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SALAMUN: We should mask by choice, not by force

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Jason Salamun

 Jason Salamun

As Rapid City considers a mandate, let’s be clear: the virus is real and we should take proper precautions. This includes washing our hands, giving each other space (six feet), and wearing a mask when appropriate. The city’s shared objective is that we all abide by these safety measures during this pandemic.

I do not oppose wearing face coverings. I will defer to researchers to determine its effectiveness. What I do oppose is the use of force ($500 fine/30 days jail) to gain compliance. Enforcing these penalties will likely generate pushback and less compliance, moving us further away from our shared objective. It also makes this an even more political and contentious issue than it should be, deepening the divide among families, friends, and neighbors. There's another way.

My recommendation is to consider a similar approach to Sioux Falls. Our sister city passed a mandate yet did not include the use of force. I'm told they are already seeing positive results in terms of cooperation. In fact, Rapid City simply copied and pasted their ordinance, but we added consequences. Policy 101 states you shouldn't pass an ordinance you're not willing to enforce. I agree. As a result, a resolution was presented removing the use of force from the ordinance and adding in precautions we're asking citizens to take. If passed, it would be the first formal action taken regarding the pandemic since I returned to City Council. The Council and Mayor have the opportunity to send a powerful message by uniting and unanimously approving this resolution.

One of my concerns about a heavy-handed approach is it may produce unintended consequences. Law enforcement has their hands full, tensions are already high, and we could create an environment where well-meaning citizens turn against one another. That's the last thing we need. There's no perfect solution, and we won't gain 100% compliance, but my hope is that we pursue the most successful outcome. Rather than come down with the hammer of mandates and lockdowns, let's use other tools in the toolbox and aim for cooperation.

I believe in Rapid City. We have caring citizens who are doing their best. The spirit of independence is strong here; so is the spirit of cooperation. As elected officials, we strive to balance public policy with public health for the public good—all within the guardrails of the public's rights. Let's allow the public an opportunity to live responsibly, act respectfully, and practice situational awareness.

This pandemic is heartbreaking. I can hear the exhaustion and frustration in the voices of caregivers, teachers, and front line workers. I can see the confusion and anxiety in the eyes of children and teenagers (and parents). I can sense the tension and despair in our community and beyond. And sadly, we have loved ones and neighbors suffering from this virus. I wish simply passing a city law would make it all go away.

It feels like we're all trying to keep our head above water. I confess I sometimes struggle too. Please know I have the community's best interest at heart. I believe the Mayor and my colleagues on City Council do as well. While we may not agree on the best approach to take, or which tools to use, we should strive to practice courtesy and respect as we navigate this season. I continue to pray for wisdom to make the right decisions not just for the moment, but also for the long-term welfare of our community.

We can't always get around tough times, but together, we can get through them.

Jason Salamun is a City Councilman for Ward 3 in Rapid City.

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