We all knew it was going to happen eventually: restrict people's freedoms, even in the name of public health, and you're sure to have some kind of public backlash. The past month or so has seen a surge of protests against stay-at-home orders, with participants urging public officials to revoke restrictive guidelines put in place to slow the rate of infection. Many protesters are advocating specifically for the reopening of the economy.
Frankly, they make a pretty good point.
With 26 million people finding themselves out of work within the last two months, it's getting harder and harder for many Americans to pay the bills. The long-term economic implications of this crisis expand by the day, and America can't stay on complete lockdown forever. The First Amendment right to voice this viewpoint through peaceful protest is inalienable even under the direst of circumstances, and any protests that don't pose a danger to the public should be treated with as much respect and attention as was afforded to protests in the pre-COVID era.
Problem is, many of these protests aren't peaceful — they have an indisputably negative impact on public welfare.
Social distancing and other such health measures are set in place by the government in order to protect individuals, especially those at risk, and reduce viral transmission rates. In many recent protests, like Thursday's anti-quarantine demonstration at the Michigan Capitol, often-unmasked participants have been gathering by the hundreds in tightly-packed groups. In so blatantly defying social distancing orders, they put themselves and those around them, including security detail, in severe danger. A single asymptomatic carrier at one of these events has the potential to directly infect hundreds of others, sparking a chain of transmission that might flow through every person who interacts with a protester.
With this in mind, how can we possibly pretend that large gatherings are peaceful in any way?
We're living in an unprecedented era, and it's time that we re-analyze what actually constitutes a peaceful protest when the threat of corona is ever-present and worsening by the day. Individuals who directly disobey federal guidelines and risk transmitting a deadly virus should be disbanded in the same way they would be if they were fist-fighting or brandishing weapons.
The right to stand up for what you believe in is a cornerstone of American democracy, and it should be upheld no matter what is going on in the world. In the age of modern technology, peaceful protest is by no means restricted to filling a government building with a crowd of likeminded people. Call your state lawmakers. Join a social media campaign. Continue to support candidates that represent your views. Just don't mistake rowdy demonstrations as noble causes when they're doing nothing but further endangering the American people.