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Collateral Damage: Victoria Catano’s Case


When an Effort to Protect the Vulnerable in a Pandemic has Unintended Consequences



</p><h3 style="text-align:center;white-space:pre-wrap;">When an Effort to Protect the Vulnerable in a Pandemic has Unintended Consequences</h3><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; We all know that shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not protected by the right to free speech… and we all know it’s for a good reason. When people hear “fire,” they panic, and many will start pushing and shoving just to escape. When we panic, instinct kicks in, and everything sharpens to our own survival. It’s only after the danger passes and the adrenaline settles that we stop to think about the ones we left behind. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Or those we trampled over. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Who gets hurt when people panic? Sadly, it’s those less capable of pushing and shoving than the rest of the crowd. Children, the elderly, and the physically disabled come to mind. Those least able to help themselves run the <a href="https://www.npr.org/2021/11/08/1053442975/at-houstons-astroworld-festival-8-people-are-killed-after-crowd-rushes-the-stage">lethal risk</a> of being swept underfoot and forgotten. When cooler heads prevail, it’s obvious that <em>not</em> panicking stands the best chance of getting everyone to safety. But while safety procedures protect the vulnerable—and even mitigate the danger of a fire at the movies—wholesale panic on a <em>national </em>scale tosses their rights and liberties right out the window. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; In our own history, we shudder at the collateral damage to which previous generations turned a blind eye—the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, or the indefinite detention of foreign nationals in Guantanamo Bay after 9/11. Having returned to principles of liberty after the fact, we pride ourselves on hating to see anyone’s rights trampled over. Today, no one looks back and <em>applauds</em> those injustices. But in a kind of selective amnesia, we forget the strangely familiar details of how they happened… and we scoff when someone points out that something like them might be happening again.&nbsp; </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Of course, this isn’t a uniquely American problem. It’s a human problem, and it makes perfect sense in the scaled-down picture of someone screaming “fire” in a crowded theater. But when widespread panic gets normalized, there’s a metamorphosis, and it’s harder to see how far-off policy choices inflict consequences on the average citizen. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; But even with safeguards, the machinery of society can be marshaled against the vulnerable – the very people that institutions like the law and the state were designed to defend. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; In early 2020, some of those institutions led the stampede.</p><p class="" data-rte-preserve-empty="true" style="white-space:pre-wrap;"></p><h4 style="text-align:center;white-space:pre-wrap;"><span style="text-decoration:underline">Seeing the Problem</span></h4><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; When a crisis hits, people obey authority. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Building on feelings of duty and obedience, along with the desire to protect others, our common instinct steers us away from rocking the boat. But this impulse isn’t as safe as it sounds. Every elected official, bureaucrat, CEO, school administrator, or even teacher who complies with an unjust mandate makes it harder for those further down the ladder to defend their rights. Much harder, in fact, than it would have been for the official, bureaucrat, or teacher to have objected in the first place. When the only thing unifying a group of people is their fear of personal harm, those in authority will not only fail to protect everyone in their charge, but will work against the benefit of those unwilling, or even unable, to look out for their own wellbeing. Every time this happens, the downward pressure increases—and the abdication becomes harder to remedy. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Most of us like to imagine that, if called upon for some great purpose, we would rise to the occasion and do what is needed. Like those who charge hijackers on a jetliner or terrorists on a bullet train, we picture ourselves stuffed with courage, resourcefulness, and even self-sacrifice. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; But this imagined form of heroism is rarely, if ever, true to life. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Crises rarely declare themselves boldly and clearly. Opportunities to act responsibly, show restraint, and exercise courage rarely occur in Oscar-worthy moments of great significance. Instead, they come in the form of mundane, everyday decisions. If we consider how this reality applies to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that our institutions, our leaders, and whole populations are just as prone to panicking, acting in pure self-interest, and trampling others as those of the past. </p><p class="" style="white-space:pre-wrap;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; A case in point is college student, Victoria Catano, a client of the Lex Rex Institute. Her case is not unique, but as a snapshot of the irrational callousness of an all-too-common approach to public policy, it’s more than revealing. </p>


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