Over the weekend, White House Advisor and right wing commentator Stephen Moore repeatedly compared (white) protesters who demonstrated against stay-at-home orders meant to flatten the COVID-19 curve to civil rights hero Rosa Parks.
“I’m not hearing a lot of objections of people on the left,” Moore told CBS News. “It’s interesting to me that the right has become more the Rosa Parks of the world than the left is.”
“I call these people modern-day Rosa Parks,” Moore went on to tell The Washington Post. “They are protesting against injustice and a loss of liberties.”
Moore had multiple occasions to rethink his position. Instead, he simply double-downed on his conclusion that right wing zealots upset they can’t return to work are comparable to the woman who, in 1955, lit the fuse on the Montgomery, Alabama, anti-segregation, bus boycott after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. The clear difference is that, while Parks risked her own life to save the life and dignity of others, these protesters are endangering their own lives and the lives of others, by ensuring that COVID-19 will continue to spread.
The protests have popped up in states like Michigan, where some protesters carried signs comparing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler alongside Trump-Pence 2020, and “Open Michigan, Stop the Tyranny” signs. Protesters have also decried stay-at-home orders in Maryland, Texas, and my home state of Ohio with signs of “Fire Fauci!” and “Liberate.” It’s frightening enough that they believe these things, it’s more terrifying still that these dangerous beliefs are openly endorsed by members of the current administration..
Moore is a high-ranking economic advisor at the forefront of the administration’s coronavirus response, including the back-to-work council featuring Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. His comments came after Trump repeatedly sent mixed signals on reopening the country on Twitter and during press conferences.
The purpose of social-distancing orders is to prevent sick people, especially those who may not show signs of illness, from coming into contact with others in order to reduce the spread of transmission of COVID-19. It isn’t that these orders are perfect in their enforcement and don’t have negative repercussions. Just last week, I covered how many of these orders have criminal penalties attached and this will largely impact Black people and other system-impacted communities who are already testing positive at higher rates due to structural racism.
As I noted in the op-ed, “Criminalization itself is a public health crisis and is deeply rooted in the fabric of the United States. Calling law enforcement on people who violate stay-at-home orders — intentionally or not — is not a solution. Arresting and jailing people from marginalized communities will not flatten COVID-19’s curve. Instead, it will put people who are at high risk together and will only serve to spread the virus further.”
But these protesters aren’t disavowing these orders to prove a point about criminalization, they are angry because they can’t go about business-as-usual and without facing small penalties for doing so.
According to one Maryland protester, “We are petitioning our governor, Larry Hogan, to immediately reopen our state’s business, educational and religious institutions,” the protest organizers wrote in an online letter, arguing that, while coronavirus was a serious public health concern, “the economic, social and educational disruption caused by shutdowns is guaranteed to cause significant, even greater, harm.”
We are all worried about the long-term harm of the coronavirus. But while protesters are publicly violating stay-at-home orders and facing minimal consequences, they are only making our chances of returning to something resembling life as we knew it worse.
Thankfully, these demonstrators are in the minority. Two-thirds of Americans fear that state governments will lift restrictions on public activity too quickly, compared with only one third who worry they will not do so quickly enough, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of nearly 5,000 Americans.
These protesters are not Rosa Parks. They aren’t liberating anyone. They are spreading diseases as they have done since Europeans invaded the Americas more than 500 years ago. Given this selfish, dangerous, genocidal behavior, I fear many more Black, Indigenous, and Latinx lives will be snatched away.
Preston Mitchum is the Director of Policy with URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. URGE is a multistate reproductive justice organization powered by young people in the South and Midwest.
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