One of the most startling emails I received during the current pandemic involved a class action lawsuit on behalf of inmates in a midwestern federal prison. The ACLU wanted prisoners released on a compassionate basis due to the threat of infection. What shocked me was that obesity was a so-called risk factor warranting early release. The emails said that any individual with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher was presumptively at risk.
The BMI is a factor of height and weight. A normal BMI is, according to our new overlords, the CDC, 18.5 to 24.9. Obesity kicks in at 30. A person is morbidly obese when their BMI is 40 or above. For a six-foot tall male, a BMI of 40 reflects a weight of about 294 pounds.
I’ve represented folks accused of all sorts of crimes. One thing that never occurred to me is that the seriousness of the crime, and the presumed risk to the community if the defendant were to remain free, had anything to do with weight. I’ve met mean beanpoles and terrifying tubs of lard.
I imagined a sudden run on sweets in prison commissaries as inmates try frantically to eat their way to freedom.
But then I read a story in The Washington Post that surprised me even more. The Washington Post reports that prisoners in Los Angeles County have been filmed trying to contract the illness so that they can be released.
After a spike in COVID-19 cases in the North County Correctional facility, officials tried to figure out what caused it. They found a film of prisoners sharing infected water bottles and rubbing an infected across their faces.
So let me see if I understand this: We’re going to issue citations, and, perhaps, arrest folks who open their businesses or refuse to social distance, but set free those who infect themselves to avoid serving time behind bars?
Nothing that the Justice Department in recent days involving the scrapping of charges against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn undermines respect for the rule of law quite so much as this sort of tomfoolery.
Things are tense in Los Angeles.
Ben Shapiro reported on his daily podcast the other day the burglary of a friend’s home. Three men burst into the residence. The homeowner met them with a gun, and the men fled. When police were summoned, they expressed a grim resignation: Arresting the burglars would be pointless, the officer said. Los Angeles has no bond requirement just now – the men would just be released. Why bother with an arrest?
Indeed, commercial burglaries are on the rise in Manhattan, The New York Times reports.
But we must not tolerate vigilantism, or so we’re told.
Why not, exactly?
The rule of law is up for grabs right now.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Ask Angela Alvarado, a prosecutor in Lost Altos, California. She told The New York Times: “You know, your constitutional rights don’t really matter right now,… Right now, we’re putting parts of the Constitution on hold.” Says who?
These remarks were reported on the frontpage of the Times. They went unchallenged, accepted as part of the new normal.
We talk a lot about government by consent of the governed. John Locke gets trotted out to provide it all with philosophic moorings. We have a social contract, he wrote, to preserve life, liberty and property. We never sacrifice our rights to self-preservation when we enter into this contract to be governed. If government fails, we can “appeal to heaven,” a flowery way of saying revolt, even by violence.
When government tells me the constitution is suspended, that arresting those who assault me or my property is futile, and prisons are emptied by farcical means, I begin to fear that something fundamental has been frayed. Is it vigilantism to protect yourself when government refuses to protect you?