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Lockdown Vs. Protests

Which is more important, social distancing or protesting?

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Protests have continued following the terrible death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. Not only did the United States erupt into unrest after the killing, but activist groups in various other countries joined in with their own protests, some mirroring the violence seen in U.S. riots.

June 6 culminated in mostly peaceful protests attended by millions of Americans in cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and of course the site of the killing, Minneapolis. It was an event where millions would vent their frustration at what happened to Floyd and perhaps many other black men who had met similar fates at the hands of police departments.

While many feared the day would descend into violence, it passed without the rioting seen in the last week. This may have been partly due to the less aggressive posture of police and security units on the day. Whereas on previous days, large numbers of officers in full riot gear have confronted protesters, Saturday’s event in Washington D.C. and other cities was marked by a more relaxed police presence. Since then, the East Coast has calmed down, while violence continues on the West Coast, in cities like Seattle.

The mass public gatherings, whether peaceful or violent, have been a stark contrast to the social distancing measures that Americans have been expected to follow due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

There are some concerns that the mass protests could lead to the virus spreading. “Even as all US states continue further phased reopening of businesses and social movement amid the coronavirus pandemic, governors, mayors and public health officials across the US are raising fears of a surge in cases of Covid-19 arising from escalating protests over the death of George Floyd,” reported The Guardian newspaper. “Images of demonstrators in close proximity, many without masks, have therefore alarmed leaders – to the point where some are pleading with those on the streets to protest ‘the right way,’ for the sake of safety.”

“I’m concerned that we had mass gatherings on our streets when we just lifted a stay-at-home order and what that could mean for spikes in coronavirus cases later,” said Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington D.C.

Many people are now starting to question why some government officials have been willing to support the mass protests on one hand, while just a few days ago they were insisting that Americans had to stay locked inside their homes.

“If we don’t wear face masks, if we don’t socially distance, if we sort of shrug this off as a plot, not a real threat to our family, we are going to be in a dangerous position in a beautiful community,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee on May 29. As his state slowly reopens, Inslee has ordered that people returning to work must wear masks if they are not alone. Yet he has praised the massive protests in Seattle and other parts of Washington following the death of George Floyd. “[The May 30 riots were] disheartening events in Seattle – carried out by a smattering of the thousands of protesters on hand – [that] will not deter the cause of justice,” Inslee said in a tweet.

Does this mean that justice is more important than social distancing – or that the lockdown was never necessary in the first place?

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