With the advent of COVID-19, social distancing has become a measure recommended by virtually every government. States across America have different reopening plans for the economy and personal freedoms of people living in each state, but typically these plans include recommendations to stay six feet apart when in public, wear face coverings, and meet only in smaller groups or gatherings. American conservatives angry about their personal freedoms being “restricted” in the name of public health protested against lockdown measures.These protests were primarily undertaken by white conservatives, were mostly not socially distanced and had no face covering requirement; these protests had no police violence.
Within the past weeks, America has witnessed a different type of protest: country wide protests of demands for justice, change, and a condemnation of systemic racism. These country wide protests have been fueled by the murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of white police officer Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers, who stood by and condoned the murder of an already subdued black man accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
The protests, a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, have faced opposition from many privileged and powerful people and institutions, and one facet of this has been speculation about the connection between COVID-19 and these protests. This is an incredibly weak argument against protests. Protests across the country are filled with many people wearing face coverings, recommended by the CDC to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Further weakening their argument is the hypocrisy of the conservatives who so often espout it. They claim that the health of the populace is their utmost priority, saying that the protests harm it, and implying their actions and policies preserve it. This is utter nonsense; conservatives stand by a president who continuously refuses to wear a face covering and since day one of the pandemic has advocated with reckless abandon downplaying the disease and keeping the country as open as possible.
On top of supporting a president who makes a mockery of reasonable public health measures, conservatives have advocated the use of tear gas by police against protestors. Beyond the already horrendous fact that use of tear gas is a violation of the Geneva Convention, and thus a war crime, it also inflames the lungs of those it’s used on. This is especially worrisome given that COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, and those with lung problems are more susceptible to both getting it and having a worse prognosis if they do get it.
At the heart of this conservative argument is not care for public health or compassion for those standing up to racial injustice; no, at the heart of this argument is racists scrambling for a socially acceptable tactic they can use to fight against the protests.