When it comes to social distancing, city curfews and the enforcement thereof, chalk up another one in the "can't win for losing" category.
A couple of weeks ago, many citizens were complaining about the lack of local action to curb the spread of COVID-19. Especially on social media, hundreds were insisting stricter policies be enacted to encourage everyone to stay home. Many were demanding more businesses be shuttered as "non-essential," and that other stores force limitations on shoppers.
Last week, the city announced a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. as part of an executive order by Mayor Sue Catron and approved by the Tahlequah City Council. This action was presumably in response to escalating conditions and widespread public demand. Those doing most of the complaining weren't suggesting a curfew, but they wanted action – and when they got it, they no longer wanted it.
Ironically, many of the same people who were insisting officials protect citizens from COVID-19 are now upset about the curfew. That's true although Police Chief Nate King stated only the most egregious offenders – those who went out and congregated in groups – would be cited. He has also said people going to or from work, walking their dogs, or trying to get individual exercise would not be deemed among the offenders.
The frustration police are feeling must be similar to that of journalists, who are often lambasted for doing their jobs. It wasn't the police, after all, who set the parameters; they're merely enforcing them. It was therefore no surprise when stories began circulating last weekend about police harassing folks who were out after curfew. Another report indicated a homeless man was cited for being out after curfew – which, if true, would suggest the man had been ticketed for simply being homeless.
Those claims required scrutiny. Newspapers by their nature oppose any abuse of authority, or action by officials that could threaten civil liberties. From a journalistic and constitutional standpoint, all people deserve the same rights. This means LGBT people should be able to marry, just as their straight and "cisgender" counterparts. It means Muslims should have the same freedom to worship as Christians do. And it means homeless people should be treated with the same dignity as humans with roofs over their heads.
"Same" doesn't mean better, though – and a homeless person who was drunk in public would be subject to citation, like anyone else. Press staffers tried to locate the homeless man who was purportedly cited, or at least get those who said they saw the ticket to come forward. We've had no luck. What we do have is access to the five citations King said were given over the weekend, and the one that most closely corresponded to social media discussions was for a man who was drunk and loitering at a Subway restaurant. Employees had called in the complaint, and especially with the COVID-19 panedmic underway, heightened enforcement of laws applying to such offenses can be expected. King, in fact, didn't even think that particular offender was homeless.
Since newspapers deal in truth, we won't condemn police for actions we cannot prove occurred. If the alleged citation is found, the issue will be addressed. From now on, however, we feel confident officers will engage their body cams if they act on the executive order's strict protocols, and we fully expect King's team will operate within the bounaries of the law.
By the same token, we expect citizens to be courteous to officers, too – especially since their jobs are exposing them to a deadly virus. Expressing the hope that an officer "wrap his car around a pole" for any reason – but especially because of a rumor that can't be proved – is wrong. We need more community spirit and cooperation now, not less.