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The Rise of the Anti-Lockdown Sheriffs

Opposition to stay-at-home orders is
the latest example of a history of
powerful sheriffs, which stretches
back to the end of slavery and
the settling of the frontier.

After weeks of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that retailers and churches in the state may open at partial capacity, but that gyms and salons must stay closed, and that residents must wear face masks in public.

But the 65,000 residents of Chaves County have little to fear should they violate these orders.

“My department will not be out citing anyone for not wearing a mask,” Mike Herrington, the county sheriff, told The Marshall Project on Thursday. “I will not be enforcing any of those orders.” Herrington has already allowed at least one gym, among other businesses, to reopen in recent weeks.

Chaves County—which has reported 30 positive diagnoses of COVID-19, and two related deaths—encompasses Roswell, the town famous for its association with a debunked-but-widely-believed UFO sighting in the 1940s. It’s also one of many rural communities hit hard by the recent economic shutdown; the cancellation of the annual UFO Festival this month potentially deprived local businesses of a million dollars in revenue, according to KRQE.

Herrington is one of at least 60 sheriffs nationwide, spread across more than a dozen states, who are publicly opposing restrictions issued by governors, according to a Marshall Project analysis of news reports and official statements. There are likely many more quietly declining to enforce them.

All law enforcement officers have a great deal of discretion, but the power of sheriffs in particular stretches deep into American history, to the end of the Civil War and the settling of the frontier. This history can help us make sense of their increasingly central role in partisan battles about public health and economic recovery, as they clash with governors through viral Facebook posts and media appearances.

READ MORE HERE: The Marshall Project

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