By Russell Ray
If you think people are inherently good and honest, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a lot of evidence to prove that thesis.
In Oklahoma, we have seen businesses big and small give millions of dollars to relief efforts aimed at helping the unemployed, homeless and hungry. We have seen neighbors helping neighbors in need of food and other essentials. And we have seen the extraordinary courage of those working in our hospitals and other health care facilities, putting their own lives at risk to care for the sick.
In contrast, fear of the unknown has exposed the dark side of humanity during this pandemic.
It started with people stripping store shelves of basic supplies, taking far more than they needed and leaving many without. Then there were those who tried to profiteer off the fear and pain of others, buying bulk supplies of toilet paper and hand sanitizer and selling it online at much higher prices. Then it deepened, as people carelessly flout and mock the social distancing rules we have in place to thwart this deadly virus, which has a mortality rate ten times higher than the seasonal flu.
In Stillwater, city officials amended a local emergency declaration after businesses reported being threatened by customers who did not want to be forced to wear masks to enter. Masks are now optional. Store employees in Stillwater were threatened with physical violence and verbally abused.
“It is further distressing that these people, while exercising their believed rights, put others at risk,” said Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle.
Perhaps the most sinister example was a shooting at a McDonald’s restaurant in Oklahoma City, where a woman shot one employee and injured three other workers because she was told to leave the dining area, which was closed to comply with social distancing rules created to prevent the virus from spreading.
In other parts of the country, some residents have urged officials to set up checkpoints to prevent those from outside the county and state from entering. It is a form of toxic tribalism that promotes an “Us” versus “Them” mentality and a dogma that demonizes other groups and encourages mob rule.
In Oklahoma and across the nation, we’re seeing cases of unemployment fraud skyrocket as thousands of people steal identities to take advantage of the nation’s enhanced unemployment benefits, taking resources away from the individuals and families they were intended to help during these dark economic times.
These selfish and irrational incidents are likely the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of people, groups and organizations have maintained common sense, accepted the restrictions, made selfless acts and are contributing to efforts to ease the suffering and despair of others.
But the “everyone-for-themselves” mentality seems to be growing, a trend that will hurt our ability to unite and defeat the spread of COVID-19.