The Houston Police Officers' Union refuses to enforce 'draconian measures'
Tyrants believe in themselves. Those committed to liberty believe in the people. Today, tyrants mandate that people isolate themselves or wear masks and enforce that mandate with the police state. Those committed to liberty educate the people about the importance of taking steps to protect themselves from epidemic disease and then trust that the people will make the right decisions. The stark dichotomy between those two worldviews just played out in Houston in an ideological battle between the Harris County leadership and the Houston Police Officers' Union.
This battle royale between freedom and tyranny began on Wednesday, when Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo, a 29-year-old Democrat originally from Colombia, ordered that, beginning on Monday, Houston residents must wear masks or face hefty penalties:
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday ordered residents to cover their faces in public starting next week, the latest effort by local governments to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The new rules, which require residents 10 and older to cover their nose and mouth when outside the home, take effect Monday and last 30 days. Acceptable garments include a homemade mask, scarf, bandana or handkerchief. Medical masks or N-95 respirators are not recommended as they are most needed by first responders and health workers.
Under the order, the county's 4.7 million residents must cover their faces at all times except when exercising, eating or drinking; the exemptions also include when individuals are alone in a separate single space, at home with roommates or family, or when wearing a mask poses a greater risk to security, mental or physical health. Violating the mask rules is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, though Hidalgo urged police to use discretion.
Did you catch that last word — "discretion"? The Houston Police Officers' Union took that word and ran with it. Joe Gamaldi, the Lodge 110 president, authored a fiery letter saying discretion lies with police officers, not with a "so-called leader of Harris County [who] lacks any critical thinking skills." While the police highly approve of mask-wearing to optimize public safety and recommend that people wear masks, the order is impossible to enforce and almost certainly violates people's constitutional rights.
Had the county judge been thinking, says Gamaldi, she would have known that the police officers are spread so thin that it is both impossible and unreasonable to ask them to police something that he characterizes as a "draconian measure." As far as Gamaldi and his fellow officers are concerned, "[w]e do not have time to be pawns in Hidalgo's game of attempting to control the actions of law abiding, tax paying individuals of our community." Making "this idiotic order" even worse, Gamaldi added, is the fact that it is "possibly an unconstitutional one" emanating from "the County Judge."
HPOU response to @LinaHidalgoTX draconian mask order: “Now we want to be very clear, HPOU believes everyone should be wearing a mask in public, in order to protect themselves from the virus and we are encouraging all of our officers to wear a mask. However, we draw the line...” pic.twitter.com/XbphfNYHii— Houston Police Officers' Union (@HPOUTX) April 22, 2020
Houston's police officers weren't the only ones upset with the order:
Republican Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick accused Hidalgo of abusing her authority and said residents would be justified to react with anger. U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw said mask guidelines made sense, but punishments would "lead us to government tyranny."
Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson blasted the rules as an "unenforceable power grab."
Harris County Democrats have not addressed the constitutionality of their order or the consequences for violating it. They simply say that "the public will be safer with masks on."
Meanwhile, in California, the Highway Patrol has gone in the other direction:
The California Highway Patrol said Wednesday that it is temporarily banning rallies at the state Capitol and other state facilities because of the pandemic.
The change in policy came after hundreds of protesters gathered on the Capitol grounds in Sacramento on Monday, many without wearing masks or following recommendations to remain more than 6 feet apart to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The same group had planned additional rallies in coming days against Gov. Gavin Newsom's orders that people remain at home except for essential activities. Additional similar rallies have been happening across California and the nation, with more planned.
"In the interest of public safety and the health of all Californians during the COVID-19 pandemic, effective immediately the California Highway Patrol will deny any permit requests for events or activities at all state facilities, to include the State Capitol, until public health officials have determined it is safe to gather again," the CHP said in a statement.
What's happening in Harris County and in California is rule by fear, a tyrant's favorite weapon. Once again, it's time for Americans to decide whether, in a world that always has risks, they want a tyranny that cannot prevent the millions of deaths that flow from economic collapse or a free nation in which disease is always a factor to be guarded against through intelligence and reasonable precautions.