When it Comes to Reporting Quarantine Violations, There’s a Line Between Safety and Self-Righteousness

Love thy neighbor?


Katrina Valcourt

One of my friends posts a lot of BS on social media. Literally, factually, unequivocally untrue baloney. Reposts of preposterous conspiracy theories amuse me (which is why I haven’t blocked her) but I’ve recently also found great joy in reporting them to social media fact-checkers as fake news. It’s a stress reliever for me.


I asked friends if this made me a bad person. Should I instead message her directly, explaining the harm that misinformation can cause? Others have tried; she won’t change. So, I watch with satisfaction as Facebook flags her posts. Sweet validation.


I think I’m doing more good than harm here. But when the Honolulu Police Department announced a new hotline specifically for reporting violators of COVID-19 emergency orders, it didn’t sit right with me. It launched in early August and in the first few days received about 150 calls a day, most reporting big gatherings and people in closed parks and beaches. Police issued more than 1,300 citations that weekend. I get it, people are frustrated. Those of us who did the right thing during the first lockdown are mad as hell at the people who won’t even wear masks. While we put our lives on hold, others throw parties, join big flotillas at the beach and act like it’s their right to do whatever they want, even if it puts their families—and mine—at risk. I’m all for reporting them.


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neighborhood watch

Illustration: Getty Images



But it seems like the hotline provided a way for people to take out their anger on anyone for even the slightest misstep, resulting in huge consequences. What’s the point of that? Yes, the park is closed, but why snitch on the single basketball player shooting hoops? Even if he has COVID-19 and sneezes all over the pole, the odds of it making someone else sick are pretty low if everyone else is following the rules. We all need fresh air and a change of scenery after multiple stay-at-home orders. And even though it’s not allowed, a small family sitting on the beach doesn’t deserve to be punished. As long as they’re far from others, what’s the problem?


Acting like a do-gooder can feel gratifying—that’s my ugly reasoning behind those Facebook reports. But we’re not just talking about a warning here. Violations can result in up to $5,000 in fines and even jail time. And that’s assuming these people know they’re doing something wrong. The city’s issued more than 30 orders and proclamations since March. I watch the press conferences and read the official orders, yet I often can’t tell which hikes are off-limits, and that’s part of my actual job.


So people, let’s show some compassion for one another. It’s the only way we’re going to get through this as a community. If you see someone pausing alone in a park, think twice before calling the police. And when you receive that Facebook invite for the (secret) birthday bash, maybe think about something other than your desperate need to see your friends. I feel you; I miss my friends, too. But know this: If you go floating by in a giant boat party, I’m calling it in.


This story originally appeared as “Love Thy Neighbor?” in the October 2020 issue of HONOLULU Magazine. Get your copy at shop.honolulumagazine.com and subscribe to the print and digital editions now.