“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last night, I read an article that I found both incredibly disturbing and amusingly ironic. The San Francisco Department of Public Health temporarily closed down the city’s lone location of In-N-Out Burger last week because employees of the Southern California-based food chain refused to check COVID-19 vaccination documentation of dine-in customers.
According to the story, the restaurant clearly and properly displayed signage that informed customers of Safer Return Together, a health order implemented by SFDPH in August that required patrons of restaurants to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination with appropriate photo identification before being permitted to dine indoors. The renowned burger chain, however, did not actively seek out the documentation from customers and they were reported via the City of San Francisco’s 311 complaint line AKA “the snitch app”. Arnie Wensinger, the Chief Legal & Business Officer at In-N-Out, contends that they should not have to enforce the policy, citing that it’s not the job of In-N-Out employees to be the “vaccination police”. The restaurant has since reopened but is not allowing any dine-in customers.
At the outset, I mentioned that I found this entire story to be incredibly disturbing and amusingly ironic. For me, it’s disturbing in the sense that once upon a time, people had to depend on the government to ensure that they could be properly seated and served in restaurants without being discriminated against by private business entities. Today, it’s the government that is imposing ridiculous and unjust rules on private business entities, requiring them to openly discriminate against people with regards to them being properly seated and served in restaurants. This is something that I would expect from the local government in my native Birmingham…in a 1950s or early 1960s era fronted by the ruthless Bull Conner. Over the course of my life and in many conversations I’ve had with old heads on the benches of Kelly Ingram Park, I’ve heard tell of Black Americans and their White supporters being denied service in Downtown Birmingham restaurants because of their status in the eyes of the government and the public-at-large. This is something that I would expect from Théoneste Bagosora’s barbaric Hutu government during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. History is very clear on the accounts that the government imposed ridiculous and unjust rules on private citizens, requiring them to check the national identification cards of citizens as a means to openly discriminate, segregate, and ultimately kill those deemed unacceptable in the eyes of the government and public-at-large. We’re in the 4th quarter of 2021 and the government of a major American city is forcing private citizens working in a private business entity to openly discriminate against people that government deems unacceptable. The irony in all of this is that the major American city is San Francisco, California…arguably the most progressive and most inclusive city in what is arguably the most progressive and most inclusive state in the country. It’s a city that has unabashedly touted its progressivism and inclusion on a national level. It’s also a city whose residents and natives have brazenly mocked and ridiculed conservative figures—private and public—as well as citizens and natives of cities, towns, communities, and states with long histories rooted in conservatism and exclusion. On divers occasions during my time in the Air Force, I was mocked by San Franciscan-bred servicemembers simply for being proud of my native Birmingham, despite the checkered history of Alabama’s now 2nd largest city. I find it laughable that the same city that has feverishly fought against the open discrimination of both the LGBT and the HIV/AIDS communities is now openly discriminating against the unvaccinated communities as well as those that may be vaccinated but don’t carry proof on their person. Even more, it’s quite damning that people are cheering this obvious heavy-handedness from the government in shutting down restaurants that refuse to do their bidding.
On a personal level, I believe that the clearly and properly displayed signage that In-N-Out featured in the restaurant informing customers of the San Francisco mandate was enough. To demand of them—a private business entity that employs private citizens— to physically check the medical status of other private citizens is reprehensible. When you look for definitions of government overreach in the dictionary, this would likely be an example that accompanies that definition. If you ask me, to demand a person to present medical documentation just because they want to sit down in the restaurant and enjoy a Double Double is just as intrusive and improper as subjecting a person to being groped and unreasonably violated just because they purchased an airline ticket for a flight originating out of an American airport. Private citizens shouldn’t be subjected to this…and for damn sure, employees of private business entities shouldn’t have to resort themselves to this ridiculous treatment of others. For me, I stand with In-N-Out—and any other private business entity that refuses this unjust demand from the government—on this issue.