bookmark_borderGeorge Floyd’s death was an injustice, but so is destroying innocent people’s property

The death of George Floyd while in police custody after being pinned to the ground by a police officer was horrible and morally wrong. Few people who have watched the video of his arrest would argue against that. The four officers involved deserved to be fired and arguably deserve to be charged with homicide for their actions.

But you know what else is horrible and morally wrong? Destroying innocent people’s property.

That is exactly what protesters have done over the past two days in Minneapolis. Understandably angry about Floyd’s death, people not so understandably burned a nearly completed apartment building to the ground, looted a pawn shop and a Foot Locker store, destroyed and looted a recently renovated Target store, and damaged numerous other commercial buildings.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz activated the National Guard, saying: “Unfortunately, some individuals have engaged in unlawful and dangerous activity, including arson, rioting, looting, and damaging public and private property. These activities threaten the safety of lawful demonstrators and other Minnesotans, and both first responders and demonstrators have already been injured.”

Every individual who damaged or stole property during these riots should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. People have every right to protest peacefully against police brutality, but they do not have the right to damage or steal the property of innocent people. These acts of destruction are senseless because they are being committed against people who have absolutely nothing to do with Floyd’s death.

My question to the rioters is: what did the partially completed apartment building do wrong to deserve your wrath? What did the Target do to you? How about the pawn shop, or the sneaker store?

These buildings did nothing wrong, nor did the people and/or companies who own them. Protests should be directed against the people and institutions who actually did something wrong, not against innocent people and their property.

bookmark_borderGerman soldiers’ graves are part of history and should not be removed

Two members of the House of Representatives have decided to use Memorial Day as an occasion to demand the removal of the graves of three German soldiers from veterans’ cemeteries.

There are two headstones for German soldiers at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, each of which features a swastika inside a German cross and the phrase, “He died far from his home for the Fuhrer, people, and fatherland.” Another similar headstone is at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) and Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who lead the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie which read in part:

Allowing these gravestones with symbols and messages of hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide is especially offensive to all the veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life… a stain on the hallowed ground where so many veterans and their families are laid to rest. Families who visit their loved ones, who are buried in the same cemeteries with the Nazi soldiers whom they fought against, should never have to confront symbols of hatred that are antithetical to our American values… There is no excuse for VA to continue to maintain these headstones.

The gravestones were created before the Veterans Administration assumed responsibility for the two cemeteries, and the VA has left them in place because of a federal law requiring protection of historic resources for the benefit of present and future generations. But Schultz and Carter called the failure to remove them “callous, irresponsible and unacceptable.”

I completely disagree. Unless I am misunderstanding their letter, Schultz and Carter are demanding that headstones for dead soldiers be taken down. That is nothing short of unconscionable.

It is true that the government of Nazi Germany practiced hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide, as Schultz and Carter point out. But the three soldiers whose graves are in question did not necessarily do any of these things. And even if they did, do Schlutz and Carter believe that any person who is not perfect does not deserve to have a gravestone? I doubt any of the American soldiers buried in these cemeteries was a perfect person; no matter how heroic or honorable, every person has flaws. Not to mention the fact that the U.S. government and way of life are far from perfect as well. Where do Schultz and Carter think the line should be drawn between those who deserve a gravestone and those who do not?

I fail to see the problem with allowing three graves of soldiers from the losing side of a war to exist among thousands of graves of soldiers from the winning side. There is no rule that only graves of soldiers from the winning side of a war should be allowed to exist. There is no right to go through life without ever seeing something that you dislike or disagree with.

To describe the graves of three German soldiers who died far from home as a “stain” on hallowed ground is ridiculous.

Not only is it incorrect for Schultz and Carter to say that there is no excuse for the VA to maintain the gravestones; there are actually two completely valid reasons for the VA to do so. First, as the VA has argued, the gravestones are historical artifacts, and the world would be a worse place without them. Second, removing the gravestones would be incredibly disrespectful to these soldiers who fought bravely for a cause that they believed in. Obviously, their cause is one that the vast majority of people in America and the world today do not believe in. But that does not justify trashing the memory of these soldiers by desecrating their graves.

Ironically, Schultz and Carter are demonstrating hatred and intolerance by calling so vehemently for the removal of these gravestones. To remove the gravestones would truly be callous, irresponsible, and unacceptable.

Every soldier deserves to be remembered, no matter which side he or she fought for.

bookmark_borderThis weekend in overzealous social distancing enforcement…

In one of the latest examples of overzealous attempts to fight the spread of COVID-19, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham banned a drive-in movie theater from reopening.

According to the Washington Times, city officials in Las Vegas, New Mexico believed that the state government had given the drive-in the OK, and a showing of “Trolls World Tour” and “Doolittle” was planned. But then the governor called the county’s emergency management department and told them the drive-in wasn’t allowed to open after all. “The governor’s office said they would treat the drive-in just like any other movie theater,” said Mayor Louie Trujillo.

This makes no sense. A drive-in, where people sit in their cars in an outdoor field watching a movie on a huge screen, is completely different than a movie theater, where everyone is sitting in an indoor auditorium. If there is any form of entertainment well-suited to social distancing requirements, it would be a drive-in. I can think of no reason why a governor would ban a drive-in from operating, unless she is attempting to be as much of a jerk as possible and to ensure that none of her citizens are able to do anything remotely fun, ever.

In separate but similar news, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot dispatched three squad cars and two unmarked cars filled with armed officers… to shut down a church service.

Pastor Courtney Lewis was in the middle of his sermon at the Cornerstone Baptist Church when the police began to bang loudly on the front doors.

“All we are seeking is the same consideration and trust that is being tendered toward the liquor stores, abortion clinics, and Walmart,” the pastor said, according to the Geller Report. He described the arrival of the armed cops as “like the Soviet-style KGB… the only thing she hasn’t done yet is beat the doors down and arrest our members.”

Pastor Lewis wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney John Lausch which can be read here.

bookmark_borderTrump and DOJ join fight against authoritarian restrictions

President Trump is not perfect, and I don’t agree with him and his administration on all issues. However, it is encouraging that at least to some extent, he and Attorney General Bill Barr are pushing back against state governments’ restrictive measures designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in Illinois State Representative Darren Bailey’s lawsuit against Governor J.B. Pritzker. “Plaintiff has set forth a strong case that the Orders exceed the authority granted to the Governor by the Illinois legislature,” read the DOJ court filing.

A statement by Barr’s office said the court filing was part of his initiative “to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The state’s public health concern, the statement continued, “does not justify government restrictions imposed upon its citizens without legal authority.”

“However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the Governor under Illinois law,” said U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft of the Southern District of Illinois.

Additionally, President Trump has taken aim at states’ shutdowns of churches. “Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend,” he said at a press conference on Friday. He classified “houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services… Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

bookmark_borderLiberty Fest takes place in Sacramento, CA

Yesterday, the largest protest yet took place against California Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order.

2,000 people gathered outside the State Capitol in Sacramento to demand the re-opening of churches, gyms, barbershops, nail salons, and more. In addition to pro-freedom signs, speeches, and t-shirts, the rally featured food trucks, rock and country music, and haircuts by stylist La Donna Christensen, who set up temporary hair cutting stations in order to demonstrate that hair salons are safe and should be allowed to re-open.

According to the Sacramento Bee, some people wore t-shirts that read, “Resist. Rise. Revolt. Reopen.” An airplane circled around towing a banner that read, “End his tyranny.” 

Called Liberty Fest, this protest sounds like it was part political rally and part Memorial Day celebration. And I can think of no better way to celebrate Memorial Day weekend than fighting against authoritarianism.

bookmark_borderMississippi church burned down in horrendous hate crime

In a despicable act, someone burned down the First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

The church had sued the city government over its stay-at-home order which banned in-person services, and pastor Jerry Waldrop reportedly clashed with city officials at a demonstration at a local Walmart. The city had shut down a Bible study group at the church and cited Waldrop for holding an Easter mass.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, the words “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits” were spray-painted on the ground at the scene of the fire, along with an A inside an atomic symbol, a logo for atheism.

To his credit, the President of American Atheists, Nick Fish, called the arson a “heinous act of destruction.”

Clearly, the motivation of the arsonist was to target the church for standing up to the government’s COVID-19 restrictions. In other words, the arsonist committed his/her crime out of support for these authoritarian policies and out of a desire to punish those who fight back against them. This places this act of arson in the very worst category of crimes: members of the majority aggressing against an unpopular minority. This should be treated as a hate crime, and the perpetrator should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

bookmark_borderNew Virginia laws are the opposite of diversity and inclusion

Last month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed new laws giving cities and towns the power to remove Confederate monuments and beginning the process of replacing the statue of Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol.

“These laws make Virginia more equitable, just, and inclusive,” he said. “These monuments tell a particular version of history that doesn’t include everyone. In Virginia, that version of history has been given prominence and authority for far too long.”

State Senator Mamie Locke, who sponsored the bill to let cities remove monuments, voiced similar sentiments: “Virginia’s Confederate monuments were erected as symbols of a dangerous Jim Crow era. It is past time we told a more complete story of our history and work to build a Commonwealth that values everyone – no matter who you are.”

Delegate Delores McQuinn, who sponsored the House version of the bill, said, “Today marks an important step towards a more equitable and welcoming Commonwealth. Virginia’s history is difficult and complex, and it is important that we tell the full and true story of our past 400 years. These new laws will make our Commonwealth better.”

And Dr. Janice Underwood, the state’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, said “For more than 400 years, we’ve consciously oppressed and celebrated painful parts of Virginia’s past at the expense of those who are haunted by it the most. With these laws we are charting a new path for our Commonwealth – one that begins to tell a more complete story of who we are and honors our diversity as our greatest strength.”

The truth, however, is the exact opposite. The sentiments voiced by these politicians completely ignore the fact that those who admire Confederate leaders are also people, and their views and preferences also matter. Getting rid of Confederate monuments completely disregards the views of those who enjoy these statues and admire the soldiers and leaders whom the statues represent.

There are numerous legitimate reasons to admire Confederate leaders – their bravery, their sense of honor, their military skill, their loyalty to their home states, and the fact that they fought against a powerful federal government, just to name a few. The Confederacy was not merely about slavery, and the statues are not symbols of racism. They are symbols of people from history, who have both positive and negative attributes just like all people do. Lots of people don’t like the Confederacy or its leaders, and that’s fine. They have every right to lobby for the creation of statues of historical figures they do admire. They do not, however, have a right to lobby for the removal of statues they do not like. That is not fair to the people who like these statues and the historical figures they represent.

Unfortunately, the viewpoint that the Confederacy and everyone associated with it was bad, is the popular, politically correct viewpoint today. That does not make it right. To get rid of Confederate statues is to state that the popular, politically correct viewpoint is the only legitimate viewpoint there is. This completely excludes anyone with dissenting views. This is the exact opposite of making Virginia more equitable, just, welcoming, and inclusive. It is the opposite of diversity. It is the opposite of valuing everyone. In short, these laws allowing the removal of Confederate statues do the opposite of what the politicians who sponsored and signed the laws claim. They make Virginia, and America, a worse and less tolerant place.

bookmark_borderGym owner defies restrictions in MA

In my home state of Massachusetts, a gym owner is defying government restrictions and encouraging others to do the same.

Dave Blondin, owner of Prime Fitness & Nutrition in Oxford, MA, opened his business on Monday, even though Massachusetts will not allow gyms to open until “phase 3” of its reopening plan. Monday was the beginning of phase 1.

“Enough is enough,” Blondin said, according to the Boston Herald. “We need our sanity back. Gyms should join me. Every gym owner is essential… We need to stand our ground. We have to open our gyms.”

“They’re so happy and smiling being able to work out again,” he said of gym members. “It’s so important for their mental health, anxiety, stress, depression.” He added that members are unanimously supporting him and have offered to pay any fines that the gym incurs.

One gym member, a nurse, said: “I think it’s a great idea. It definitely helps with the mental health… I don’t think there’s any issue going on whatsoever.”

Blondin said in a Facebook video: “I would like to call upon all other gyms in Massachusetts to do the same. Whether you’re big, whether you’re small, whether you’re a studio, whatever you are, start opening your doors. We’re all in this together. If Walmart that’s right down the street can sit there and have 356 cars there, then we can work out.”

So far Blondin has received a verbal warning and a written warning from the Oxford Board of Health. The law authorizes a $300 fine for each day the gym is open, as well as eventually a cease and desist order. Yesterday, 7 News captured an exchange between Blondin and board of health agent Tom Purcell during which Purcell asked Blondin if there was anything he could to convince him to comply. “Nope, let me open my business and get back to my livelihood,” he replied.

Speaking to 7 News, Blondin said, “It’s not fair. We’ve been out of business for too long now. The eight weeks have gone by, and I’ve used my PPP (paycheck protection program) funds, and that’s it. Unless they want to fund me again, this is over.”

“It takes a lot to stand up to everybody who’s staying closed,” said gym member Samantha Chamberlain.

Blondin said to Channel 5/WCVB:”If the worst thing that they’re gonna do is give me a citation… I’m trying to choose my freedom. Yeah, I’ll take the citation.”

Town Manager Jennifer Callahan said she has received “many angry calls and emails from residents calling on the town to shutter this business immediately.” Why someone would make an angry call or send an angry email about people minding their own business is beyond me. Blondin and his members are doing nothing wrong, and I admire their courage in standing up to government overreach.

bookmark_borderAs restaurants open, warrantless searches should not be on the menu

As restrictions on people and businesses are gradually lifted, a disturbing new practice has emerged. Some cities and states are requiring restaurants and other businesses to collect information on customers to assist governments with contact tracing efforts.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is asking all businesses to keep track of everyone who enters their establishment. “Businesses will be expected to play a role and to have a plan in place to help track employees and clients in their space,” a city spokesperson said. Michael Hecht, the President of Greater New Orleans, Inc. voiced opposition to this idea, saying that business owners are concerned about “privacy of customer data and whether customers even want to give this data.”

In Kansas City, Missouri, restaurants must collect customers’ names, phone numbers, and check-in and check-out times.

Elsewhere in Kansas, Linn County implemented a similar requirement for a variety of businesses including restaurants, health clinics, dentists, pharmacies, banks, stores, and day care centers. A newspaper publisher and a restaurant owner have filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the requirement authorizes warrantless searches. “Constitutional rights do not get suspended during a pandemic,” said Samuel MacRoberts of the Kansas Justice Institute. “There is a clear process by which governments can obtain business and personal records. Unfortunately, Linn County has ignored that process and put the basic rights of its citizens in serious jeopardy.”

Austin, Texas is also requiring restaurants to keep a log of diners. The president of the Texas Restaurant Association, Emily Williams Knight, called the requirement “simply not right” and voiced concerns about the burden on small businesses and the privacy implications for customers.  

Rhode Island has enacted a similar policy. “Establishments shall maintain an employee work log and retain the names and contact information of individuals placing reservations for a period of at least 30 days and make this information available to RIDOH upon request for the purposes of contact tracing,” the phase 1 re-opening guidelines state.

In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee initially planned to require restaurants to track each customer’s name, email address, phone number, and what time they came in to eat. Fortunately, however, he changed his mind and made the data collection voluntary.

Hopefully these data collection requirements will not become the norm. People have a right to privacy. People have a right to live their lives without their activities being tracked and monitored. And people have a right to go about their business – including going to stores, restaurants, and bars – without anyone knowing their identity, if they so choose. Requiring people to provide their identities whenever they visit a restaurant or other business is a disturbing step towards a totalitarian society.

bookmark_borderArmed citizens to the rescue in Texas

The New York Times did an article recently about businesses that have been opening in defiance of government restrictions, and the armed citizens who have come to their aid.

In Shepherd, Texas, for example, tattoo artist Jamie Williams reopened her studio, called Crash-N-Burn, with the help of five armed activists determined to prevent police from arresting her. They set up a perimeter around the parking lot, outfitted with with AR-15s, camouflage vests, and walkie-talkies.

“I had a feeling that finally somebody had my back,” said Williams. “And it’s really sad that citizens are having my back as opposed to my government.”

“It’s not for looks,” said one of the armed men, J.P. Campbell of Freedom Fighters of Texas. “We’re willing to die.”

“I think it should be a business’s right if they want to close or open,” said Philip Archibald, another one of the activists. “What is coming to arrest a person who is opening their business according to their constitutional rights? That’s confrontation.”

Archibald has protested in support of and provided security for several businesses in Texas. In another instance, he and his group were on the scene when Big Daddy Zane’s bar opened in defiance of stay-at-home orders in Odessa, Texas. Sadly, cops arrived in an armored vehicle and arrested the bar’s owner and several of Archibald’s friends. He plans to travel to California and New Jersey to continue his activism.

“We go out there because we want peace, but we prepare for war,” said C.J. Grisham of Open Carry Texas. “I hope this never happens, but at some point guns are going to have to cease to be a show of force and be a response to force.”

At least one government official, County Judge Fritz Faulkner of San Jacinto County, where Crash-N-Burn is located, voiced support. “The powers that be came to their senses and said, ‘Look, you can’t do this,'” he said of the governor’s decision to stop criminal enforcement of the lockdown measures. “Now, my personal opinion is, if a barbershop can open, I don’t know why a tattoo shop couldn’t open.”

Unsurprisingly, Ed Scruggs, president of Texas Gun Sense, criticized citizens for exercising their Second Amendment rights and standing up for the rights of their fellow citizens. “People are nervous enough as it is, and then to see people walking around with AR-15s in public places, gathered together like that, is unnerving and upsetting,” he said. “The entire goal is intimidation and attention.”

I couldn’t disagree more. People have every right to walk around with AR-15s in public places. I can think of few sights more uplifting or inspiring than ordinary Americans bravely standing up to tyranny. Unnerving and upsetting? No way! Plus, standing up for the rights of businesses and individuals is not intimidation. It is the government that is practicing intimidation by arresting and threatening to arrest people who have done nothing wrong. These activists are simply defending their rights. I salute their bravery and their willingness to risk their lives for their principles.