Gov. Chris Sununu told NHJournal he supported the violations of his coronavirus Stay-At-Home 2.0 order by a large crowd in Manchester on Saturday because the rally “had an important message.”
On Saturday, a crowd of more than 1,000 people rallied against police violence and the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. “We plan to stand in solidarity with the people who are assassinated in our country,” said Tyrell Whitted, a Manchester resident and one of the march organizers with Black Lives Matter.
Gov. Sununu released a statement supporting the gathering, despite the fact that his COVID-19 stay-at-home order bans groups of 10 or more people.
“This morning I called the organizers ahead of the #GeorgeFloyd March in Manchester to let them know the State of New Hampshire stands with them in their calls for justice. This important conversation must continue and we must constructively work together as a nation to ensure there is change,” the statement read.
Asked if he would support other groups with good causes gathering in a similar manner amid the ongoing pandemic, Sununu replied:
“Those that want to compare social injustices and the issue surrounding the murder of George Floyd to the effectiveness of a stay-at-home order and social gatherings are completely missing the point. They are two completely separate issues and those that try to combine those two issues… they’re doing an absolute disservice to the importance of the message around those protests, the importance of the message around the injustices.”
And besides, Sununu added, there was nothing he or his administration could do to stop the Black Lives Matter- organized event — even if he wanted to.
“Frankly, that event was going to happen whether we approved of it or said, ‘sorry, you can’t do it because you’re in a group larger than 10.’ That event was going to happen, and frankly, it should have happened. And it should happen in a positive and constructive way.
“I think what… the folks in Manchester, the Manchester Police Department, Chief [Carl] Capano and myself, reaching out to [the protesters] proactively did, was made sure that they understood that we were supportive of it,” Sununu said.
More protests that violate the stay-at-home order are scheduled to occur across New Hampshire, Sununu acknowledged, and he supports those, too.
Meanwhile, many outdoor businesses remain closed, nearly 200,000 Granite Staters remain out of work and restaurants are desperately struggling to keep from going under permanently from the impacts of the lockdown.
Even a venue like an outdoor race track — with far more social distancing and less health risk than the Manchester rally — was forced to cancel events under threat from the Sununu administration.
Sununu said Monday he hopes to have new rules for some limited indoor dining and other loosening of restrictions “in the near future.”
One person who disagreed with Sununu’s view that attending large gatherings in the name of a good cause is worth the risk was state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan.
Asked by WMUR’s Adam Sexton what he would say to someone who wanted to attend a rally but was worried about the COVID-19 health risks, Dr. Chan said: “It’s important for everybody to really continue with the social distancing recommendations.”
One group of Granite Staters who might find Sununu’s “good cause” exception particularly problematic are graduating seniors and their families.
New Hampshire high schools traditionally hold graduations outdoors. They are certainly no more dangerous than the crowd milling around Manchester on Saturday.
Parents and faculty are going to great lengths to hold graduations under Sununu’s strict rules: Limiting audiences, limiting the number of family members graduates can bring, separating friends by breaking the class into small clusters, etc.
Kennett High School, for example, will be holding its graduation on a ski lift at Cranmore Mountain Resort. Students and their families must be in groups of no more than five. It’s a clever solution, but not nearly as satisfying a traditional outdoor gathering with a thousand or so friends and family.
Parents watching Sununu continuing to defend large gatherings even as theirs are canceled have to be asking, “what’s the difference?”
The same with businesses who rely on beachgoers, who are also currently banned from gathering in the open air of the New Hampshire coast. As well as parents and kids involved in sports leagues and outdoor group activities.
Thus far, political activists are getting more leeway from Sununu that New Hampshire’s businesses and families.