Shared from the 5/15/2020 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Common sense

The majority of Texans refuse to get suckered by coronavirus protest stunts.

The sign-waving, horn-blaring, gun-toting protesters may make for good TV, but they are not representative of most Texans who, to paraphrase our mothers, have the good sense God gave them to come in out of a pandemic.

Polls have consistently shown that most people strongly support the social-distancing measures and crowd restrictions that have helped to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and saved thousands of lives.

A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that 77 percent of Texans favor requiring residents to stay at home except for essential activities. A whopping 80 percent support restricting the size of gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

Chances are they saw the April 25 “You Can’t Close America” rally in Austin and the many other similar protests in cities around the country since then for what they are: publicity stunts instigated by fringe groups with agendas that have more to do with politics than public health.

Along the way, a West Odessa bar and a gym tried to reopen illegally with armed protesters on hand to show their support, and a Houston strip club tried to skirt the shutdown order by transforming itself into a restaurant with the strippers remaining as special entertainment. Plenty of others flouted local mandates for face coverings or gathered in large groups in violation of the health order, but most people and business owners adhered to the guidleines as best they could.

That doesn’t mean most people don’t want to get back to business; it’s just that they want it to be done safely and wisely so we don’t have to go through this all over again.

If only our state government leaders were as level-headed as most of the people they represent. Then the plans to reopen our communities would stand better chances of working, and people could more safely get on with their lives without needlessly risking them.

Gov. Greg Abbott has for weeks seemed to wobble between following the doctors and data and giving in to the demonstrators and demagogues.

The governor sold his reopening plan as a phased-in effort to allow restaurants to strategically reopen while carefully monitoring health data to make sure it was safe before giving the green light to more intimate operations like hair and nail salons. That made a great deal of sense, and we said so.

Abbott’s resolve barely lasted a week before Shelley Luther reopened the doors of her Dallas salon, dramatically ripped up a cease-and-desist letter before TV cameras and refused a judge’s offer of leniency in exchange for an apology to the court, ending up in jail for contempt.

Abbott quickly softened criminal penalties for violation of his emergency order, including jail time, and allowed salons to begin reopening last Friday, 10 days ahead of his Phase II schedule and without even a chance to gather, let alone measure, health outcomes from Phase I.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s top law enforcement official, had already written a letter saying that Luther should be released and accused the judge of “shameful abuse of judicial discretion.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the judge in Luther’s case was “vindictive” and showed her “no mercy and no compassion” in sentencing her to seven days in jail. Patrick offered to pay the stylist’s fine and serve her time if it came to that.

It didn’t. Ordered released by the Texas Supreme Court, Luther was back at her Salon al la Mode in time to welcome Sen. Ted Cruz, who showed up on Friday to express his support and get a haircut from one of her employees.

One might think these men are particularly empathetic to acts of civil disobedience but all four had harshly criticized former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and social justice violations. Unlike Luther, Kaepernick broke no laws and endangered no one’s health.

The inconsistent approach to protesters isn’t the problem, however. When Abbott and the others speak out in favor of those pushing against shelter-at-home restrictions, or even the phased-in nature of the lifting of those restrictions, they run the risk of undermining their own policy. And that puts more people at risk and could prolong the day when those restrictions won’t be necessary.

With cases and death tolls in Houston and Texas and in most places in America still rising, this is no time to drop our guard and relax on the common-sense solutions that are saving lives.

Fortunately, most Texans know better.

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