I see reporters trying to find a normal angle when they write about a very abnormal announcement today on American risk management during a pandemic:
…a new plan to reopen swaths of the country shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic via a targeted, county-by-county mitigation effort…administration would categorize counties as “high risk, medium risk and low risk.” This would allow areas less impacted by the virus to put in place looser restrictions than ones that have been ravaged by the illness. It’s uncertain how effective such labels may be in containing the virus, however, given that asymptomatic carriers may move from region to region undetected…
Uncertain? It’s pretty clear just like using racist taunts to distract from a global pandemic this is not about containing the virus, it’s about restructuring power in America.
Looser restrictions in a county would encourage movement into it by the most contagious people (the asymptomatic). ScienceNews warns, for example. “Coronavirus is most contagious before and during the first week of symptoms“. Low risk counties would allow movement of the most high risk, which sounds plain stupid and dangerous.
So it begs an all too important question of how counties surrounded by high risk could even be expected to enforce tests of the asymptomatic at borders; how would they stay low risk while encouraging those most at risk to move about more? But wait one minute, what if that’s the wrong question entirely and there’s no intent to stop the spread of the virus?
Who gains new enforcement powers, and why, is the real key to this story.
The idea of county authority being used to stop the spread of a virus, thus bypassing the legal authority of states in favor of its counties, makes no sense until you move into a completely different frame of reference.
The White House giving a nod directly to county law enforcement for the special position to trap and keep people away who pose a “threat” to their jurisdiction…has a particular significance in politics and in American history.
America’s Black Holocaust explains how someone accustomed to exclusionary thinking might settle on counties being the preferred unit to handle boundary enforcement powers in America.
Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs. Others passed laws barring African Americans after dark or prohibiting them from owning or renting property. Still others just harassed and even killed those who violated the custom. Some sundown towns also kept out Jews, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, or other groups. Sundown towns range in size from tiny villages to cities. There are also many “sundown suburbs” and neighborhoods -– and even entire counties.
Even entire counties.
How have counties handled enforcement of borders, especially when it comes to keeping non-whites out? The answer is a colonial-era concept of the Sheriff, an elected and very political position without accountability.
Don’t believe anyone who suggests Sheriffs are automatically somehow representative of their county population’s best interests, given they may be elected without any real qualifications at all. Also, when we look across America, the data says 80% are white and only 41 out of 3,000 are women.
Here’s an example of a Sheriff’s bizarre response to the pandemic:
…the government had forced the unnamed [infectious COVID-19] man to stay in his home. But this week, Nelson County Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa told the Kentucky Standard that deputies will park outside of the man’s home for 24 hours a day for two weeks.
Parking multiple deputized people outside a man’s home 24 hours a day is a taxpayer-funded protest, not a quarantine. They might as well be burning a cross on his lawn to send him a message about what happens if he leaves his home.
In case you missed the other news in the past year or so, it has been that Sheriffs in America are agitating for even more unaccountable power. They sometimes have a particularly virulent strains of extreme right-wing thinking and see themselves as militants at war with other Americans.
With his red “Make America Great” hat prominently displayed in his office here in Titusville, Ivey is part of a wave of county sheriffs who feel emboldened by [the White House occupant’s] agenda, becoming vocal foot soldiers in the nation’s testy political and culture wars.
The 2018 National Sheriffs Association event also recently brought forward some gushing commentary about how the White House and American political seats of county law enforcement are in lock-step.
“[Shaking hands with the White House occupant] was a highlight of what I have been doing all these years,” [Dickson County Sheriff] Bledsoe added. “It was a privilege and honor to be a part of that and meeting other sheriffs and having some common goals…”
A Sheriff having common goals with the current White House should concern everyone in America, if history is any guide.
Of course you might say not all Sheriffs are bad in America, and you’d be right. But think of it this way instead, Sheriffs who are the most loyal to the White House agenda would get discretionary powers while Sheriffs who don’t offer enough fealty get ranked as high risk until they are voted out.
I’ve written about problems like this here before in regard to a particular 2019 Sheriff in Iowa who arrested two men as they were working on a security project, because he didn’t like being audited and didn’t respect any higher authority than himself:
I’ve also written about it here before in regard to a particular 1960 Sheriff in Arkansas who murdered an innocent black man, fabricated a story about it with fake evidence and intimidated witnesses into silence, and faced no consequences:
And I’ve even written about it here before in regard to a particular 1917 Sheriff in Arizona engaging in militant “culture war” (ethnic cleansing):
A bonus reference is that last blog post includes yet another example, the 1897 Lattimer massacre:
…Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian and German miners killed by being shot in the back by a Sheriff who decided to end legal protests by murdering everyone.
Sure there are good Sheriffs, but this is really about shifting dramatic new amounts of power to the bad ones.
There’s little positive outcome I see ahead from an America First platform of the White House when it uses a cover of pandemic concerns to propose more labeling and discriminatory power go directly to counties for their Sheriffs to enforce. Let’s be clear here that America First in 1916 meant KKK, in 1936 it meant Nazis…today it still means the same things.
These are the people who thrive on social unrest coming from high unemployment and who use fear-laced xenophobia to seize excessive powers through militant actions in what they see as their “culture war” (ethnic cleansing) to preserve white supremacy.
…a neo-Nazi movement leader based in northern Europe, said that he welcomed the pandemic as a necessary step to help create the world that his group wants to see. …it’s possible that a member of the target audience will decide to take action and commit an act of violence.
To me the announcement today has every appearance of turning America backwards 150 years towards the kind of white police state organized at the county-level that extremist right-wing violent groups like “Posse Comitatus” and “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom”, let alone America First, have very long dreamed about.
Ari Ne’eman, a scholar at Brandeis University, put it best when she said:
What this is really about at the end of the day is whether our civil rights laws still apply in a pandemic. I think that’s a pretty core question as to who we are as a country.
Anyone who knows a little Sundown Town history, or has spent time inside white supremacist groups, probably heard some very familiar and distinct sounds being whistled today.
“…although many former sundown towns are now integrated, they often face ‘second-generation sundown town issues,’ such as in Ferguson, Missouri, a former sundown town that is now majority black, but with a majority-white police force.”
And now this…