New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter Saturday to urge his constituents to monitor, photograph and report each other if they aren’t strictly obeying his social distancing guidelines. Just fire off a photo to 3-1-1 of a few guys having a chat in a bodega and Hizzoner will send police officers, with guns and everything, to break it up. What could go wrong?
How do you report places that aren’t enforcing social distancing? It’s simple: just snap a photo and text it to 311-692. #AskMyMayor pic.twitter.com/WQdCcVf1Rl
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 18, 2020
Throughout the video de Blasio holds a creepy smile as he imagines millions of New Yorkers ratting each other out to help perfect his vision of government-constructed existence. We will be soldiers in his dream socialist army, pointing fingers and getting a nice pat on the back from the powers that be. It is a disturbing dystopia future to imagine.
When I was growing up in Northeast Philly, there was an old lady named Mrs. Ferry who lived in the row house next to my big Aunt Mary. Mrs. Ferry would sit on her porch all day listening to the police scanner and holding a little notebook. If she saw you smoking, or fighting, or if you broke a streetlight playing lightball, she’d write it down. And when you got home that night your parents knew all about it.
We do not want to live in a society of Mrs. Ferrys. We have recent evidence as to how horrifying it is to live in a country where everyone is potentially the police. Read a play by Vaclav Havel; listen to any story from communist dissidents about the fear of friends and neighbors. There is no terror any government can cause greater than turning citizens into each other’s jail keepers.
Listen, if the guy downstairs is running an illegal speakeasy and 50 people a night are pouring in, sure, yeah. Say to him, “Listen, this can’t happen we have to stop this.” If he won’t, call the landlord or the authorities. But if you see some kids playing basketball, or more than one person in the ATM kiosk, cool down your trigger finger. Let it be.
The irony of de Blasio’s sudden call for us to all start spying on each other is that New York has flattened the curve by more or less obeying the guidelines that have been laid out. The people understand the situation; they have reacted reasonably and will continue to do so. Introducing this radically anti-American idea that we should be informing on each other left and right when the fight against the virus is going well makes no sense.
In fact, the only way it really does make sense is if the goal is to use this emergency to further empower the government by making all of us its agents. But we have shown this is needless and have frankly done a remarkable job. Now is the time when Americans have to trust each other and each other’s good judgment– judgment that has thus far more than passed the test. Now is not the time to turn on each other regardless of what Mayor de Blasio says.
The American people are going through a lot of tests at once right now. The saving lives test. The trying to avoid total economic collapse test. And importantly the civil liberties test. In regard to this last one we have some choice. Under how harsh a watch from big brother do we want to spend our days? Do we want to become big brother ourselves? Isn’t that always the way? When we read “1984” we all imagine we are Winston, and in so doing entirely miss the point.
This thing, that de Blasio wants us to do is a thing we cannot do. We cannot live in fear of each other, we cannot live thinking of ourselves as the eyes and ears of the state, we cannot live in panic driven paranoia.
The bottom line is don’t listen to de Blasio. Use your best judgment, but don’t become a Storm Trooper in his clampdown brigade. We have enough to worry about without deputizing ourselves to be an annoyance to our neighbors. Let the mayor flex whatever muscle he thinks he has left after his shambolic handling of coronavirus. The people of New York will not become his secret police.