As Americans are seemingly beginning to come out of the heavy fog of the Coronavirus pandemic, new information is starting to emerge about how special COVID-19 restrictions, put in place by the federal, state, and local governments were handled.

Many restrictions varied from state to state. The nation heard stories from places like Michigan, how Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), prevented people from buying such things as gardening supplies and paint. 

Now, a new report from independent journalist Michael Tracey shows alarming statistics on how law enforcement charged individuals for COVID restrictions.

It begs the questions, was the health and safety of Americans the first priority of elected officials, or something more?

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Things Looked Innocent In The Beginning

Tracey says that his inquiry began when he started seeing people on social media who were being pulled over by law enforcement ostensibly per Delaware Governor John Carney’s COVID-related emergency order. Traveling between the two states is a common practice for many Marylanders, and therefore appeared random.

Under the pandemic circumstances, Tracey says, local and state governments suddenly had a vast array of new powers, which begged questions. Where does this authority come from? Is it legitimate? How will it be exercised? Will there be oversight? 

Tracey then says that he filed a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) in New Jersey where he lives, to find out just exactly what the state was doing with their newfound power.

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Safety Of The Public Or Abuse Of Power?

After waiting for almost a year for the information he requested, Tracey says he finally received the records roughly two weeks ago.

Between March 21 and May 13 of 2020, the city of Newark, New Jersey issued about 1,100 summonses for COVID offenses.

Law enforcement appeared to working from a state statute APP. A:9-49(A) that reads, 

“Commit[ing] any unauthorized or otherwise unlawful act during the threat or imminence of danger in any emergency that jeopardizes the health, welfare and safety of the people.”

A few of these violations were written by police as: Sitting and talking to others, “Hanging out,” Not Social Distancing, and Standing without a mask.

Dangerous, disturbing crimes, indeed.

These violations are not like getting a parking ticket either – under the statute, they are punishable by up to six months in prison.

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Reaction From Elected Officials And Others

According to Tracey’s report, a spokesperson for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Alyana Alfaro Post said, “Throughout the pandemic, local law enforcement has enforced executive orders and issued citations when they deem appropriate, as they would with regard to any other state law.”

In an email to Tracey, Newark Police spokesperson Catherine Adams had this to say:

Hello: Per Newark Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara, in accordance with Governor Murphy’s Executive Orders 103, 107 and 195 issued on March 3, 2020, March 16, 2020 and November 12, 2020, respectively, did issue summonses to individuals found in violation of said Executive Orders. These summonses were primarily for large gatherings and businesses operating outside of the Executive Order’s prescribed hours.

Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of New Jersey Karen Thompson told Tracey, “It’s a little breathtaking, the scope. People get these summonses and they don’t know about them, or they’re not informed about them. And suddenly it goes from being a summons to someone having an open warrant for their arrest.”

Tracey points out that, in a hypocritical turn of events, immediately following the death of George Floyd last May, protests were held across the nation, including in Newark.

In New Jersey, the protests were supported by both Gov. Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, clearly in violation of the COVID restrictions against large gatherings. Baraka admitted to the violation. His response, “This is a violation, but we’re doing it anyway.”

So, public safety or abuse of power?

You decide. 


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