state of emergency, which gives them additional powers under state law. According to the National Governors Association, state governors usually1 “are responsible for implementing state laws and overseeing the operation of the state executive branch.”
The declaration of a state of emergency opens the door for a number of different actions and added authority unique to each state.2 According to public health experts from The Ohio State University:3
“Before getting federal assistance, the governor must declare a state of emergency and begin to follow the state’s emergency plan, a provision which emphasizes that the state is the primary authority in the disaster. That is important because emergency powers not only allow state governments to ‘provide for’ populations, but also ‘decide for’ individuals in ways that might limit their rights.
The idea is that sticking to normal legislative processes and legal standards takes time – and that during a crisis delays could cost lives. In an outbreak, such limits on individual rights involve travel restrictions, social distancing measures and isolation and quarantine.
In the case of COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services, using the federal Public Health Services Act, invoked federal powers to prevent ‘cascading public health, economic, national security and societal consequences.’ In addition to this, federal authority empowers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine and quarantine anyone entering the U.S. or traveling across state lines.”
Police Following Rules With Unreasonable Force
Although changes may have helped reduce the initial spread of the virus, how some are implementing the rules look more like the dawn of martial law. This is ironic, considering we are a country that proudly proclaims itself to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
For example, Twitter user CJ Pearson4 posted a video on May 14, 2020, showing at least six police officers in New York City physically taking down one small mother. The video is disturbing and clearly shows her exiting the subway station with a mask around her neck and her young child in tow.
The officers surrounded her and forced her back up the stairs into the subway station. At one point they grabbed her and three forced her to the ground with her face against the floor. One officer held her young child within feet of her mother being taken to the floor. Four officers surrounded the woman while attempting to put on a pair of handcuffs as she’s lying on the ground.
She squirmed and continued to yell at the officers to leave her alone and to get off her. As they escort her from the station, a bystander yelled to the officers to take her child with her. The video was retweeted 14,300 times. One person commented, “Wow. This is scary! Reminds me of the videos in Wuhan of cops dragging people out of their homes. I thought we were better than this.”
Another tweeted, “As a NYC Realtor, I can’t physically show a property because #Coronavirus. But #NYPD puts her face down on dirty @MTA floor while others touch her child with dirty gloves? That’s OK?”
This isn’t the first video coming out of New York and not the only city reeling under the enforcement of regulations, rules or statements that citizens must practice social distancing and wear a mask. A video circulated showing an off-duty officer in Alabama who was caught on camera body slamming a shopper to the floor at Walmart.5
The person walked into the store and refused to wear a mask. At the time, Walmart was simply encouraging their customers to wear them, but they weren’t required.6 She became irritated when an employee asked her to put on a face covering. When she refused to leave, an off-duty officer who was working for Walmart at the time tried to detain her.
As shown in the video, she pushed away as he tried to handcuff her. At this point he grabbed her left leg out from under her and flipped her to the floor. Sergeant Rod Mauldin later said the officer felt he needed to gain control of the woman because of “other threat factors in the store.”
The threats were not detailed, and the video shows only a second woman standing aside and yelling at the officer. As the officer was escorting her out of the store, two of her friends began arguing with him. The video shows him pulling out a canister and appearing to mace them.7
These are two of many incidents that have happened across the U.S. and around the world. While it may be necessary for the police to implement the rules and regulations, it’s not necessary to do it with unreasonable force.
Liquor Stores Are Essential as Drive-In Churches Bullied
Some states are taking extreme measures against specific groups. In Greenville, Mississippi, the city government categorized liquor stores as essential. This allows them to provide curbside service to their customers.8 But, churches were not allowed to hold services when those attending stayed in their cars with the windows up.
In other words, liquor was being handed through open car windows to drivers who were not wearing masks, but church goers were bullied by police officers for being parked in the church parking lot with their windows up. Pastor James Hamilton spoke with Fox News reporter Tucker Carlson about the situation he and his churchgoers found themselves in on the Thursday before Easter.9
The parishioners were lined up in the parking lot, in their cars with the windows up. The pastor had also asked the parishioners to park their cars away from each other, a practice not in place at grocery stores or hardware stores. He was preaching from outside the cars when 20 or more police cars arrived to surround the six cars in the parking lot.
Kelly Shackelford from the First Liberty Institute, a civil rights group that came to the aid of the church, commented on the new regulations in Greenville, saying they were targeting “churches in a way that it targets no other groups. Cars in the parking lot are fine. It’s only a crime if the cars in the parking lot are in the church parking lot.”
He went on to recount how one police officer approached the pastor and told him because of the new local orders in Greenville, his rights were “suspended.” However, Shackelford said that individuals’ constitutional rights have not been suspended by the new orders. Hamilton shared it was Mayor Errick Simmons who was behind the order.
The Justice Department backed the lawsuit filed by the church and the suit is pending. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered police to take down the license plates of anyone parked in a church lot to enforce an additional 14-day quarantine.10 U.S District Judge Justin Walker wrote a 20-page opinion in which he commented the city must stop:
“… enforcing; attempting to enforce; threatening to enforce; or otherwise requiring compliance with any prohibition on drive-in church services at On Fire.
On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion.”
Abuse of Power Strips Civil Rights
This video is disturbing but illustrates infractions happening around the world:
Human rights infractions are happening worldwide, and the United Nations’ human rights chief has issued a warning to governments that are abusing their power, saying,11 “the rule of law in the name of fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic risk [is] sparking a ‘human rights disaster.'”
Emergencies have been declared in 80 countries. The UN has highlighted 15 where infractions are troubling, but the director of field operations said several dozen more could have been added. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is asking countries to cease violating fundamental human rights. She warned:12
“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power. They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less.”
Tens of thousands of people have been detained and arrested, violating confinement measures to curtail the pandemic. The Philippines was at the top of the list with 120,000 people arrested in 30 days. In South Africa, reports of police using rubber bullets, tear gas and whips were received by the UN. Additional charges against the police included rape, murder, the use of firearms and corruption.
Virus Fuels Potentially Permanent Surveillance Protocols
China, long known for their use of technology to invade the rights of their citizens, has dramatically increased its data collection after the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2. As they pursue gathering more data, in the name of curtailing the pandemic, the government has released a number of new tactics to monitor and track potential cases.
There is much concern that the pandemic has strengthened the country’s case for collecting data on their citizens — and that the data harvest will be permanent. In the past months China began using futuristic technology, such as:13
- Using drones to watch which people are using masks or going indoors
- Measuring people’s temperatures using new facial recognition software
- Using software to identify individuals based on body and face structure, even under masks
- Using phone data to check who has been close to a person who tested positive for COVID-19
- Using police helmets with cameras fitted with facial recognition and thermal software to identify and quarantine people with a fever
Citizens are also being required to download an app that uses information from their Alibaba account to estimate health and risk of contagion; the information is then shared with the police.
Experts fear the data collection will continue after the public health threat is gone. This type of surveillance already exists in the Northwestern region of China where the state feels they are under threat by religious extremism. Maya Wang is a senior researcher at China’s Human Rights Watch. She spoke to Business Insider, saying:14
“The use of these systems is taking place without privacy law or surveillance law that effectively protects people’s privacy rights, to allow them to challenge such designation or the imposition of quarantine.”
Darren Byler is a technology expert who specializes in China’s Xinjiang region. He commented on the use of technology to monitor people, warning:15
“Once you have the tools in place, you’d probably continue to use them, and you can expand them and use them for other purposes. From the US context, the PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security, and countering violent extremist programs that the US put in place initially after 9/11 were focused on Muslim Americans, but have now been radically expanded to look at asylum seekers of all types, like people coming across the southern border into the US.
Once these systems are in place, once things are built, once they’re designed — you can’t put them back in the box, and once political leaders see the utility of them and see that they can extend their power, extend their control, then of course they will continue to use them and use them in new ways.”