Some Funerals Are More Equal than Others

The rules are different if you're famous.

It’s not often I favorably cite The Daily Wire here; indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever done so. But this story, which surfaced via memeorandum, touches on a reasonable complaint I’ve seen on my Facebook feed that deserves some discussion.

The headline: “DC Mayor Exempts John Lewis Funeral Attendees From City’s Quarantine Restrictions.”

The basic facts:

Lawmakers who attended the funeral of late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in Atlanta earlier this week are exempt from Washington, D.C.’s, self-quarantine restrictions, according to District Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office.

According to the mayor’s July 24 order, titled “Requirement to Self-Quarantine After Non-Essential Travel During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” any residents who travel to “high-risk” areas for “non-essential” reasons must self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus.

[…]

The order, which remains in effect at least until Oct. 9, goes on to define “high-risk areas” as “locations where the seven (7)-day moving average daily new COVID-19 case rate is ten (10) or more per one hundred thousand (100,000) persons.” By such a metric, the entire state of Georgia is considered “high-risk,” and a recent federal report listed it in the “red zone” because of its skyrocketing cases of the virus. Atlanta’s Fulton County averaged 228 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, according to most recent statistics from The New York Times.

Regarding why attendees at Lewis’ funeral escaped the strictures of self-quarantine, Bowser Press Secretary Susana Castillo characterized the ceremony as an essential government activity, telling Just the News on Friday, “Government activity is essential, and the Capitol of the United States is exempt from the Mayor’s Order.”

The mayor’s office still deems the funerals of regular people non-essential activity, however. When asked whether attendees of non-government funerals in high-risk areas are still required to self-quarantine under the mayor’s order, Castillo responded simply, “Yes.”

Members of Congress are also exempt from Bowser’s recent edict mandating D.C. residents wear masks both in public indoor spaces and even outside if they “are likely to come into contact with another person, such as being within six feet of another person for more than a fleeting time[.]” Those who neglect to cover up expose themselves to the possibility of fines up to $1,000 per violation.

Now, this is a rather weak form of the complaint. The obvious parry is that the DC government exists at the forbearance of Congress and Members of Congress would simply not consent to be told what to do by the mayor of DC.

But the broader form of the complaint has merit. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments around the country have ordered major curtailments of our ordinary liberties. Large gatherings, including funerals, have been forbidden. Even members of the household are forbidden from entering hospitals to comfort loved ones on their deathbeds. All around the country, then, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, have died alone and their friends and families were forbidden to engage in the traditional mourning rituals.

That’s incredibly hurtful. And, yet, most of us agree that it was the right thing to do. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures.

Yet, during all this, we’ve had massive public funerals for George Floyd and John Lewis. And, of course, weeks of massive crowds gathering to protest in our major cities.

There’s an obvious disconnect.

Why can’t we go say goodbye to Grandma, who was a key part of our daily lives, but people who never met John Lewis or George Floyd are permitted mass gatherings to show their respect?

I’m not sure there’s a great answer to that in a democracy founded on the credo All Men are Created Equal.

Yet, on balance, this also seems the right thing to do.

Floyd was transformed into a public figure in the most awful way imaginable, slowly choked to death by a police officer while his colleagues stood by and did nothing. Because it was captured on video, happened after so many other similar incidents—and quite probably also because it happened during the aforementioned lockdown—his death became the spark that ignited the powder keg.

There was no viable alternative but to allow protests after that. Having police forcibly put down protests against police violence would have been insanity.

And, presumably, giving Floyd what amounted to a state funeral was intended as a healing gesture.

Lewis was an icon of the civil rights movement who would be lionized as the Conscience of the Congress. His funeral may well have been granted an exception to the rules under normal circumstances. In the midst of the Floyd protests and the broader Black Lives Matter movement, it was necessary.

Ultimately, then, these two funerals and the protests are being treated as civic events in contrast to the private events that are being forbidden. Again, that’s arguably undemocratic. But the public good often trumps private needs.

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FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The rules are different if you’re famous.

    As it has been, so it will ever be.

    10
  2. EddieInCA says:

    The rules are different if you’re famous and/or wealthy.

    Fixed that for you.

    You’re welcome.

    9
  3. skeeball says:

    The point about John Lewis’s funeral is one worthy of discussion but George Floyd’s funeral was in Texas where there were few restrictions at the time. It followed every local rule. If you think that was a problematic event, that is on Greg Abbott

    12
  4. Northerner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Yup. And the problem is, most people will read about a famous and/or wealthy person getting an exception and (understandably think): “If its okay for the famous and wealthy, its okay for me.”

    Every time there’s a Covid-19 safety exception it weakens the case for people to act safely. Making exceptions is simply a bad idea. I can’t imagine being able to convince someone that the funeral of their loved one is less worthy than the funeral of someone rich or famous.

    11
  5. CSK says:

    @Northerner:
    Jennifer Nuzzo of Johns Hopkins didn’t help, certainly, when she tweeted last June 18 that “In this moment, the public health risks of not protesting an end of systemic racism greatly exceed the harms of the virus.” (Emphasis mine.) It’s exactly this sort of thing that exasperates or infuriates people when they see it. What are they supposed to believe? If it’s all right to protest because protesting is done in the open air, then what about other outdoor events that remain proscribed?

    I believe in, and I observe, masking, social distancing, and scrupulous handwashing. I’ll continue to do so. But when I read comments such as Nuzzo’s, I understand why some people feel they’re being manipulated.

    13
  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Deleted, wrong post.

  7. EddieInCA says:

    @Northerner:

    Every time there’s a Covid-19 safety exception it weakens the case for people to act safely. Making exceptions is simply a bad idea. I can’t imagine being able to convince someone that the funeral of their loved one is less worthy than the funeral of someone rich or famous.

    As I’ve mentioned, I have had two aunts die from Covid. Neither has had a funeral or memorial yet. Instead of their final wishes of a funeral and burial, they were cremated and their remains remain with their children until the family can gather in New York properly and give them the funeral and burial that is consistent with the rest of the family. Funerals are a big deal in our family, and it’s one of the rare opportunities for most of the extended family, spread out over 15 states and 9 countries, to get together. It’s a big occasion. It’s a weekend of food, dancing, and celebrating the life of the deceased. It’s not a somber event at all. The idea that we wouldn’t do that for my two aunt’s in inconceivable. So, yeah, it sucks that others get to do what we can’t. Or, rather, what we, as a family chose to do. Given that a huge part of the family is over 70 years old, any family gathering could easily become a super spreader event.

    Before I left for Utah and Montana three weeks ago, I hadn’t seen my mother in 5 months while living within 30 mins of her. Last time that happened was… never.

    2020 sucks.

    My friend, Lynn Shelton**, died a few months ago. It sucks that we couldn’t do a memorial for her.

    ** The Television Academy did her family a solid, by nominating Lynn for a Directing Emmy this past week, posthumously. She f**king deserved it.

    3
  8. CSK says:

    @EddieInCA:
    You’ve suffered some terrible losses; you have my deepest sympathies.

    8
  9. Northerner says:

    @EddieInCA:

    That’s very hard, as CSK says, you have my deepest sympathies. There’s a closure in funerals that’s very hard to replace.

    3
  10. Northerner says:

    @CSK:

    I believe in, and I observe, masking, social distancing, and scrupulous handwashing. I’ll continue to do so. But when I read comments such as Nuzzo’s, I understand why some people feel they’re being manipulated.

    Same.

    6
  11. Gustopher says:

    The John Lewis funeral should have been held outside, with proper social distancing. Balance the risk. Even if congressmen are exempt from DC mayoral restrictions, there’s no reason to be stupid.

    Yes, that was a beautiful church, and possibly a very important church to the late congressman (I haven’t been following the news of John Lewis’ death since he died, so I may be missing a lot of the symbolism), but these aren’t normal times.

    6
  12. Gustopher says:

    There was no viable alternative but to allow protests after that. Having police forcibly put down protests against police violence would have been insanity.

    And yet, that’s what they tried to do.

    But closer to the main topic of the post, and what is being brought up by @CSK, Jim “I don’t care if my wrestlers get molested” Jordan was haranguing Dr. Fauci at a hearing on the government response to the pandemic, trying to get him to say that we should limit protests.

    I don’t know why Fauci didn’t point out that there haven’t been large outbreaks traced back to the protests because they were mostly masked and entirely outdoors. They were not as dangerous as expected.

    Jim Jordan is an ass, but he’s an ass with his finger on the pulse of Fox News talking heads who really think they’ve got something clever with that argument. Not sure if it is “the virus is a hoax, look at how harmless these protests were” or “if we just didn’t have those black people protesting we would be fine”.

    Also, winter is going to suck. We really should have shut down hard in the summer so we could open back up more safely in the winter.

    1
  13. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Before I left for Utah and Montana three weeks ago, I hadn’t seen my mother in 5 months while living within 30 mins of her. Last time that happened was… never.

    With everything else going on in your family, that seems particularly hard.

    If you can self-quarantine for 14 days beforehand (a big if) you should be able to visit with almost no chance of bringing an infection. And outside lowers the risk more (particularly the risk to you), unless there is hugging involved.

    Obviously, don’t take advice from random guy on the internet, but check with your doctor, and you may be able to find a way to limit risk to an acceptable level for briefly merging trust circles. It will likely be a complete pain though.

  14. JKB says:

    It’s the kind of hypocrisy that creates blood-feud level hatred. The next few election even into state and local are going to be interesting. Especially in NY, NJ and PA, where governors took deliberate actions that killed a lot of people’s parents and grandparents in nursing homes. Perhaps the virus is intelligent and attacks based on politics. Or many of those who’ve participated in the funerals will be outed as using hydroxychloroquine prophylactically while interfering with it being prescribed for the “little people”.

    I suppose a tell will be whether they permit a funeral for Herman Cain.

    1
  15. CSK says:

    @JKB:
    Two points:
    1. Why, if hydroxychloroquine is an effective prophylactic, would the government deny it to citizens? I’m not being faux naïve. I realize you think it’s to destroy Trump’s chances of being re-elected, but surely you must have a back-up rationale.
    2. Herman Cain wasn’t an elected official but a private citizen.

    5
  16. Mister Bluster says:

    Or many of those who’ve participated in the funerals will be outed as using hydroxychloroquine prophylactically while interfering with it being prescribed for the “little people”.

    Please present evidence that your asserertion is true.

    2
  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: @Mister Bluster: This is JKB we’re talking about. Show me anytime where what he has said about Covid-19 has been an assertion that had evidence to back it up or was based on a rationale of any kind.

    2
  18. Gustopher says:

    @CSK:

    Herman Cain wasn’t an elected official but a private citizen.

    Not all black men are civil rights icons, but who will think of the people who like bad pizza?

    1
  19. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    Especially in NY, NJ and PA, where governors took deliberate actions that killed a lot of people’s parents and grandparents in nursing homes

    While following the federal guidelines, which were choosing between bad options with incomplete data.

    Have you read the Vanity Fair article on Young Master Jared’s covid adventures?

    3
  20. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “Jim Jordan is an ass, but he’s an ass with his finger on the pulse of Fox News talking heads”

    Given his history, I really don’t want to know where else that finger has been…

    3
  21. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    I was under the impression that Trump is the government. But maybe he doesn’t know that.

  22. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    If he were, wouldn’t we all have received our hydroxychloroquine vouchers?

  23. Mister Bluster says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:..This is JKB we’re talking about.

    I know.
    Our hosts have asked us to be civil in our remarks.
    This is the best I can do.

  24. EddieInCA says:

    @Northerner:

    Northerner says:
    Sunday, August 2, 2020 at 13:20

    @EddieInCA:

    That’s very hard, as CSK says, you have my deepest sympathies. There’s a closure in funerals that’s very hard to replace.

    Thank you. That’s true, but I do realize, and appreciate that I am much more fortunate than most. Because of unions, I have health insurance. I’m able to work. I am able to pay my bills and put a little away. So… despite the tragedies, my family and I are still okay. Can’t say that about the people about to be evicted, or who have fallen behind on mortgages, or who will soon have their cars repossesed. This sucks, and the government isn’t helping those people enough, while effing Bezos gains a billion dollars a day some days. It’s sick.

    2
  25. Ann says:

    @Gustopher: Jim Jordan’s questioning was very important. If Dr. Fauci knew the answer then he should responded as such. It left many thinking that he didn’t have a clue.

    1
  26. CrankyDay says:

    Animal Farm. Orwell knew the same way the Ancients knew that the Ten Commandments addressed universal human failings and weaknesses. No Martha, he didnt write 1984 because you’re the only annoying, puritan brat on the planet. If given the chance everybody’s inner bratty child is revealed.