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Gov. Raimondo's Rhode Island roadblock bad policy

I had a pleasant chat Friday morning with Joshua Martineau, a Rhode Island National Guard staff sergeant who is among the soldiers Gov. Gina Raimondo has deployed to the state's border with Connecticut in her coronavirus war, greeting passengers getting off trains.

Martineau and three other soldiers in battle fatigues were setting up a checkpoint at the Amtrak train station in Westerly, the first stop after the Connecticut border, where they will take the names of passengers arriving from New York and ask them to self-quarantine for two weeks.

"People should take it very seriously," said Martineau, who told me he left his security job at a hospital to answer the call for volunteers for Raimondo's new intervention. Soldiers have been posted at the state's bus stations, as well.

I also spoke Friday morning with a Westerly police officer stationed in his cruiser at the Connecticut border at Route 1.

He seemed a bit sheepish to admit he had been sent there to create a presence at the border and shrugged when asked whether he was prepared to stop cars with New York plates entering the state, as the governor has ordered. He said he would.

I have a lot of respect for the Rhode Island governor, and I salute most of her hard work in preparing her state for the coronavirus pandemic, but I think she's wrong with what she is doing at the border.

I agree with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, which criticized the governor's measures related to arriving New Yorkers almost as soon as they were announced.

A license plate from another state does not meet the constitutional criteria for probable cause for stopping a car and interrogating the driver.

The governor has the authority in a medical emergency to suspend some laws but she can't suspend the Constitution, ACLU Director Steven Brown said in a statement.

He's right. No matter how bad this gets, we can't lose our bearings and abandon the Constitution.

Besides, it's not really a good idea.

Surely the New Yorkers who are arriving in Rhode Island, likely to weather the virus storm in their summer houses here, know very well they should self-quarantine for two weeks. There's even a big new temporary sign at the border reminding them.

Why demand a confrontation at the car windows of drivers you suspect may be sick? Why put the Rhode Island police officers at risk?

I didn't ask, but I didn't see where the Westerly police officer I chatted with was equipped with a mask for his new hazardous duty, confronting the possibly contaminated.

The same risk is true for the soldiers at the train station, who were planning to make an announcement to anyone getting off the train, asking those passengers arriving from New York to check in.

Tables with clipboards and hand sanitizer were set up, establishing a new point of contact between the Rhode Island soldiers and the New Yorkers that Raimondo suspects might be carrying the virus. Wouldn't a big pretty-please sign suffice? What's the point of taking names anyway, except to intimidate?

Isn't this a time to offer comfort, not intimidation?

While I was at the Westerly station, a southbound train eased in for a stop. It appeared to be empty, a strange ghost train headed to a city no one wants to visit.

More eerie to me, though, was seeing uniformed soldiers, waiting for the northbound trains, preparing to take names.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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