A county judge in the state of Texas is calling on citizens to report neighbors and community members for violating coronavirus lockdown measures, and all in the name of “saving lives.”
On Sunday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo took to Twitter to enlist the help of residents, asking them to use an online form to report restaurants or businesses believed to be violating Gov. Greg Abbott’s order.
“See a restaurant at full capacity? Businesses open that shouldn’t be?” the judge wrote. “Help us save lives.”
See a restaurant at full capacity? Businesses open that shouldn’t be? Help us save lives. If you see violations of Governor Abbott’s order, please report them at:
— Harris County Judge (@HarrisCoJudge) May 3, 2020
Just one day later, Hidalgo’s office reported that it had already received 450 verifiable reports.
In spite of the apparent willingness of some Texans to report their neighbors for doing business against government decrees, the response to the form—and Hidalgo’s tweet—wasn’t all positive.
According to Click 2 Houston, the form was was “targeted by out-of-state political activists opposed to measures in place to protect public health.”
It is not clear how it was determined that the “activists” resided out of state, especially given that the tip line form does not ask for any information about the individual making the report.
The situation is reminiscent of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempt to implement a similar reporting form only to be inundated with obscene photos and Hitler memes.
Click 2 Houston also spoke with legal analyst Brian Wice, who pointed out some serious flaws inherent in such a tip line system.
“Due process requires that you literally catch someone in the act and unless someone is there with a webcam or their cellphone and they can show that, in fact, a violation has occurred, I can assure you that there is no way any purported violation—particularly one that’s not reported contemporaneously with contemporaneous proof—is ever going to make it past the ‘why are we doing this’ stage,” Wice said.
Wice also suggested that the site could be wielded by competitors and antagonists looking solely to attack a business and its reputation: “We can’t look beyond the fact that some people might utilize this to settle old scores or people who might find themselves informing on a competitor.”
Click 2 Houston also spoke with several business owners in the area opposed to the reporting system.
D’Ann Gummelt, owner of “A Splash of Sass Boutique” recently re-opened after being closed for six weeks and said she would never report other businesses.
“It reminds me of pre-WWII Germany, people snitching on each other,” she said. “I think it’s awful.”
“Your rent is still due, your utilities are still due, you have to buy supplies,” said Jerry Sarmiento, owner of Mezzanotte Ristorante.
“At the end of the day, you have to put bread on the table,” Sarmiento said. “And if your business is failing because you can’t open, it’s very difficult.”
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