NYC arrests people over social distancing and… throws them into crowded jail cells

Yesterday, a man riding a paddle board in the ocean, alone, was arrested in Malibu for not obeying social distancing orders. There was no one around him, seeing as how he was in the ocean and all. But he needed to be arrested and taken to jail so he could mingle with other “criminals” in the name of social distancing.

It would seem that lunacy is contagious, as NYC is arresting people over social distancing too. And tossing them into crowded holding cells, because they would not want anyone to spread the coronavirus:

NEW YORK CITY police officers arrested three people in Brooklyn over the weekend after they allegedly “failed to maintain social distancing,” court documents reviewed by The Intercept show. The three individuals appear to be among the first in the city to be arrested over the Covid-19 mitigation measures — despite city officials promising that those disregarding the lockdown would face fines at most. Violating social distancing is not a crime per se, but each of the individuals arrested was charged with obstructing governmental administration, unlawful assembly, and disorderly conduct.

In a criminal complaint, police claim an informant observed a group of about 25 people “hanging out” in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood last Friday night and that the defendants “refused to leave the location and disperse” despite the informant repeatedly asking them to do so. But one of those arrested, a 37-year-old woman, disputed the facts described in the complaint, telling The Intercept that she had been in a parking lot with her boyfriend, who was also arrested, when she saw a group of people nearby dispersing into the street apparently after police ordered them to do so.

The woman, who asked not to be named because the charges against her remain pending, told The Intercept that a large group of officers, wearing no masks, approached her and her boyfriend and told them it was “time to leave,” then proceeded to grab her boyfriend before they could do so. The interaction quickly escalated and officers pepper-sprayed two people as a crowd gathered to watch what was happening. “They actually brought the crowd inside that parking lot once they started bothering me,” she said.

The woman was taken to the local precinct and then to central booking, where she shared a cell with two dozen other women for the next 36 hours. Only women who already had masks when they were arrested were allowed to keep them. There was no soap and the cell was dirty, but at one point an officer went around distributing drops of hand sanitizer to the women held there.

“They got us all bunched up in one cell,” the woman said. “Nobody gave us no tissues. Regular jail stuff. Once you go in there they are going to treat you like the scum of the earth.”

The woman was ultimately released on Sunday morning — but her employer has not allowed her back to work because of fears she was exposed to the virus while in detention.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week that those gathering in groups of any size or failing to keep 6 feet away from each other could receive police warnings. If they failed to disperse, or returned after police told them to leave, they could be fined $250 to $500. But as joggers continue to pack sidewalks and crowds gathered to watch a U.S. Navy hospital ship dock in the city, it has become clear that far too many New Yorkers are continuing to get too close to one another. This week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to make social distancing guidelines “a law” while calling on the NYPD to step up enforcement. “The NYPD has to get more aggressive. Period,” Cuomo said, taking a shot at the city’s administration, which oversees the police department.

The NYPD and the Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

But as officials threaten harsher enforcement, critics warn that police are not the answer. They caution against a heavy-handed response that they fear will be doled out unequally across the city. And with hundreds of officers testing positive for the virus, and thousands more out sick, community advocates worry that a more aggressive response would unnecessarily expose scores of people to the disease. While a criminal charge for failure to socially distance does not yet exist, officers have a lot of discretion in their encounters with the public and can arrest people under vague charges like disorderly conduct, obstructing government administration, or resisting arrest. That means that police interventions meant to keep people at a distance could quickly escalate into physical, and possibly violent, interactions.

“It’s basically just setting up police encounters, and any police encounter does have some potential to escalate,” said Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney at Legal Aid’s Cop Accountability Project.

Meanwhile, Google announced that it has created a program that would collect personal data from users’ cell phones via Google apps and Android phones and use it to communicate to local health officials what people are not practicing social distancing measures. Essentially, if you use any of their products, they are going to narc on you if you leave the house, because they know where you live, the routes you travel, and your destinations. They know if you go to a grocery store or to visit your parents or child.

Of course, it’s not like it’s hard to get around this sort of thing, if you actually cared. (And I assume people who live in places that encourage snitching and are arresting violators do care, quite a bit.) People can switch to Google’s competitors for search and mapping tools. They can turn the location off on their phone. Or they can simply leave their phone at home and kick it 1990s-style.

It’s a pretty stupid policy from an investor standpoint, as it gives people yet another reason not to trust Google with their personal data. The tech companies continue to escalate their invasions of users’ privacy, which is a seriously poor corporate decision if trying to convince people to store all their data in your cloud is a major component of your business model. Google honestly has always been its own worst enemy from a business standpoint though. If you invest in Google, you already know you can’t tell them to check their politics at the door. It is sort of perversely funny, however, that Google is run by people who spent years calling Trump authoritarian and now they are the pneumonia Stasi.

We’ve come a long way since Edward Snowden humiliated the tech companies for sending your data to the NSA and CIA. The bar for abusing people’s privacy gets lower and lower and lower.

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