The other day I saw a Rachel Maddow piece about Kaci Hickox, the nurse in Maine who has defied orders to stay sequestered in her house. Hickox has been tested for Ebola, does not have Ebola, has shown no signs of Ebola. Health officials say she is just fine. Two Republican governors, engaging in anti-scientific pandering, have nonetheless sought to have her quarantined, first in a hospital in New Jersey, then in her home in Maine.
In an interview, Paul LePage, governor of Maine talked about feelings “running high,” and saying “if she keeps doing this, I can’t guarantee her safety.”
“We can’t guarantee her safety.”
We hear those words from time to time, if protestors, activists, or in this case one level-headed nurse, exercises their Constitutional rights in ways that certain people — usually those on the far right — find objectionable.
Don’t protest in ways we don’t like. We can’t guarantee your safety.
Don’t be a woman speaking out against sexism. We can’t guarantee your safety.
Don’t be a registered sex offender who has served his term of imprisonment and is trying to find a place to live, any place, even remote. We can’t guarantee your safety.
Don’t be a nurse exercising her right to be free from house arrest. We can’t guarantee your safety.
In almost all cases (the Anita Sarkeesian talk at University of Utah was different; the university really was hamstrung by Utah’s concealed-carry laws), what the words really mean is “We won’t try to guarantee your safety.” As though it were not one of government’s chief functions, to keep safe all of its citizens, even the ones nobody likes. Saying “We can’t guarantee your safety” is almost an invitation to vigilantes and other crazies: “go ahead. We don’t care enough to try to stop you.”
Don’t come down to Mississippi, civil rights workers, we can’t guarantee your safety.
All of us deserve to live in a country where our government will at least try their best to protect us when we are acting lawfully.