Following reports of half a dozen parties being held around the Chicago area this weekend, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a sinister warning to stay-at-home violators: "We will take you to jail, period."
She then proceeded to yell at a small group of teens who were hanging out in a parking lot across the street. It was a moment that brilliantly captured the collapse of common sense among government officials trying to enforce an extreme and increasingly unreasonable form of social distancing.
Lightfoot's press conference on Saturday addressed the news that Chicago police had broken up several social events with more than 50 people in attendance on Friday. The authorities had learned that more parties were expected to take place on Saturday and Sunday.
"We will shut you down, we will cite you, and if we have to, we will arrest you," said Lightfoot. "Don't make us treat you like a criminal, but if you act like a criminal and you violate the law and refuse to do what's necessary to save lives in the middle of a pandemic, we will take you to jail, period."
— Mayor Lightfoot #StayHomeSaveLives (@chicagosmayor) May 3, 2020
Social events with a large number of attendees are not a good idea right now, given that the disease is still spreading. I can understand the mayor wanting to prevent these kinds of things, though it's prudent to wonder whether threatening, arresting, and sending people to jail is ultimately in anyone's best interest, since it's likely to involve a lot of additional physical contact. Government officials need to understand that the willingness of citizens to obey shelter-at-home orders is not going to last forever, and lockdown enforcers need to think critically about how they will respond.
Immediately following the press conference, Lightfoot demonstrated that she isn't thinking critically at all. The mayor walked across the street with her entourage and yelled at several teens who had dared to congregate outside that they needed to return to their homes. Several of the teens were wearing masks, and most were not standing very close together, meaning that this was low-risk behavior. It made no difference to Lightfoot, though.
After a news conference decrying house parties and telling people to stay home, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot crossed the street to tell youth outside a school to go home.
One young man responded: "Y'all need to find a cure, you're talking about go home. You go home." pic.twitter.com/uZHhNbcS0U
— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) May 2, 2020
Several videos of people going to parks and beaches all over the U.S. went viral on social media this weekend, prompting bouts of shaming from those who still support vigorous quarantining (even though many of the people being called out were indeed in compliance with social distancing). As nicer weather sets in, government officials should expect to see more people leaving their homes. It can't be stopped. The right approach is to encourage reasonable social distancing: stay in small groups, remain six feet away from others when possible, wear masks in environments like grocery stores, and so on.
People need to apply common sense—and that goes for the people who are supposed to follow the rules, and for the people making them.