Lack of response to anti-shutdown protests reveals double standards of law enforcement

We’ve been told, time and time again, that history repeats itself. 

It repeated itself when the Great Recession of 2008 hit, and was compared to the Great Depression on a lesser scale. It repeated itself when the #BlackLivesMatter movement began to mirror the civil rights movement. And some even say that history is currently repeating itself, suggesting that COVID-19 mirrors the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago. 

But when it comes to protests, it’s difficult to see history repeating itself at all. Law enforcement has met past peaceful protests of Native Americans with threats and violence. Recently though, they failed to hold the predominantly white group of anti-shutdown protesters accountable.

By the time the protests had begun, only eight states in America had no stay-at-home orders. Almost none of the largest anti-shutdown protests took place in those eight states.

Armed with firearms but few masks or gloves, many of the protesters jeopardized public health and threatened to further strain healthcare workers and resources in doing so. Yet somehow, minimal law enforcement was present to stop them. Healthcare workers acted as the strongest barricades, standing in front of parading cars. 

But law enforcement was there throughout 2016, when Native Americans planted their feet on the fields of North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

The pipeline route would have disrupted both wildlife and Indigenous cultural grounds, but the Indigenous protesters remained peaceful. They did nothing but stand in the way of the construction. They acted for the sake of preserving cultural history and wildlife. They emphasized their peaceful and unarmed forms of protesting. 

Yet they were met with pepper spray, rubber bullets and water hoses from law enforcement. Their peace was met with violence.

The recent anti-shutdown protests put lives at stake—and for a flimsy cause. While the protestors argue that remaining in lockdown could cost more lives than the pandemic itself, scientific data doesn’t support that idea.

Many protesters claim that putting the vulnerable at a risk of health is worth allowing the country to pick back up economically, but that neglects the fact that the healthy have died too. It neglects the fact that if this virus spreads even further, our healthcare system will be overwhelmed and unable to care for the amount of patients. 

With this, the sick will be left untreated, and the virus could continue to spread. While the most intense cases are still in the elderly, one-fifth of young adult cases have resulted in hospitalization. While the ratio could remain the same, the number of hospitalizations would rise if we were to ease lockdown orders.

But even the intent underlying the protests is scattered. Various points were voiced—that leaving the economy closed could cost more lives, that citizens should be able to engage in public activities at their own risk, and even random pushes for Trump’s re-election. 

However, the protesters’ negligence of lives on the line—even with a scattered purpose for protesting—was met with indifference from the government and even support from President Trump, who tweeted in favor of the protests.

In this, it’s impossible not to see a double standard. The government was quick to villainize and harm peaceful Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota, but did little to stop the reckless anti-shutdown protests. 

The government had a chance to, at the very least, maintain consistency in their treatment of protesters. They had the chance to hold the protesters accountable when they endangered public health for the sake of exercising their rights. 

While the government arrested and charged a few head protestors with endangering public health, the lack of direct action still stands. The absence of police force was louder than the rubber bullets shot at Standing Rock protesters. 

President Trump often refers to this pandemic as a war—the virus as the enemy. But by the way he allows states to clash on their approaches to the pandemic, praises himself for shutting down the country, but encourages the shutdown protesters, it appears his stance is unknown to even himself.

This only goes to reflect Trump’s own double standard, which he’s used to his advantage. Now, he’s caught in the act. While this double standard is seen often in Trump though, it’s new behavior from local governments, especially in the more liberal cities in which protests were held.

With these protests held, law enforcement was given a choice. They could have made a clear statement against the recklessness over human lives, rooted in ignorance and a lack of understanding of science.

But instead, the government chose to let ignorance and recklessness of lives remain intact, the effectiveness of our shutdown in question, and the country divided.