1/29/14

Hattiesburg Survives Curfew

Hub City Transit Bus, Hattiesburg, MS, 2007
Hub City Transit Bus, Hattiesburg, MS, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An unusually severe winter storm swept into our state yesterday. At least, it was unusually severe for the sort of winter weather we get here. Those of us who moved here from areas that get real snow are sometimes tempted to scoff at the locals and how badly they freak out over a little bit of sleet, but we quickly realize we were wrong to do so when we discover how unprepared the area is for such weather. There are no snow plows, reserves of sand and salt, or the equipment needed to spread it on roads here in the Southern half of our state. That means that if the temperatures remain cold enough, whatever falls from the sky and freezes could pose some real problems.

Here in the Hattiesburg area, there were many accidents yesterday and a few road closures. I did not venture out because the local government said not to. Specifically, they said that nonessential personnel (that's me!) should stay home and off the roads. I was more than happy to oblige. Some of my conservative neighbors felt quite differently, however, and this caught me by surprise.

The mayor of Hattiesburg took an unusual step late yesterday afternoon, calling for a mandatory curfew in which he said that nobody should be on the roads between 8 pm last night and 7 am this morning. The roads were icy, and travel was unsafe. There had been far too many accidents already, and emergency vehicles were having difficulty responding. The curfew, similar to those implemented in some areas following various hurricanes, was a public safety measure designed to protect the public and emergency responders from unnecessary risks.

When a couple of local TV stations posted news of the curfew on their Facebook pages, the local conservatives erupted. Several referred to this curfew as "martial law," suggesting that they had absolutely no idea what martial law involves. Others left comment after comment complaining about "the nanny state." Many reasonable people responded, pointing out that the curfew was about public safety and was necessary, at least in part, because the emergency services were so over-extended that they could not respond to all the accidents.

Seeing the back-and-forth was an interesting reminder of the massive differences we have between those who believe that government has some sort of role in public safety and those who do not. Equally interesting was the selfish manner in which some seemed to be processing the situation. The attitude that came through loud and clear in many of the comments was something like, "Who cares about anyone else's safety? If this thing inconveniences me in any way, it is tyrannical!" It is all about "my rights" and "my freedom" - screw everybody else.

Try as I might, I simply cannot reconcile attitudes like this with Christianity. One of the positive things I recall of Christianity was the concern for one's neighbors, and particularly the less fortunate among us. This concern seems to have been replaced with a surprising level of hostile selfishness. Perhaps Christianity has evolved into something else. Or maybe there simply isn't room for what I remember as some of the core Christian values in contemporary conservative politics.

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