It’s not just recalcitrant, reprobate Republicans fighting against vaccine mandates anymore. Black Lives Matter has officially joined the fray, offering up some of the most striking language yet, putting progressives on the defensive and accusing them of racism. What did Democrats think was going to happen when they expected restaurants to turn away more than one out of two blacks?
They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but perhaps nothing could be stranger than a potential alignment between Black Lives Matter and conservatives in general over the new wave of vaccine mandates sweeping the nation. For months, we’ve been told that resistance to vaccines and the associated mandates was the province of primarily southern, retrograde Republicans that refused to accept the science. According to Democrats and the mainstream media, these Republicans were placing the entire health of the country at risk, literally killing their more progressive and enlightened neighbors, over their refusal to do the right thing and get vaccinated. The carrot quickly became the stick. In April and May, states were enticing people to get vaccinated with everything from a beer to a lottery ticket. In July and August, however, the gloves came off and the mandates came down.
New York City was among the first in the country to require proof of vaccination to enter indoor establishments such as restaurants, bars, and gyms. “If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said when announcing the new regulations. “A lot of restaurants and entertainment centers are already buying into this,” he claimed. “They want their customers to be safe and their employees to be safe. They’re already buying into this.” Astute observers noted almost immediately that vaccination rates in New York City varied widely by race and some predicted the outcome of the mandate would be essentially segregation. The Big Apple might boast a 68.8% vaccination rate (at least one dose) as of earlier this week, but there is a broad divergence based on race and ethnicity. Asians remain the most vaccinated group at 81% (again, at least one dose), but blacks lag behind at 44%, meaning more than half of the city’s African American population is denied access to large swaths of the public sphere.
This past weekend an incident at the world famous Carmine’s Restaurant in Times Square prompted Black Lives Matter to get involved. The details of the incident remain a little unclear, but apparently three black women from Texas were seated and waiting for another group of three black men. The men were stopped at the door and refused to present proof of vaccination. In other versions of the story, the women themselves were stopped at the door. In any event, a fight apparently broke out between the women from Texas and a 24-year old hostess of Asian descent. The three women, Kaeita Nkeenge Rankin, 44, Tyonnie Keshay Rankin, 21, and Sally Rechelle Lewis, 49, were ultimately arrested and charged with assault and criminal mischief. Their attorney, Justin Moore, claims the hostess used a racial slur and suggested their vaccine cards were fake.
Black Lives Matter, however, doesn’t seem to care too much about the details, either what actually occurred at Carmine’s or who is responsible for the vaccine mandate. Protestors gathered outside the restaurant soon after, alternating between chants of “F— you, Carmine’s,” and “Carmine’s are racist” and calls to end the vaccine passport regime. “This vaccination card mandate to create more Sandra Blands, and more Breonna Taylors, it ends here,” organizer Kimberly Bernard claimed during a speech. “Consider yourself served. Cancel Carmines’s!” The co-founder of the BLM Greater New York Chapter, Hawk Newsome, sounded practically conservative when he said, “Listen, vaccine is a choice, it’s a choice. You shouldn’t exclude people from everyday activities because they choose not to engage in something they have every reason to doubt.” Mr. Newsome’s sister, also a co-founder, Chirova Newsome, said, “We’re putting this city on notice that your mandate will not be another racist social distance practice. Black people are not going to stand by, or you will see another uprising. And that is not a threat. That is a promise. The vaccination passport is not a free passport to racism.”
For its part, Carmine’s is doing their best to try to stay out of it, telling Fox News, “Last week’s violence against our staff had nothing to do with race, despite a Texas criminal defense lawyer’s false assertions to the contrary.” They continued, “Three of our hosts who are respectively Black, Latinx, and Asian American women did their best to welcome a large party while enforcing New York’s vaccination requirement for indoor dining. We require that every guest show evidence of vaccination to eat inside. Unfortunately, some male members of the party were unable to provide vaccination proof and so could not enter the restaurant. Three female guests in the party who had shown proof of vaccination and been welcomed into the restaurant without issue then launched an entirely unprovoked, brutal attack on our hosts, one of whom continues to suffer from a concussion.”
Personally, I find myself in the unusual position of fully backing Black Lives Matter for this first time in my life, even though I believe they picked the wrong location and target for their protest. Carmine’s and other New York City restaurants are not enforcing these mandates by choice, despite de Blasio’s claim. To the extent they are enforcing them at all after a recent survey found only 4 out of 15 actually do so, it’s being done because they face massive fines if they refuse to comply. The proper target of their ire is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other progressives, up to and including President Biden, for implementing these mandates in the first place, fully knowing that many people of color will not be able to fully participate in American life. The numbers were obvious enough at the time that the acting Mayor of Boston Kim Janey, a black woman herself, said, “There’s a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers…during slavery, post-slavery…” She continued, “Here, we want to make sure that we are not doing anything that would further create a barrier for residents of Boston or disproportionally impact BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities.”
None of this mattered to progressives, however, many of whom touted polls supposedly showing the public was all in on their mandates. For example, a recent Fox News poll supposedly found that 67% support mandatory mask-wearing for students and teachers in schools, 66% said businesses should require face coverings, 61%, support vaccine mandates for teachers, 58% percent for federal workers, 55% for private sector workers, 54% to participate in indoor activates, up from 50% last month. At the same time, blacks in general are taking notice: Biden’s approval rating among that group dropped a net 12 points after the announcement of the mandate according to Morning Consult. This, my friends, is the difference between what we would like to see in principle and the reality of what implementing these mandates actually looks like in practice. If we could snap our fingers and magically vaccinate every eligible person in the country, that would be one thing, but mandates require enforcement, and enforcement leads to confrontation and difficult decisions.
Operating a restaurant, gym, or other inside venue in New York City now requires you to stop potential patrons before they enter and ask for their proof of vaccination. The majority of people will likely comply and present their papers without question, but the majority isn’t everyone, nor is it spread equally among the races. If a person fails to present their papers, but says they are vaccinated and simply left them at home, what’s the restaurateur supposed to do? Accuse a potential customer of lying, turn them away and lose the business, or maybe just let them in anyway and hope they don’t get caught? Mind you, these are many of the same kinds of businesses that were entirely shutdown for long periods and then only allowed to partially open. In short, they need customers, any customers, and aren’t going to inclined to turn many away, but if a person is, in fact, turned away, how are they going to react? It’s also worth noting who’s actually enforcing these requirements. We’re not talking about police or security trained to deal with this kind of situation. They’re largely young people, many of them minorities, simply trying to do their job, likely for low pay in the first place. How is it fair to place the burden on them and how is it not easy to see that bad things might well happen like at Carmine’s?
Likewise, Biden’s mandate would put the burden on employers themselves, requiring them to validate vaccination for their employees or face a stiff fine of over $10,000 per instance. Think about what this entails: Every HR team, or possibly the owner or an administrative assistant for some smaller businesses, is now required to ask for and ensure they receive proof of vaccination for all of their employees. Again, many if not most are likely to scan their card and send it without issue, but what about those that don’t or at least those that don’t do it on a timely basis? Well, the HR team is going to need to track them down and then ascertain whether the employee in question is simply not diligent in providing proof or isn’t vaccinated at all. What happens to those that aren’t vaccinated? The company would likely encourage them to do so promptly, and if they don’t? They’re supposed to be fired. It’s no secret that good help is hard to find. Are we really expecting businesses to fire potentially high performing, hardworking, committed employees that are otherwise exemplary because they haven’t gotten vaccinated? In principle, a person could be working at the company in question for decades without a blemish on their record, and now they’re supposed to be tossed out. There is, of course, also a racial component: Only about 43% of black people and 48% of Hispanics nationwide are vaccinated. Companies are going to fire more than one out of every two people of color if they don’t comply?
Ultimately, mandates are leading to a lesson in the law of unintended consequences. Even when our objectives are the right ones, for the right reasons, and I believe the vaccine, though oversold, does offer the best protection we have, the implementation of those objectives can still be wrong. Alas, this isn’t the only lesson in unintended consequences concerning coronavirus that we’ve learned just this week after CDC released a report on the impact of pandemic lockdowns and virtual education on children, and the results are nothing short of tragic.
The health and future of the next generation is quite literally at stake. Children and young adults aged 2-19 that were already struggling with obesity, saw the rate of their Body Mass Index, BMI, double during the pandemic. Yes, double. Those already overweight and the youngest among us, were hit the hardest, “Persons with prepandemic overweight or obesity and younger school-aged children experienced the largest increases.” The only group that didn’t experience an increase was the rare-these-days underweight category, but “among persons with overweight, moderate obesity, and severe obesity, pandemic rates of BMI increase more than doubled, compared with prepandemic rates.” Children aged 6-11 were hit the hardest with a rate of change some 2.5 times greater. One would be remiss not to point out the sad, tragic irony that obese patients made up about half of all coronavirus hospital admissions in 2020. People even moderately overweight made up almost thirty percent, meaning weight was a factor in slightly less than 80% of hospital admissions, the leading underlying condition by far. Yes, to protect our country from coronavirus, we intentionally implemented policies that had the unintended (but not necessarily unexpected) consequence of placing our children’s health at risk, now and well into the future. Does that make any sense in retrospect?
I’ve previously described the hubris of our response to the pandemic and talked about the importance of our Constitutional order in the pandemic response. Now, we can add an object lesson in the law of unintended consequences to a list I’d rather not write about at all. It’s too late to prevent our children from gaining unnecessary weight, but there’s still time to prevent these mandates from spiraling out of control and segregating the country. If politics makes strange bedfellows, BLM and conservatives can unite on this issue and stop these mandates in their tracks. I’m not sure if stranger things have happened or not, but this certainly could happen, or at least one can hope.