Does society have a right to institute rules and laws to protect its citizens from preventable harm?
Self-evident, isn’t it?
Especially in democracies where the laws are written by representatives of the people. Are we on the same page so far? Is this something both liberals and conservatives agree on — the rule of law?
Don’t get ahead of me. Both sides will say, yeah, but what about unjust laws?
When there is a question about the legitimacy of a law, there are two remedies.
First, the courts, which provide a check on the legislative branch.
Second, the legislature. If Congress passes a law with flaws, Congress can undo its mistake. (Civil disobedience, deliberately breaking the law, is a possible remedy, but that winds up in the courts.)
Penalties for breaking the law must be reasonable. You shouldn’t send someone to jail for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread. (You’re welcome, fans of Les Miserables.)
Let’s switch to current-day Philadelphia.
Mayor Jim Kenney last week increased fines on violators of the city’s COVID-19 health orders, such as masks in public, and no congregating. The $300 fine has been shelved. Here’s what we have now:
Business. The penalty for violating regulations is now $2,000 per incident.
Individuals. $500 per violation.
Enforcement officers, Kenney said, will be authorized to reduce the fines, from $2,000 to $700, and from $500 to $250. Huh? Is this Discount City?
Two predictions here. The regular fine is so high cops won’t write them. The city may have realized that, and put in place the on-the-spot discounts.
Second, there will be charges of discrimination when some people get the discount and others don’t.
The mayor’s office says people who see rules being violated can call 311 or tweet @philly311.
And that’s where this thing becomes a controversy. Various municipalities have asked citizens to report wrong doers.
As I’ve noted before, there was a knee jerk response to this as if reporting was a hat tip to the Gestapo, the German Stasi, the KGB, or the Chinese Communist secret police. They were called snitch lines.
Is that fair? Not one example of neighborly tattling is a democratic society.
The pushback against whistle-blowing is especially strong on right-wing talk radio. Suddenly, the Right has become limp-wristed enablers. Wow.
Here’s how I lay out the issue: Face masks are to protect others, so when you do not wear a face mask, you are putting me at risk. When you spread the pandemic you put others at risk. Where do you get the nerve?
Worse, there were several cases where some jokers spat on food in groceries, or at cops. They were arrested and some on the Right carried on as if their rights had been cancelled.
How different is this from telling people, “If you see something, say something,” in this age of terror? Is that snitching, too? How about dialing 911 if you see a burglary in progress?
I can’t prove this, but I will bet every person who hates the so-called snitch line also screams bloody murder at the ghetto “no snitching” credo that punishes those who help police solve a crime.
And please hold Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death.”
You have your liberty. I do not want avoidable death.