“Reopen Maryland” Fizzled, but Organizers Still Hope to Stop Hogan While Covid-19 Remains a Threat

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NOW this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;

And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —

For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack —Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

May 30 was a bright sunny day in Annapolis as roughly a hundred protestors of Reopen Maryland, a Facebook “movement” – as dubbed by its administrators – of roughly 30k members, gathered in the shade of the Maryland State House to protest the current restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This was the group’s 4th event. The first was a Road Rally in April which saw more than 300-500 vehicles appear to protest the then stricter restrictions.  A similar event was held on May 15 where 300 people appeared on foot around Annapolis City Hall. 

“I, like most people, stress an event,” Tim Walters, 52, Chairman of Reopen Maryland and former EOD, said in an interview the day leading up to the event, “but I’m not stressed for this one.” Walters said he believed that the good weather and contempt for the economic shutdown would likely churn people out.

But as the event hour neared, it became clear that today would not reach the same turn out. 

“I think we’re in three figures again,” an event speaker said, deciding to begin the event despite dwindling numbers from past events. “Were not up to the 300 we saw last time but it’s such a pretty day. I think some people are sailing…”

Down the way on Market Street and around Ego Alley you would hardly notice any lingering effects of the public health crisis that has plagued the nation for the past 12 weeks. As restrictions on public activity have lightened up, Annapolitans and tourists have come out in droves to take in the sun, enjoy drinks on the pier, and dine outdoors – a restriction that was loosened the Friday prior. Many of these people can be seen not practicing public health orders, and have caught the attention of both experts and officials.

“Together we have made progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Anne Arundel County and City of Annapolis Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman in a press release. 

“However, we cannot be complacent, because the coronavirus is still in our community. Each of us is responsible to continue physical distancing, wearing face covers and hand washing to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

With outdoor dining now allowed, Mayor Gavin Buckley announced that the city has launched “friendliness ambassadors” to the city dock to help enforce proper practices, hand out face masks and keep people 6 feet apart.

Along with this, the nation is in the face of a new crisis, and across the street from people dining at the Market House locals gathered around the Alex Haley statue with Mayor Buckley and tens of thousands of protestors across the nation to protest the brutal killing of the unarmed black man George Floyd. As summer begins and restrictions are slowly being rolled back across a country in a state of unwinding chaos, it has become overwhelmingly clear that the public has begun to rank COVID low on their list of priorities.  

This is an alarming sentiment to many as scientists and officials still debate the pervasiveness of the disease as well as appropriate preventative measures. Coronavirus cases have began to resurface in areas like Minnesota, Texas, and Oregon. Despite these rollbacks and spikes across the nation, chairman Tim Walters has made it clear that Reopen Maryland is an “all or nothing” movement, and has taken legal action not only for a preliminary injunction on Hogan’s shutdown orders, but also to try to prevent the governor from ever shutting down the state again.

“No individual has ever shut down an entire state,” Walters said, “ Hogan did not have the constitutional authority to take from us, which means he does not have the authority to piecemeal what he took in one chunk.”  Walters said he believes that Hogan never made a case for the emergency orders he enacted.

Walters, an independent (who ran for the house of delegates in 2018 under the republican banner), and his peers argue that all businesses must be allowed to open “without limitation,” and that the public can make responsible choices to follow reasonable health guidelines. Walters also said that their group believes the virus is no more dangerous or transmissible than influenza or the common cold.

On May 2, Reopen Maryland joined a lawsuit against Hogan that was later rejected on May 20 by U.S. Circuit Court Justice Catherine Blake, citing that “although there may be more than one reasonable way to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is clear that the Governor’s orders have at least a real and substantial relation to protecting public health,” and that “…. even if [the  plaintiff’s] assertions were true, the plaintiffs ignore the likelihood that the restrictions that were put in place reduced the number of deaths and serious disability the State has experienced.”

Many of the protestors at Saturday’s rally came from areas that never saw the spikes central Maryland did and have a reasonable contempt towards a state-wide shutdown. The total number of cases between western and eastern Maryland combined are grossly overshadowed by the cases in Prince George’s County alone. But this, as mentioned above, ignores the restrictions that likely stopped the spread of the disease to those areas.

Standing beneath the shade of the capital, one protestor said that the American people are capable of making their own decisions. When asked what happens if those decisions put their life or the lives of others in danger, he replied that it is still their right to make that decision.

“The object [of the American Experiment],” Lawyer Dan Cox, who represents the plaintiffs against Hogan, wrote in their federal complaint, “has never been to permit a Governor to make a ‘neighbor’s’ rights or interests in health superior to the People’s or even to another citizen’s natural and inalienable rights”

“We are not accountable for each other’s health,” said Walters, “ and neither is the government.”

However these ideas clash with current interpretation of this responsibility, as Justice Blake cites in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

“Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.”

Reopen Maryland and the rest of the plaintiffs have appealed this decision and expect the case to reach the Supreme Court.

For many states, it has been hard to say what the most reasonable approach to a pandemic is, Even Tim Walter’s said , “I do not envy the Governor.” 

On May 13th,  a Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruling found governor Tony Evers’ lockdown and executive orders unconstitutional and the process now must go through the legislature. Whether or not this will slow the response, which it likely will, and allow the virus to spread is yet to be seen. 

New cases continue to plateau in Maryland, but the full effects of the reopening have yet to settle in. The data, though ever changing, currently shows states that have moved too quickly are seeing significant spikes in new cases. While Hogan can continue to reopen at a relatively slower pace, the question remains: What can be done to stop the spread when thousands of people begin to gather in the streets? 

Whatever the future may hold, the sentiment that citizens are not accountable for each others’ health and wellbeing, which Reopen Maryland stands upon, seems moot in the face of not only a public health crisis, but also the gathering of people of all races to support the black community’s fight against prejudice and police brutality.

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