Will the Police Crack Down on Lockdown Violators the Second Time Around?
Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.
As I mentioned on Friday, a second round of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders will be both more economically damaging and more difficult to enforce. Yet politicians have clearly signaled they have more lockdowns in store.
Yet as economic hardship increases, and as more people doubt the official experts' demands, fewer will be willing to comply.
The first time around, lockdowns were largely peaceful.
Nationwide, we witnessed relatively few altercations with police during the first round of lockdowns. Certainly, there were still repugnant abuses committed by police who claimed to be enforcing "social distancing" laws. Here are just some examples:
- Police arrested a business owner for refusing to close his smoke shop.
- Police harassed and detained a man for playing softball with his family in a nearly empty park.
- In Delaware, "a local business owner was even arrested for personally violating Carney's stay-at-home order."
- Wisconsin police arrested a dog groomer for social distancing–related "violations."
- Shreveport, Louisiana, police threatened local business owners.
- NYPD officers assaulted a man for violating social distancing "laws."
- In Odessa, Texas, a SWAT team descended on a peaceful demonstration at a tavern.
But given the sheer scale of the lockdowns, we could have seen a lot more. The reason we didn't see more was that an overwhelming majority of Americans complied voluntarily out of fear of the disease.
It's now clear, however, that while total mortality may indeed be heightened in the age of COVID-19, it's certainly not catastrophic or apocalyptic. This is clear in US states, and in entire countries like Sweden that never imposed coerced lockdowns. Moreover, as incomes wane, rent payments are missed, and unemployment endures, many Americans will be even less inclined to comply with stay-at-home orders.
But if there's less voluntary compliance, that means a greater need for police to force compliance. Will the police make it happen?
Certainly, during the first lockdown, few police had qualms about destroying lives and businesses in the name of "public safety."
But that was before the "defund the police" movement grew, and some police departments have implemented work slowdowns in response.
In New York and Atlanta, for example, police officers have called in sick or called for strikes in protest against an alleged "anti-police climate."
The idea here is that police refuse to arrest violent criminals as a means of applying political pressure to both elected officials and the voters.
But will police forget about their slowdowns and strikes in time to crack down on peaceful citizens who violate the future stay-at-home orders now being threatened by politicians?
If the police—who in some cases acted with considerable restraint against protestors who were obviously in violation of bans on mass gatherings—engage in mass arrests against Americans who refuse to "#stayathome" or otherwise fail to comply with lockdown orders?
Will police ignore murders while they rush to close businesses and arrest fathers who take their children to a park?
Experience suggests this would just be par for the course. After all, the evidence has long shown that police focus on petty crimes while devoting few resources to serious violent crimes. There would be nothing shocking about a police force that refuses to pursue dangerous criminals while bringing the full wrath of a SWAT team against patrons at a tavern. It is easier—both practically and politically—to arrest a middle-aged mom who refused to close her business while letting violent rioters go free.
Politically, however, police would be well advised to refuse to enforce stay-at-home orders. After all, the police departments' list of allies grows thin. Middle-class voters are often inclined to be sympathetic to police, because middle-class voters don't want their homes and businesses burned down or broken into.
But if the cops plan to continue arresting business owners for noncrimes related to stay-at-home orders, they should expect little help the next time they want yet another budget increase.