In September of 2011, a franchise of the Occupy Wall Street movement, set up camp on the steps of Los Angeles’ iconic City Hall. The encampment was lauded by celebrities like Bill Maher and Tom Morello and embraced by politicians like Congresswoman Maxine Waters and then City Council President, Eric Garcetti. Garcetti, who’d later become mayor of Los Angeles, was quoted by the LA Times as telling the protesters, “This is your City Hall! Stay as long as you need,” And, “We’re here to support you.”
By the end of November, the campers had overstayed their welcome and were given an eviction notice by the City. I was there to cover the raid. The City brought out all their War on Terror-funded accoutrements: tanks; armored vehicles; detainment busses; 1,400 police officers in riot gear—all to arrest 200 undernourished activists. As I watched a thousand helmeted policemen clad in black, standing in formation, suddenly a unit of people in Hazmat suits paraded past the television cameras. The first thing I thought was, “Brilliant optics.”
You don’t have to say anything if the police don hazardous materials suits—the message is clear: the protesters are gross.
And if they’re posing a public health threat, it trumps all other matters and the contagion can be scrubbed away.
Were there people getting sick at Occupy LA? Did they need to be quarantined? No. But there are pics of them being swabbed by the Cootie Brigade so it appeared LAPD was erring on the side of public safety.
In 30 AD in Alexandria, the first known Blood Libel against the Jewish people as documented by historians Philo and Flavius Josephus was a whisper campaign which spread suspicion about Alexandrian Jews. It went like this: It’s part of their religion to eat the entrails of Greeks and they were kicked out of Egypt because they have leprosy.
Men, women and children were strategically slaughtered in Roman-controlled Alexandria and they justified it by saying the victims were an “other” who enjoyed cannibalism and had a plague.
In the U.S. from the years 1820-1860 nearly 2 million Irish immigrants arrived on our shores. The vast majority were poor. And, yes, they brought with them, according to their detractors at the time, all kinds of illnesses including cholera, typhus and tuberculosis. These diseases were in Irish communities largely due to poor sanitation and overcrowding, but to those who were opposed to the papalist invaders—these bugs were their cause célèbre.
Cut to the modern day on U.S./Mexican border: Right wing claptraps use cockroach imagery to discuss immigrants; an infestation of a filthy swarm. Radio host Neil Boortz suggested renaming H1N1, the “fajita flu.” Columnist Brian Frederick wrote, “Boortz stirred up fears that the virus was some sort of ‘bioterrorist’ plot, asking, ‘What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?’” Radio host Michael Savage claimed the terrorists might have known that Mexicans, “are the perfect mules for bringing this virus into America.”
Now there’s an overfill of unaccompanied minors at the border and right wing radio parrots are holding up signs telling these children to get out along with their diseases.
You know where the Ground Zero of our whooping cough epidemic is in this country? In affluent, helicopter-parent neighborhoods where lefty science deniers refused to get their spawn vaccinated. You know where it’s not? At the border.
Right wing radio has convinced their flock they’re in Act II of every zombie movie ever made. This is not World War Z, Brad Pitt isn’t going to guess the perfect treatment and building a wall won’t stop a virus from spreading.
How am I so sure? Because I live in Manhattan: a small island of 1.8 million residents, 2 million daily commuters and 1 million weekly tourists. Every day millions from all over the world shove into subway cars sneezing on communal poles while coughing on passersby. If having strange people from foreign places—an open border—was a way to spread a pandemic, New York City would collapse under the weight of used Kleenexes.
What the charge of being a contagion does is effectively dehumanize immigrants and vilify refugees. It makes them no longer a humanitarian crisis, but a public health risk. It gives us license to treat newcomers to this country as rabid animals instead of fellow human beings. They become a threat. And a threat that needs to be neutralized.
Photo by Paul Hocksenar