Recently, there has been an outpouring of videos documenting violent arrests of people not wearing masks. This happens when a citizen responds rudely to an officer, tries arguing with them, refuses to show identification, or the officer is simply having a bad day. Today (6.7.2020), we appealed to the Deputy Attorney General (Criminal) demanding that the authority of enforcing this offense be reassigned from police officers to Ministry of Health inspectors.
In the appeal, Attorney Anne Suciu argued that not wearing a mask in public spaces is not a typical criminal offense that should be enforced by police. Rather, the nature of the offense mandates that it be taken care of by “public” agents, i.e. Ministry of Health inspectors.
Firstly, instructing every citizen in the public space to stop breathing freely and wear some kind of fabric covering on their face is a demand for a far-reaching behavioral change, unfitting for a democratic country. Enforcement of this demand should be done entirely differently from “traditional” offenses that reflect abnormal criminal behavior.
Secondly, the instruction to wear a mask comes from the health field, and the reason for it is a health concern. Therefore, it should be the Ministry of Health inspectors who are given authority to enforce it, similarly to the enforcement of other health-related offenses such as smoking in public spaces.
Thirdly, the offense for not wearing a mask is a fine of 200 NIS. Though it is an important issue, this offense is relatively minor. Assigning its enforcement to police officers armed with handcuffs, taser guns, and other means of power is equivalent to trying to kill a fly with a 4-ton hammer. The interaction between the citizen and officer in these cases sets the stage for disproportionate enforcement, inciting resistance and anger on behalf of the citizens.