By Steve Pomper
An Ohio police officer tased and then arrested a woman who was watching her son’s “grade-school football game in Logan, Ohio,” for not wearing a facecloth (mask). Okay, that’s not exactly what happened, but people can be forgiven for arriving at this headline. What happened was the officer tased and arrested Alecia Kitts probably for something like obstructing an officer and for resisting arrest. Reportedly, Kitts was only charged with criminal trespass, cited, and released. But the video was uncomfortable to watch, knowing government leaders’ “rule” had set the officer up to become a petty tyrant.
Still, this incident is more nuanced than either of these two descriptions—the officer arresting her not wearing a facecloth or for resisting arrest. First, is a police officer demanding a woman wear a facecloth or he’ll eject her from the facility a “lawful” order? I’m not sure, but I understand it can be seen as technically arguable. I only know what I would have done.
It’s less clear when leaders are demanding cops enforce non-legislated “rules” that often seem arbitrary. It seems a judge would have to rule a mayor or governor’s mask order unlawful—even unconstitutional—to arrive at a final determination. These days, they still might get it wrong.
In two of my books, I address the penchant for some lawmakers to make laws that put cops in the position of being bullies, enforcing unnecessary, redundant, or political laws—or worse, rules. The COVID has turned many mayors and governors into autocratic, edict-issuing machines. The result: they put officers in these positions where they must arrest a mom for, essentially, “not wearing a facecloth—outside—while social distancing.”
The Ohio Star reported that a witness to the event, Tiffany Kennedy, said, “Kitts had not been warned for not wearing a mask prior to the officer approaching her.” And, as an object lesson in unintended consequences, Kennedy also said Kitt’s mother, who was next to her daughter, told Kennedy the current from the taser traveled through the metal bleacher and shocked a kid sitting nearby.
Either way, as shameful as this arrest looked, the mom probably should have taken a page from a man in Moscow, Idaho’s “mask” civil disobedience book. While this Idaho case is less legally nuanced, with regard to law and the Constitution, Gabriel Rench chose the proper route for his resistance. He remained peaceful and cooperated with police whom he said were reluctant to arrest him.
Mr. Rench is the member of a church group in Moscow, Idaho. He is also a candidate running for the Latah County Commission. According to FOX News, police arrested Rench and a small number of other “maskless” people. In the Idaho case, it appears the folks were arrested specifically for not wearing facecloths “at an outdoor worship service.” They’d gathered with their church group for a monthly “psalm sing.”
During an interview with FOX News’ Laura Ingraham, she commented on the cops arresting him for being maskless while “protesters are given free rein over city and suburban streets.”
Mr. Rench said, “It’s unbelievable, the juxtaposition of rioters being able to go out to the street. Maybe if I had a gun or a Molotov cocktail, I would’ve been fine.”
So, what was the charge? “Violating a coronavirus order, according to local news.” The Moscow City Council had voted unanimously to extend the mask mandate until January 5th, 2021. This includes wearing facecloths when social distancing cannot be maintained.
Rench described his arrest, which attendees captured on video. Among a crowd of some 150 fellow psalm-singing, maskless Christians, Rench was apparently singled out. Rench said, “We just started singing the songs and they come up to me and my mom first, and then the guy standing next to me was my friend and I put my arm around him and said, this is my friend, and that’s why they proceeded to arrest me.”
Rench can be heard on the video telling the officers, “You shouldn’t be doing this. Doing this kind of crap for the mayor, this is embarrassing.” He’s right. Even if some judge found the “rule” legal, that does not make it right. And look at the position the mayor and city council have put these poor cops in.
So, what’s the crisis in Moscow that justifies such actions while the rest of the state remains sane? Apparently, there isn’t one. According to the Public Health—Idaho North Central District, “Of the 326 total cases, 194 people recovered, and none have died.”
Many conservative Americans admire Idaho for its professed commitment to liberty and other traditional American values. In fact, I know Seattle cops who have left Washington for Idaho or plan to after they retire.
However, the moment someone explains to conservatives or libertarians that Moscow, Idaho is a “college town” (Home of the University of Idaho Vandals), a chagrined look of understanding washes over their faces. This is how academia has poisoned higher education’s effect on American culture.
Just read the words of one Moscow city council person, Gina Taruscio. Think someone might have a “goddess complex?” “I can’t see that ending the mask mandate now is a good decision…, I can’t let it expire yet.” Her use of “I” explodes off the page, doesn’t it? And what explodes in my mind is, who the hell does she think she is?
Now, while the Ohio case will likely require a court decision to clarify what seems unconstitutional, the Idaho case is so clear on its face, no debate is necessary. There are no asterisks or footnotes for the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. After all, the framers placed religious freedom as the very first item in the Bill of Rights.
There is no ambiguity with religious rights. The Constitution does not carve out exceptions for “states of emergency,” preempting the people’s God-given rights. As Kristi Noem of South Dakota said, don’t “lay down mandates; trust your citizens” to do what they feel is right. That’s the American way, isn’t it? If a person chooses to wear a facecloth, that’s his business.
By the way, if a person wears a mask, ostensibly, to protect herself from others and others from her, then what does she care if anyone else wears a mask? Unless the point is to impose her view on everyone else. Bingo! And government using law enforcement officers to push what has become a partisan political “rule” is the worst kind of imposition on a community and its cops.