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Five Reasons the Jailing of Shelley Luther Resonates and Has Changed the Coronavirus Lockdown Conversation

AP Photo/LM Otero

Shelley Luther was sentenced to seven days in jail last week by Judge Eric Moye. The Dallas hair salon owner’s crime was reopening her business a few days ahead of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order allowing all hair salons throughout the state to reopen, and refusing to apologize under the judge’s glare. During her hearing, Judge Moye demanded Luther bend the knee and apologize for opening earlier than the then unannounced reopening date. She refused and got a week in the clink plus a hefty fine. 

Outrage swept across the country instantly, not so much for the fine (which no one believed she would end up having to pay herself) but for the evident injustice. Her case sparked more intense reaction than prior ones, including the case of police in Laredo, Texas — same state as Luther, but different city — running a sting and arresting two women for reopening their nail salon ahead of any edict allowing them to. That case barely registered on the nation’s radar. Luther’s case exploded and triggered intense reaction for and against the judge’s decision. What’s the difference, and why did her case resonate when others haven’t? Here are five reasons.

Judges had been releasing convicts from jail, supposedly to protect them from the virus

Across the country during the lockdown, judges have released about 16,000 convicts from prison. The stated reason for the mass releases was to protect those convicts and some awaiting trial for non-violent offenses from getting the coronavirus. But it looked very political. The release orders were coming from judges in big cities with leftward politics. The orders obviously put criminals on the streets at a time of heightened stress and tensions nationwide, adding to the volatile mix around the country. The releases were billed as only affecting non-violent offenders, some of whom had not even been tried yet. In one case, a released convict allegedly committed a murder the day after his release. So here was a murder, and over there was a convicted pedophile rapist, both released in the name of keeping them safe from the virus. The releases of thousand of convicts and suspects can be expected to increase crime rates. 

The controversial mass releases caused uproars all over the country. In Texas, where Shelley Luther lives, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, ordered the release of convicts and some awaiting trial from the county jail, but Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, sued to stop her. This went to court, where more judges, Democrats, ruled that Abbott was out of line. The whole thing took on the usual politics, and it was a big story in Texas.

So when Judge Moye ordered Shelley Luther, a mom who just wanted to get back to work, to serve seven days in jail, his order, by his fellow judges’ own logic, endangered her life by exposing her to an increased chance of contracting the deadly and contagious coronavirus. His order treated her worse than a convicted pedophile rapist. This didn’t sit well with many who didn’t want the mass prison releases in the first place, and who just want to get back to work like Luther wanted to do. Millions of Americans saw themselves in her and were outraged. 

Luther sensibly worked the story to her advantage

Before she was ever arrested, Shelley Luther evidently sensed she could turn her story into a more universal one and change the conversation. She knew she was in a big city, Dallas, which is one of the nation’s largest media markets, so she could push her story to a national audience. And she did. She sensibly prepared by setting up a GoFundMe account, anticipating legal and other expenses (and she’s now being criticized for thinking ahead by the same people who wanted to see her spend a week in jail). She’s also being criticized for owning a nice home — a home she worked for and was paying for before the government shut her business and the whole economy down. She would like to continue paying for it, but can’t because she wasn’t allowed to work.

Luther did a Facebook live video describing why she wants to get back to work. She garnered coverage in the local media and the state’s conservative activist media. All of this is very different from the Laredo case. Some in media have argued that the disparate attention given to the two cases is because of racism, as the Laredo Two are Hispanic and Luther is white. But that’s a Twitter hot take that misses key facts. The Laredo Two were arrested as the result of a police sting. They weren’t even named in the early stories about them. They never went to media and never even had the opportunity to, they just went to jail. And they were arrested in Laredo, a border town which most Americans have never heard of, not Dallas, home of the Cowboys and one of the nation’s largest cities. They were also arrested in late April, as the steam against the whole lockdown was still building. Their case did attract some attention. I wrote about it here. But they didn’t have the advantages of location or the media savvy that Luther has. Luther says she wants to help them now. Her release already has. Luther not only drew attention to her story, she made sure to draw attention to theirs too, and made it more difficult to send other people to jail for wanting to work — while judges are also freeing convicted criminals from those same jails. 

Our pro-lockdown elites keep violating their own lockdown orders

Early on after he locked down New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the gym. That was in March, and it was just an early example of elites breaking the rules they were imposing on the rest of us. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot shut down hair salons in her city, and then went and got a new ‘do. When some questioned her, she was unapologetic — “I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye,” she said. Sure. And she could have chosen to set an example for her constituents by sacrificing in the same way she was ordering them to. But she chose herself and her appearance over setting that example, and thereby undermined her own rules and the whole logic of lockdown. Chris Cuomo acted like Chris Cuomo always does. Media have consistently lionized de Blasio and NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo despite the fact that both made the outbreak worse. But the worst example of all this is Neil Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson is the epidemiologist and modeler at Imperial College of London whose model helped initiate the global shutdown. And then he broke the lockdown with a couple of booty calls with his married paramour. If that guy doesn’t even take the lockdowns seriously, why should anyone else? 

Time and again, when elites should do the obvious right thing, they go out of their way not to. Throughout the whole lockdown ordeal, elites have behaved as if we have to give up everything — jobs and income, our personal freedoms, everything — but they don’t have to sacrifice anything. The Babylon Bee has made great use of this glaring hypocrisy. Has even one of these elites cut their own lavish salary or behaved as if the lockdowns are more important than their own selfish desires? The fact that none of them have sacrificed is not going unnoticed. So when Judge Moye, who hasn’t lost a penny of his salary during the lockdown, orders a working mom to go to a dangerous jail for trying to save her business, it doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. Should it?

The lockdown looks arbitrary and capricious

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) probably deserves more blame than any other governor for undermining the logic of lockdown. She locked Michigan down with executive orders that simply make no sense. Michiganders could go to Walmart to buy some things, but not other things, including seeds to plant in their gardens. Why? Because Whitmer said so. People could go out on lakes and rivers on boats, as long as the boat didn’t have a motor. Why? Because Gov. Whitmer said so. Whitmer made hash of reason in her orders, citizens noticed, and furor broke loose. She also triggered a state constitutional crisis by defying the legislature when it sought to curb her authority. Such scenes have played out all over the country, and almost exclusively in jurisdictions under Democrat control. Dallas County, where Shelley Luther lives, has been subjected to similar authoritarian rule by County Judge Clay Jenkins (D). All of this suggests too many officials are simply enjoying treating us all like puppets on strings. This undermines the very real need to take measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus. 

Add in the fact that California has freed convicts, and has also arrested a guy who went surfing alone, and is a sanctuary state that wants to give taxpayer money to illegal immigrants when taxpayers can’t even leave their homes. Such jurisdictions regularly flout laws they don’t like — why can’t ordinary Americans do the same? Add in the fact that the media and even the city of San Antonio (controlled by Democrats, naturally) have decided to police the speech of Americans who want to hold China accountable for its terrible virus deeds, and you further undermine the lockdowns. People are just sick of hypocritical government and elites treating them so poorly and not even bothering to justify the heavy-handed actions anymore. 

People want to get back to work to save their businesses, careers and families

Those who are still working may be underestimating just how crushingly stressful the lockdown has become for those who are not. The lockdown is stressful for most of us, but if you’re not working it adds a great deal more and deep anger is building across the country. Picture this scenario. You have school-age kids, you live in a typical suburb with pretty good schools, and you own a successful small business with a staff — you’re living the dream. Overnight all that went away through no fault of your own. Your kids are confined at home, and though you are not a teacher you have to become one now because the schools are shut down. Your kids can’t even go visit their friends, adding to their stress and yours. Your business is shut down, so you’re not making any money. You’re having to make the agonizing decision to furlough or even fire your staff. You’re suddenly and for the first time in your life worried about making rent on your business, and even more ominous, the mortgage on your home. In the blink of an eye everything you have ever worked for is in grave danger. And you can’t even go to church to get a moment’s peace or perspective because that is shut down too. You could be penniless, homeless, without food — all gone. If your parents are aging, and especially if they’re in a nursing home, you can’t visit them without risking their lives. You’re hurting very deeply and there seems to be no end to the whole ordeal. But somehow you’re the bad guy now because you want to work?

More than 30 million Americans, including Shelley Luther, are living this nightmare right now. They were all told to shut down a couple of weeks to flatten the curve and control the virus’ spread. That has morphed into orders to stay shut down until we have more testing or even a vaccine. A vaccine could take a year or more if we ever have one. Meanwhile, the science suggests the virus is less likely to hurt you the younger and healthier you are.

The promise of a meager government check (or even a monthly government stipend) isn’t much to people who pay taxes and want to work. And many of them know that if they and millions more aren’t working, the government itself is going to run out of money and our whole country could collapse. They know, because they create jobs, that the lockdown path the nation is on is not sustainable for much longer. 

Then, in the midst of all that, a judge orders a woman in your situation to go to jail because she doesn’t want an unemployment or stimulus check, she just wants to work. Shelley Luther is not just a hairdresser in Dallas, she’s one of more than 30 million Americans whose whole lives have been upended, and who are probably at very low risk for contracting the disease we’re all trying to control. They just want to return to some sense of normal and earn their way again. They know the risks. They want the government to stop its capricious and jackbooted tactics, and they want leaders to provide some consistent examples of sacrifice if we are truly “all in this together.”

Is that too much to ask?

Bryan Preston lives near Austin and is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries

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