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Los Angeles ban on masks at protests won’t stop activists

Where's the line between protest and mob violence? Credit: Getty

June 29, 2024 - 8:00pm

Recent violent protests outside Adas Torah, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the Pico-Robertson neighbourhood of Los Angeles, have sparked significant debate about the role of public safety in California. Following these events, LA Mayor Karen Bass announced that the city is exploring a mask ban, a move which has ignited further controversy given the history of mask mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But this situation also underscores a broader issue: the failure to prosecute criminal behaviour among certain groups can lead to sweeping infringements on civil liberties for the entire population.

The events outside Adas Torah involved hard-Left and pro-Palestine protestors, whose actions escalated into mob violence. Given the track record of similar protests turning violent, it seems unlikely that any of the protestors condemned by politicians for “hate” will be prosecuted. Almost all charges involving Columbia University protestors, who occupied a building on campus, were dropped. Similarly, charges against nearly 80 people in Texas, lauded by some on the Right for its “tough on crime” stance regarding pro-Palestine encampments, were also dropped.

Americans saw a similar catch-and-release approach to Antifa demonstrations that turned violent in Portland in 2020 and 2021. Nearly half of the federal cases against Portland rioters have been dismissed, highlighting a pattern of minimal consequences for destructive actions.

This pattern of failing to hold individuals accountable for their actions has broader implications. Among the most serious is that there is a growing culture of impunity among hard-Left activists, who have good reason to believe that they will not be punished for even the most egregious of offences — for example, descending on a house of worship to protest a conflict thousands of miles away.

But there’s another dynamic at work. Progressive activists and DAs have backed cities and law enforcement into a corner through years of equating criminal prosecution with injustice and racism. The need to address antisemitic attacks like the one in LA puts officials in a bind. Do nothing and they appear to be condoning hate crime; prosecute and they appear to be furthering structural racism and the “prison industrial complex”.

With the proposed mask ban, Los Angeles seems to be falling back on an old trick: deal with a problem presented by a small but violent few by knocking away a civil liberty — in this case, wearing a facial mask — from the entire, mostly peaceful citizenry.

Ironically, a parallel strategy was employed to institute the mask mandates just a few years ago. Rather than encouraging at-risk populations, like the elderly and immunocompromised, to take steps to safeguard their own health, governments chose to restrict or suspend the rights of every single member of society.

As with the Covid mask mandate (and nearly all other Covid-related restrictions), there is no evidence to show that a mask ban will have any effect on racially-motivated violence, whether in LA or anywhere else. With Covid, Americans witnessed their government experts flip-flopping in real time on the question of the virtues of mask wearing, moving in weeks from “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS” to airlines threatening that passengers who didn’t want to wear masks might end up on the no-fly list.

With the proposed mask ban, we might be treated to the same experience of the government dealing with a problem it can’t or won’t solve by thrashing around a particular policy.

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El Uro
El Uro
26 days ago

From Quillette:
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California …Proposition 47 was campaigned for by progressive activists under the misleading title: “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” The Proposition downgraded six different felony theft crimes to misdemeanours where the value of the stolen property is $950 or less. …Of course, this was hardly clear to the 59 percent of voters who pulled the lever for “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”
.
There is no cure for idiocy… Only Second Amendment can save this country and all of us

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
25 days ago

Is seeking to draw a parallel between the wearing of masks for healthcare purposes (however effective or not) and for purposes of malign, threatening and potentially violent intervention in zones of political conflict really a wise or even useful thing to do?
Isn’t it perfectly clear what “face-covering” to hide one’s identity is about?

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
25 days ago

The Canadian Criminal Code contains what might be a useful guide. It defines a riot as being, in substance, a demonstration or protest that is violent or otherwise threatening to the peace as being a crime. It then sets out that concealing one’s identity by wearing a mask or other disguise is also a crime. The maximum penalty for the masking crime is greater than for merely being part of a riot.

Rob N
Rob N
25 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Sounds surprisingly sensible. Mask wearing during criminal behaviour should lead to increased punishment.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
25 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Of course that’s just legal theory because in practice nothing of the sort is doled out to the “activists”. It’s good on paper. But that paper is less than worthless without enforcing the law. The West has become a culture of Law by Rule, NOT Rule of Law.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
25 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Except it’s not being enforced…

J Bryant
J Bryant
25 days ago

Here’s my prediction: at some point, BLM will resurface in LA and stage a riot. Everyone will be wearing masks, and the authorities will do nothing about it.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
25 days ago

As long as violent rioters support the politically correct cause du jour they will most likely be released within a day without penalty.
However, had these been January 6 ‘insurrectionists’ they would have been locked up without trial for at least two years.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
25 days ago

The irony is just delicious, though.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
25 days ago

Masks were already illegal in Virginia for many decades before the hysteria of lockdownitis. And for the exact reason here- KKK intimidation and violence – Hamastitutes are an identical phenomenon. Masks SHOULD BE ILLEGAL in public especially at “protests” that aren’t even against the government. It’s not as if they have any medical value in these situations and the evidence has come to show that they actually have deleterious effects that far outweigh any perceived benefits.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
25 days ago

Umwertung aller Werten. It is my right to wear a mask. No it is not. It is your duty to engage with society in a civil manner. That means showing your face. A mayor whose first name is Karen should not have any difficulties with that.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
25 days ago

The double standard is quite amazing. For me it began during COVID where gathering together outside for a funeral or worship was banned, while following the death of George Floyd, protests against racism were allowed.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
25 days ago

More laws, no enforcement, and they can’t understand why things don’t get better. Duh.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
24 days ago

One’s face and name are integral parts of the covenant that the People have with each other in any democracy or republic.
Anonymity is reserved for the voting booth only. That’s what the little curtain is for.