“You have no right to keep us here!” shouted an inebriated and agitated Orioles fan.
“Oh, yes they do!” replied a possibly intoxicated but better-informed Red Sox fan.
At that moment, confined to Camden Yards by order of the Mayor of Baltimore due to violent protests outside the stadium, the awesome—but relatively unknown and certainly underappreciated—power of public officials to maintain public health and safety became all too apparent.
Protests in Baltimore over the recent death of Freddie Gray had been largely peaceful in the two weeks since the incident, but they turned violent Saturday, April 25 outside of Camden Yards as the Orioles hosted the Red Sox. The evening was cold and rainy, and while I am not normally one to leave a game early, my friends wanted to go home. When we reached the gate early in the 9th inning, a line of police officers prevented us from departing and informed us that we were to remain inside the stadium indefinitely, “by order of the Mayor.”
Fortunately, the majority of fans had already arrived at Camden Yards when the violence began and were largely unaware of the events going on outside. Additionally, the game went to extra innings, and the gates were opened before the game ended and the majority of the crowd left their seats, potentially avoiding the possibility of any confrontation inside the stadium.
Many, including our O’s fan above, believe that the government—federal, state or local—does not have the authority to impose these types of restrictions on an individual if they have not committed a crime; however, this is not true in all cases. Elected and appointed officials at all levels of government have the responsibility to ensure the safety of their constituents. At times, the actions permitted by law to do this are clear and specific, and at other times, officials essentially have carte blanche to take action as they deem necessary. For example, when addressing communicable diseases, the Health Code of Baltimore gives the Commissioner of Health the authority to “take all possible action to prevent the disease from spreading.” Specifically referencing isolation, the Commissioner has the power to “adopt rules and regulations to require the medical isolation of individuals having a communicable or potentially communicable disease…dangerous to the public health.”[i] Maryland state law also specifically addresses the Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene’s authority to place individuals in isolation and quarantine[ii] and makes it illegal for employers to terminate them due to an isolation or quarantine order.[iii] People in these circumstances may be perfectly innocent of any crime, but public officials have complete authority to detain them as necessary to ensure the health of the general public.
With respect to confining fans to the stadium, it was widely reported that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested that fans remain inside; however, local law enforcement was not giving anyone any choice in the matter. Regardless of whether remaining in Camden Yards was “voluntary” or mandatory, Mayor Rawlings-Blake acted in her role as “conservator of the peace,”[iv] which provides her broad authority to ensure public safety. This also provided the basis for a curfew order issued this week for the City of Baltimore. Baltimore is by no means alone in providing such authorities; states[v] across US have similar policies, be they explicit or broad, to enable elected and appointed officials to take necessary action to effectively maintain public health and safety.
While many mistakenly believe that the citywide “lockdown” of Boston after the 2013 marathon bombing was the equivalent of martial law, it was actually a “shelter in place” request issued by Governor Deval Patrick asking that everyone remain indoors while law enforcement searched for the perpetrators of the attack. In contrast, Governor Patrick issued a legally-binding travel ban during Winter Storm Nemo earlier that year,[vi] a violation of which could have resulted in a year-long prison sentence.[vii] Cooperation with these measures, voluntary or mandatory, helped Boston law enforcement rapidly locate and apprehend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and significantly reduce injuries and fatalities during Winter Storm Nemo.
I cannot speak to the events that occurred outside Camden Yards (as I was securely locked inside), but I can say that the situation was largely resolved by the time we were allowed to leave. And the majority of my fellow detainees handled the situation reasonably well, despite being cold, wet and unsure what exactly was going on. Had there been an ongoing incident outside the stadium, a large crowd—including families and inebriated fans—attempting to leave the area through a violent protest could have been disastrous, particularly with traffic and nearby public transit access shut down. In all, I am glad that our elected leaders erred on the side of caution. I was happy to sacrifice a little freedom and convenience to ensure my safety and the safety of my fellow baseball fans.
[i] Health Code of Baltimore City §4-406. http://archive.baltimorecity.gov/portals/0/charter%20and%20Codes/code/Art%2000%20-%20Health.pdf. Accessed: April 27, 2015.
[ii] Md. Ann. Health Gen. §18-905. http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2015RS/Statute_Web/ghg/ghg.pdf. Accessed: April 29, 2015.
[iii] Md. Ann. Health Gen. §18-906. http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2015RS/Statute_Web/ghg/ghg.pdf. Accessed: April 29, 2015.
[iv] Charter of Baltimore City. http://archive.baltimorecity.gov/Portals/0/Charter%20and%20Codes/ChrtrPLL/01%20-%20Charter.pdf. Accessed: April 26, 2015.
[v] National Conference of State Legislatures. State Quarantine and Isolation Statutes. October 29, 2014. http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-quarantine-and-isolation-statutes.aspx. Accessed: April 29, 2015.
[vi] Office of the Governor, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Executive Order 544. February 8, 2013. http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/lawlib/eo500-599/eo544.pdf. Accessed: April 29, 2015.
[vii] Rawlings, Nate. Was Boston Actually on Lockdown? TIME. April 19, 2013. http://nation.time.com/2013/04/19/was-boston-actually-on-lockdown/. Accessed: April 29, 2015