Remember last week, when I wrote about the guy in Santee, California who went to his local grocery store while donning a KKK-esque hood and mask? In my post about him, I hypothesized that he was simply pissed off about having to wear a mask and decided to protest while still “technically” following the rules. Personally, I think his hood looks a lot like a dunce cap.
According to multiple news stories that were circulating yesterday, it looks like my assumption of what he was trying to do was correct. After he was questioned by local authorities about his decision to dress like a Klansman, the guy explained that he was angry about being told that he must wear a face mask in public, so he decided to rebel against the rules while still technically abiding by them. He told the police that the hood he wore was not intended to be a racial statement, saying “It was a mask, and it was stupid.” So the San Diego Sheriff’s Department has declined to press charges against him at this time.
I haven’t taken the time to look for many reactions to this decision. I’m sure a lot of people are still angry about it and think this guy should go to jail for wearing that hood to the grocery store. However, the Constitution still protects free speech, even speech that is considered hateful. According to the article I linked, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department offered this statement:
“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that ‘[s]peech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate,'”
And, as distasteful as the man’s actions are, I am relieved to hear that he hasn’t been arrested. I think too many people are locked up as it is, particularly for non-violent crimes. This is a stressful time for everyone, and I completely understand why many people are frustrated, confused, scared, and angry by this “new normal”. I actually shudder to call it that. I hope this face mask requirement doesn’t become normal for the rest of my life, because I hate it. I also hate the “hall monitor” attitude and borderline hysteria it’s brought out in a lot of people, on either side of the argument.
Moreover, I think banning or restricting any facet of free speech or expression is a slippery slope that can lead to disastrous consequences. To be clear, I don’t have an issue with people facing consequences for making hateful statements, but I would not want to see actual laws passed to restrict speech or expression. As a writer, that would be deadly to my craft. (and I fully understand that some of my readers don’t take what I do seriously and don’t think of me as a writer… that’s fine with me, although I think some of you need to get a life)
Anyway… what that guy did was probably less horrible than what some other people are doing in the wake of being required to cover their mouths and noses. At least in his case, no one was injured and there was no property damaged. This morning, I read about two men trying to shop at a California Target store without face masks. A security guard tried to insist that they wear masks and they got into a fight with him, resulting in the guard’s left arm being broken. The maskless men are now facing felony battery charges.
I read another story this morning about a maskless guy at a 7 Eleven in Oakland Hills, California who become violent when he was asked to wear a mask. The 7 Eleven clerks refused to serve him and he stormed out of the store, kicking and shattering the glass door.
A Family Dollar security guard was fatally shot in Flint, Michigan, because he told a customer that her child needed to wear a face mask. The customer yelled at the guard, spat at him, and drove off. Twenty minutes later, the woman’s husband and adult son came to the store, confronted the security guard, and the adult son pulled out a weapon and killed the security guard.
There have been other incidences of violence… really too many to list in this post, although you can follow the link and find more stories of people losing their shit over what they deem government official overreach. It’s definitely distressing to see people toting their guns to state capitals, threatening and screaming at officials, and protesting against the face mask rules. I am certainly not a fan of the masks, and have stated more than once that I have my doubts that they are that effective. Nevertheless, I would never become violent over having to wear them, nor do I not comply with the rule. I simply stay home as much as possible. I figure nobody wants or needs to see me, anyway.
I feel very grateful to be in Germany for this crisis. Germans, from what I’ve seen so far, are pretty sensible about this situation. And even if sometimes Germans as a whole can be confrontational, they aren’t typically violent here. Even if someone came to blows over face masks, there are a lot fewer guns here anyway.
Americans are losing their damned minds on both sides of this debate. A couple of days ago, I read a very interesting op-ed about social distancing shamers. Personally, I agreed very much with what Amanda Hess wrote in her editorial for The New York Times. Against my better judgment, I read some of the comments for that piece. Granted, many people commenting are New Yorkers, and New York City, while being a very densely populated place, has also been hard hit by the virus. I can understand why many people there are “hardasses” about the masks. On the other hand, people don’t like being ordered around by busybodies, and the presence of the deadly coronavirus doesn’t change that.
As I was reading the comments for that post last night, I kept seeing the same shrill toned sentiments by a few people who defended their shaming and policing, claiming that the shaming will “save lives”. Personally, I disagree. In my experience, shaming doesn’t usually inspire people to want to comply with demands, particularly when the shaming comes from some shrill voiced pest. That technique probably works better in cultures in Asia, where people are much more community minded. Western cultures tend to value individualism and personal freedoms more, and people don’t like being told what to do, even by their leaders.
I don’t know about you, but when someone tries to shame me, my first emotions are almost always irritation and anger, not a desire to comply. But I’m reasonable enough that I do usually think about what the other person is saying and consider whether or not it has merit. Maybe I’ll change my behavior, but it’s more than likely I won’t. Why? Because I’m a competent adult who can think for herself. I’m more likely to tell the shamer to fuck off. At the very least, they’ll get a serious load of my bitch face, which I’m told by some is pretty devastating. (ha ha ha)
I wouldn’t dream of going up to someone I don’t know and berating them for not doing what I think they should be doing. For all I know, they have a good reason for not following the rules and their reasons probably aren’t any of my business. It’s not my place to call them out unless they’re doing something that directly affects me. If it’s something very serious, illegal, or dangerous, in most situations, I’ll call the police or someone else who has been designated as an authority figure. Otherwise, I’ll just give them a wide berth and go on about my business.
I’ve also noticed that some people think the masks must be on at all times, even if social distancing is entirely possible. The rules I’ve seen have specified that the masks are to be worn when social distancing isn’t possible– that means you can’t stay more than six feet apart from someone else. Some people have taken it upon themselves to shame people even if they’re totally able to be more than six feet away from others. They insist that they have the right because they’re “scared”. That seems like a very imbalanced view caused by hysteria. I, for one, don’t want hysterical people dictating what I can and can’t do, especially when their hysteria is entirely based on their own emotions. I prefer taking direction from people who aren’t hysterical and make rules based on science and facts, rather than fear.
In some of the comments on that article, people were relating stories about being screamed at for not wearing a mask in public when they were nowhere near anyone else. In one story, the shamer, confident in her “moral highground”, came up to a guy and started yelling at him, but she had her mask pulled down as she was doing it. The guy she was yelling at was not near anyone else and he was minding his own business. But she still felt entitled to yell at him because she was scared and was obviously feeling emboldened by her fear.
A year or two ago, people were calling out folks for being confrontational. Remember Barbecue Becky and Permit Patty? These were white women who felt okay about confronting people about what they were doing in public. And folks were all up in arms about that, mainly because the people being shamed were people of color and calling the police on people of color can be very dangerous or even deadly. People took it out on them by smearing them online and making them go viral.
But now, the same people who were angry about the confrontations of two years ago, are now okay with confronting people who don’t want to wear masks, even though the masks are probably much more about making other people feel better psychologically than actually controlling the spread of the virus. I suppose there’s value in placating the scared among us, but I hope it’s not something that will be expected for the rest of our lives. It’s bad enough that the virus has taken away people who were too young to die, and things that are wonderful like travel, good health, eating in restaurants, listening to choirs, brass bands, and woodwinds, and visiting friends and relatives in person. Do we have to turn into oppressive, insufferable assholes, too?
Like I said… I personally don’t really think the masks are that helpful, and while some people are comforted by seeing people wearing them, they give me the creeps. So I simply stay home. That way, not only do I avoid most people who can make me sick, I also avoid people who feel the need to lecture and harass others… as well as those who would resort to violence over being asked to wear a mask. I also don’t have to be reminded of how sad and hopeless life feels right now. I may change my mind as time goes on… and I feel very lucky that I’m not in the United States, where so many people do have guns, short tempers, and the unshakable idea that they’re in the right.