Earlier this month, over 1,000 public health professionals, infectious disease professionals, and community stakeholders wrote an open letter entitled “Open letter advocating for an anti-racist public health response to demonstrations against systemic injustice occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In the letter, they praise protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement while insulting and defaming protests against authoritarian government restrictions. In regards to the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the letter reads, “A public health response to these demonstrations is also warranted, but this message must be wholly different from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders.”
It is disturbing that public health professionals would openly advocate such disparate treatment towards protesters based on whether or not they personally agree with the message of the protest.
When it comes to Black Lives Matter protests, the letter reads: “We do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States.”
The letter urges everyone to “support local and state governments in upholding the right to protest and allow protesters to gather.” The letter recommends that authorities neither disband protests, not arrest protesters, nor use tear gas or any other type of respiratory irritant. The letter encourages bystanders to provide masks, hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer, face shields, goggles, and wrapped, single-serving food and beverages to protesters. (This suggestion is particularly jarring when contrasted with the uproar that took place when a college allowed police officers keeping order during a protest to use its bathroom.) And the letter urges people to donate to protesters’ bail funds.
On the other hand, when it comes to protests against authoritarian government policies, the letter has this to say:
“On April 30, heavily armed and predominantly white protesters entered the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, protesting stay-home orders and calls for widespread public masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Infectious disease physicians and public health officials publicly condemned these actions and privately mourned the widening rift between leaders in science and a subset of the communities that they serve.”
How could the authors of this letter condemn people who are not only doing nothing wrong, but bravely standing up for individual rights? Stay-at-home orders are morally wrong, and therefore protesters in Michigan (and all over the country) were 100% correct in protesting against them. It is the stay-at-home orders that should be condemned, not those protesting against them. And how could someone “mourn” the fact that people are protesting against a morally wrong government policy? The real cause for mourning is the fact that so-called “leaders in science” have lost all sense of right and wrong and think nothing of throwing away individual rights and freedom in the name of safety. If there is a rift between leaders in science and people who are standing up for individual rights, it is the leaders in science who are on the wrong side.
Why does the letter mention that the anti-lockdown protesters were “heavily armed and predominantly white”? People have a right to bear arms; the protesters were not doing anything wrong by being heavily armed. Additionally, their race is irrelevant. Believing that people should have a right to move about freely and that the government does not have a right to order people to stay in their homes has nothing to do with race. But despite this, the authors of the letter repeatedly categorize the anti-lockdown protesters as “white” and even go so far as to accuse the protests of being “rooted in white nationalism.”
Clarifying its position on Black Lives Matter protests, the letter states that this position “should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders. Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives.”
How is protesting against authoritarian government policies “rooted in white nationalism”? And how does this “run contrary to respect for Black lives”? In addition to accusing protesters of being white nationalists while providing no evidence to support that claim, the letter appears to be stating that respect for Black lives requires people to accept government policies that take away everyone’s freedom of movement. This is a preposterous claim. No person, of any race, has the right to demand that others shelter in their homes in order to keep him or her safe. No sane person could find it disrespectful for others to go about their lives and mind their own business. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Allowing people to make their own decisions about risk is the only way to truly respect not just Black lives but lives of all races. Paternalistic and authoritarian government policies such as stay-at-home orders are disrespectful to all people, and protesting against them demonstrates true respect for Black lives and all lives.
Also, the fact that the anti-lockdown protests “oppose public health interventions” is not a bad thing. The public health interventions being challenged are morally wrong because they violate people’s rights to move about freely, and therefore it is correct to oppose them.
Furthermore, the letter demands that the public “listen, and prioritize the needs of Black people as expressed by Black voices.” Although this might sound like a nice sentiment, when you think about it, it is actually racist. Of course, everyone should listen to Black voices, just as everyone should listen to the voices of people of all races. But it is wrong to prioritize the needs of Black people, because the needs of all races matter equally. To prioritize the needs of Black people over the needs of others is racist and discriminatory.
So to sum up, the authors of this letter are on the wrong side of the issue of individual rights versus safety, are mischaracterizing this issue as having to do with race when it does not, and are also advocating that Black people be given preferential treatment over other races. They are advocating that protests with which they personally agree be not only permitted but actively supported and encouraged, while singling out protests with which they personally disagree for insults and condemnation. People with such racist attitudes and such disrespect for the rights of those they claim to serve have no business holding positions of leadership in their communities of in the field of public health. Each person who signed this letter should be fired from his or her job and should be sued for defamation.