Over the past two months Americans have been ordered not attend mass gatherings for fear of spreading the Chinese virus. For the most part people have complied. Our ball fields, churches, bars and concert halls sit empty. When some have flaunted the rules as recently happened at a massive pool party in Missouri, they have been severely chastised. So how should politicians and the media handle protests throughout the country that break the large gathering rules?
For those who believe that reopening the country too fast will cause the virus to spike, this is a complicated situation. Pool parties are an easy call, the first Amendment protected right to protest the government is not, at least not this time. What we are faced with here is the need to balance competing legitimate concerns; the right to protest and the potential loss of life.
But here’s the thing. This has always been about balancing legitimate competing concerns. On the one hand, again, spread of the virus, on the other profound economic devastation and loss of life caused by the lockdown itself. But for two months arguing that a balance had to be struck got people called selfish grandma killers who only care about the stock market. It was made absolutely clear, the number one priority, the only priority was to save lives.
Then the protests started. You have to feel bad for progressives caught in this situation. In order to maintain their position that stopping the spread is paramount, they must tell black people with an incredibly good reason to be outraged in the killing of George Floyd that they may not avail themselves of traditional forms of political protest.
For the most part, of course, this has not happened. Few if any people are hurling abuse at the protestors and insisting they are literally killing people. This is despite warnings from health officials in Minnesota. So there is something specific about this protest that makes it different from protests to reopen the economy that were roundly condemned.
The difference of course is the racial dynamic, which is a progressive trump card when legitimate competing interests arise. There is no way under the rules of intersectionality that the black protestors can come under attack for spreading the virus. And this is a very, very important thing to note because it is the first time that it has happened.
Stopping the spread has been more important than every other “nonessential” gathering thus far, even in the face of joblessness, hunger, suicide, and depression. People who wanted to go to church were selfish, those who want to attend sporting events and weddings were selfish, even those who were engaged in the wrong kind of political protest were selfish, but not these protestors.
This is something to be thankful for. Finally there is an admission that some things really are more important than stopping the spread. It should open the door to a more nuanced conversation about the cost benefit analysis of social distancing and lock downs. The answer is now no longer, “just don’t have large gatherings,” it’s don’t have large gatherings unless it’s important.
But funerals are important, graduations are important, kids being in school and going to museums is important. What we are not hearing is why these protests, as opposed to anything else, draws little criticism from the media. This would be a really good discussion to have, but it is being ignored. Instead of arguing why the protests should occur despite the virus, which is true, the virus is basically just being ignored in the story.
That is a shame. But regardless, we now have a point on the map. We now have something we can point to and say, this is worth the potential spread of the virus, and the deaths that may come with it. There are things that matter more than listening to public health experts. It should not have taken us so long realize this, but at least we are here now.