With the country paralyzed by lockdowns and more than 2/3 of Americans afraid to go back to work once they’re lifted, fear of catching coronavirus has gripped large swaths of the country.
Playing on that fear are assholes – who have begun threatening to spread COVID-19 to police, retail clerks, grocers, and anyone else they may have a disagreement with, according to Reuters. As a result, several states have begun to mull criminalizing weaponization of the virus.
New Jersey, for example, is now considering legislation which would make it a crime to issue a “credible threat to infect another with COVID-19 or similar infectious disease that triggered public emergency,” according to a spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A few examples of said threats:
A Michigan man wiped his nose and face on the shirt of a store employee who was trying to enforce a mask-wearing requirement. The 68-year-old man was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery and, if convicted, faces three months behind bars and a $500 fine.
In St. Petersburg, Florida, a man coughed and spit on police and threatened to spread the virus as they responded to domestic violence calls to his home. He faces up to five years in prison on federal charges of perpetrating a biological weapons hoax after his test results came back negative.
A San Antonio, Texas, man claimed in a Facebook post that he paid someone to spread coronavirus at grocery stores. While his threat was deemed false, he too was arrested and charged with a biological weapons hoax. He claimed he was trying to deter people from visiting stores in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, federal prosecutors in Texas said. –Reuters
In Philadelphia, 27-year-old Jacqueline McBride was arrested and charged with simple assault, terroristic threats and harassment after allegedly spitting on two people in a grocery store.
And who’s against criminalizing this behavior? Advocates for HIV-positive individuals, who say lawmakers need to be mindful not to make the laws so broad “that they punish poor and minority communities,” according to Reuters, which notes that over the last 40 years, at least 26 states have passed laws which criminalize HIV exposure – with crimes ranging from biting to donating blood.
And according to UCLA Law’s associate dean of public interest, Brad Sears, several studies have found that HIV criminalization laws target minorities, and are in response to a negative stereotype of “a predatory gay or bisexual man.”
We’re guessing the percentage of people who thinks that’s nonsense far outweighs those who think criminalizing COVID-19 infection threats.
In New Jersey, Republican Senator Kristin Corrado’s bill to punish anyone convicted of threatening to spread COVID-19 with up to 10 years behind bars and a $150,000 fine was before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee this week.
“To those who think it is cheeky to pull a sick prank like this – you will suffer the consequences of your poor decisions,” said Corrado. “These threats will not be taken lightly, and those found guilty will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.“