Mickey Mouse has more rights than I do

Published May 30, 2024

By Cash Michaels

So let me get this straight.

According to a new jackass provision NC Senate Republicans passed last week repealing the pandemic exception to the no-mask law, if I, a cancer patient, wear a medical mask to protect my compromised immune system when I go out in public (and I really am a cancer patient), then I’m breaking the law.

But if I’m invited to a Halloween party, and I leave my house wearing a Mickey Mouse mask, all is legal and OK in GOP-ville.

Does that make any sense to you?

Of course I’m referring to the GOP-led NC General Assembly’s latest bull-pucky escapade when the NC Senate last week passed the amended House Bill 237, otherwise known as the “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” Act.

Yeah, I get it. Senate Republicans are trying to beat their collective chests passing stringent crimefighting measures in the aftermath of recent UNC-Chapel Hill campus pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Republicans want to empower the police to round up as many protestors as possible for something as simple as wearing a handkerchief across their faces as they sing “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

Remember, the original no-mask law was passed in the 1950’s to outlaw the Ku Klux Klan from walking down Main Street fully garbed in their pointy hoods. Once the pandemic hit in 2020, however, a medical and public safety exemption was added to the law to stem the spread of the virus, and rightfully so.

Well get this - bill sponsor, country lawyer Sen. Buck Newton (R- Wilson) brags that if he were in the legislature in 2020, he would have voted against the COVID pandemic mask exemption then. It’s this kind of arrogant, worthless, pointy hood ignorance that infuriates me.

What makes me further upset is that North Carolina Republicans like Old Buck dream of turning this state so red, so badly, they want to mimic the craziness in more culture warrior places like Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina Tennessee and Texas.

There’s even the reasonable suggestion that Newton and his Senate GOP carnival barkers have a not-so-hidden racial agenda to insisting that the pandemic exemption be passed.

Atty. Dawn Blagrove, Executive Director of Emancipate NC reminded all during a Senate committee hearing last week that “…Every time our General Assembly...criminalizes more behavior… the people who bear the burden of those new crimes are Black people, and that is the problem."

Atty Blagrove continued “…Black people are disproportionately stopped by law enforcement more than white people, often by 10 times or more.”

So imagine what happens to folks like me caught wearing a medical face mask in public after the law, as currently amended, is passed.

“There is a certain part of the population that is more exposed to harm, who has less Constitutional rights because of this bill,” she warned.

I love it when someone with good common sense and experience makes what the rednecked Senate Republicans are doing look so obvious. Makes my job of exposing their hate-filled foolishness a lot easier.

But my major concern goes well beyond race.

Consider NC’s no-mask bill’s amended language: An act to repeal the physical health and safety of others exemption to certain laws prohibiting wearing masks; to enhance punishment if the defendant was wearing a mask or other clothing or device to conceal or attempt to conceal the defendant’s identity…..

There’s much more to the measure, but you get the idea.

Under “Exemptions from provisions of Article,” the six exemptions that were listed in the original House version are :

(1) Any person or persons wearing traditional holiday costumes in season (as per my Mickey Mouse example)

(2) Any person or persons engaged in trades or employment….

 (3) Any person or persons using masks in theatrical productions…

(4) Persons wearing gas masks prescribed in civil defense…

(5) Any person or persons, as members or members elect of a society, order or organization, engaged in any parade, ritual, initiations, ceremony, or ceremony……

As for exemption number (6), “Any person wearing a mask for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others,” it has a line drawn through it, meaning that exemption no longer applies to this bill.

Needless to say, NC Democrats jumped all over this nonsense.

“General Assembly Republicans are once again attacking people’s personal medical choices,” said NCDP Chair Anderson Clayton in a statement. “This time they are banning the use of masks in all public places which targets our most vulnerable populations. Republicans are putting cancer patients, seniors, folks with disabilities, immunocompromised individuals at risk of punishment for wearing protective masks that they require when they have to go out in public. North Carolinians are ready to vote to restore the power back to the people and send a message to Republicans that enough is enough.”

I left the last line in, NOT because I’m shilling for NC Democrats, but because NCDP Chair Clayton has a point. The only way to change legislative mess like this is to vote these silly motherfletchers out, or at least enough of them to make a difference.

Look, I get it. When there is a violent civil disturbance in the streets or on our college campuses, we want to empower our law enforcement enough to do their jobs legally and properly. While I condone peaceful protest, I do not condone violence or destruction of property. Dr. King and I are on the same page when it comes to that.

But what we don’t want to do is violate the constitutional or medical rights of those of us who are afflicted with a deadly disease, or are recovering from serious surgery, in addition to being masked while Black.

A few years ago, when I was suffering from hemophilia, I was warned by my oncologist while I was still in treatment that I could not attend my boss’ wedding, not even with a mask on, because the aggressive chemotherapy I was under had so weakened my immune system, I was very prone to infection.

That meant I couldn’t go out to crowded places, even with a mask on, for fear of risking my life. Eventually I finished my chemo treatments, and didn’t need the mask protection anymore.

But when the pandemic struck years later, I put the medical mask back on for the duration. 

Fortunately, I did not contract the COVID-19 virus, thank GOD.

There are thousands of people just like me across this state, who are older and nowhere near the peak of health, who at times, absolutely need a medical mask in public to protect themselves.

And trust me, when we do need to wear a medical mask, we’re in no shape to suddenly have to negotiate our Constitutional or medical rights with a police officer. Nor should we have to.

Why are Senate Republicans so hellbent to doormat our rights just to prove how “law and order” macho they are, when all they have to do is add our medical imperative to the list of reasonable exemptions to the law? If there isn’t a racial element to this, then why the insistence on violating my medical rights?

It’s like they’re saying, “Have a terminal illness? Too damn bad. Should never have gotten sick in the first place, and just to show you that we mean business, we’re making it illegal for you to protect yourself from being infected.”

And what they’re not saying speaks just as loudly to me, and others like me, as well.

You’ll recall the conservative argument for not masking up during the pandemic was that we shouldn’t allow government or doctors to mandate our freedoms, or take them away under the guise of a medical or public health emergency.

That beeswax was backwards then, and it’s backwards now.

As a society, we were informed by our public health professionals that one of the most effective ways to stem the spread of COVID-19 was to wear a medical face mask. And post-pandemic data proves that.

But looney right-wingers like old Buck “Matlock” Newton began huffin’ and puffin’ about their rights being threatened, and “their freedom being attacked” this, and “their freedom being attacked” that.

Like poorly reared children, these folks just went on and on, to the point where their ignorance was becoming just as dangerous as the pandemic itself. Lord knows how many lives they put at risk with their foolishness.

So to now realize that long after the pandemic has left us, Senate Republicans are criminalizing wearing medical masks worn for public health’s sake, is truly sad, sickening, and inexplicable.

This nonsense is all over the national news, making North Carolina look backwards and silly.

Why isn’t old Buck Newton keeping his word, as portrayed on his campaign website when he ran for the state Senate, “to relentlessly fight…a government that disregards our Constitution?”

Hell, Old Buck should be beating himself up, ‘cause he’s sure as sugar disregarding my Constitutional rights as a Black cancer patient.

Hey, Einsteins on Jones Street. When I put a medical mask on, it’s not to commit a crime, or to make a political statement, but to protect myself from infectious harm. I’ve had to take stronger doses of COVID vaccine because my immune system will never be strong or normal again, so I still live with some risk regarding my natural immune defenses.

The fact that you would have me and other Black cancer patients, locked up for following our oncologists’ orders is a disgrace.

I guess to you good old boys, cancer isn’t such a big thing, given how many cigarettes and cigars you still shove in your faces everyday.

Well cancer is a big thing with me. I beat blood cancer, but now I’m fighting stage four prostate cancer. So fighting the Big C will be my legacy for the rest of my life, however long that will be.

Fortunately,  the Americans with Disabilities Act has something to say about all of this. In a word, you can’t pull this without somebody suing you up and down Jones Street for violating federal law. I’d love to try the case, and I’m not even an attorney.

Apparently, at last reports, there are Republicans in the state House, where House Bill 237 now resides, who are tired of the well-earned national shame this idiocy has brought down on their party, and on Tuesday, House Speaker Moore's office said House Republicans will not pass the Senate version of the HB 237 as is, so the bill will go to a conference committee for a compromise.

Hopefully they will muster the brain power to craft a reasonable bill so that if someone is seen or caught in the act of committing a crime (say with a weapon in their hand), the fact that they’re wearing a mask should only count against them then.

I mean that should just make good sense since they’re so worried about closing possible loopholes in the law. Haven’t heard of too many masked cancer patients with rolling IVs committing bank robberies, have you?

  And if those Republican folks are reading this, and can reach a reasonable compromise so that we can all go back to living in the land of common sense, one can only hope.

But as always in GOP-ville, you can’t trust Republicans, as the old saying goes, to save your life, especially in the state Senate apparently. Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger is already saying “that we do not need to have a situation where folks can use the excuse of, ‘it’s a health reason’ to then hide their identity and go out and commit unlawful acts.” 

Lord help me. If only there was a mask effective enough to protect us from being infected by their highly contagious ignorance.