The night an angry councillor chased a one-legged man with a heart condition out of the town hall in 2019 is a meeting people in Harbour Grace still talk about.
The mayor himself had to break up what the grappling gentlemen would have called “fisticuffs” back in their day, and the RCMP arrived to warn both men to grow up, security video captured the contretemps (which would later be used as evidence).
And then there’s Bridget Rose. She is the unlikely legal protagonist in this yarn who would show that, sometimes, yes, you actually can fight town hall.
But before we get to the judge’s gavel, let’s get to the meeting of Feb. 11, 2019, when Mayor Don Coombs brought down the hammer to stop a confusing altercation that looked like an assault.
Starts as a heckle, ends as a tussle
Heckling from public galleries in Newfoundland is one of those violations of decorum for which a good number of electors in this province appear to have acquired a natural talent. Citizen Tom Rose was crammed into Harbour Grace’s intimate chambers when he got to his feet, set to deliver a rather unsubtle evaluation about the nature of Coun. Kevin Williams’s working relationship with Coombs.
“Kevin, you’ve got shit on your neck,” he said.
Williams blanched as Rose started to leave but managed to find a retort to defend his honour. It wasn’t much, but possibly better than nothing.
“You’ve got some brown on your nose too, Tom.”
Perhaps Williams felt he had been bested, or maybe the councillor was disappointed with the qualitative descent of political discourse in Harbour Grace that night; for whatever reason, Williams darted to follow Rose as he limped through the door into the lobby. That’s when both men found themselves in an unfriendly clasp that quickly turned into an ugly dance.
The video clearly shows Williams opening the door to go after Rose, who quickly pivots on his good leg and manages to pin Williams back to the door. Rose raises his arm and makes a fist but just who is assaulting whom in this municipal melee is ambiguous.
That’s when Coombs arrives at the entrance. His worship intercedes, grabbing Williams and hustling him back toward the town’s meeting space.
The story could have ended there, and while you may think we passed bizarre a few paragraphs ago, this is where the story gets weird.
Williams came to view himself as the victim that night and so hired a lawyer to try to obtain a peace bond. He wanted a judge to determine that Tom Rose posed a threat to his personal safety, and his aim was to get a court restricting Rose’s movements — presumably to keep him from returning to the visitors’ gallery at the town hall.
Bridget Rose’s courtroom debut
After the usual delays, cancellations and postponements, a court date was set for Sept. 19, and Bridget Rose, Tom’s wife, finally enters this story.
The couple could not afford a lawyer, so Bridget studied up on peace bonds and entered the Harbour Grace courthouse prepared to defend her husband.
Williams had lawyered up, and Coombs sat quietly in the hallway waiting to testify on his friend’s behalf.
After Williams swore on the Bible, his lawyer had him recount the events described above. Williams — who was 77 years old at the time — went into detail about his diabetes (he required 180 units of insulin per day), his pills for high blood pressure, the two implants in his eyes, as well as his puffer use.
The relative health problems of the two combatants would come up during Bridget Rose’s first-ever cross-examination. What follows is taken directly from the court’s audio recording. It tells the rest of the story.
B. Rose: “When Mr. Rose said, ‘You have shit on your shoulders,’ can you tell the court what your reply was?”
Williams: “I can’t seem to remember.”
B. Rose: “You are 77?”
B. Rose: “Mr. Rose is 62.… We understand you’re up there in your age and you’ve got complications. Mr. Rose here, he worked for this town for 25 years, you know, also got broken up. Multiple injuries to back, neck, hip. An amputated leg, seven heart attacks, high blood pressure. When this happened that night, you knew he had an artificial leg. It did not stop you from going after him, did it?”
B. Rose: “You’re trying to tell this court that you fear my husband because of your health conditions, but he also has health conditions and a majority of things wrong with him… On February 11th when you went after him, did you show fear? Were you afraid?”
Williams: “No, I wasn’t aggressive.”
B. Rose: “Were you angry?”
Williams: “That’s natural.”
B. Rose: “You were not afraid, you were angry?”
This is where Williams fell into Mrs. Rose’s trap. He said: “I’m not afraid of this man.”
A somewhat flummoxed Judge Greg Brown raised his hands, and with a somewhat chastising tone, told Williams and his lawyer, “He just under oath told me he is not afraid of the man. And for that reason I am going to dismiss this application.”
Brown went further: “It looks to me very much as though he was angry as he said he was.… He was pursuing Mr. Rose to essentially confront him.”
As the dispute between the one-legged man with the heart condition and the angry councillor came to a close, the judge offered advice to the courtroom and everyone in Harbour Grace about settling arguments: “Sometimes, taking a deep breath is better than rushing after someone.”
Author’s postscript: I started working on this story in February, right before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, Tom Rose died a short time after. Bridget Rose has asked the Town of Harbour Grace to apologize to her family members for putting them through what she considers a frivolous legal process. Mayor Don Coombs told CBC News the town did lower flags to half-mast when Tom Rose died, as a sign of respect for his 25 years’ employment with the town. Efforts to contact Coun. Kevin Williams have so far been unsuccessful.
America's Covid politics, historical revisionism and why Cold War conformity isn't the answer – NBC News
Americans are losing their jobs, getting sick and dying because of inaction by the federal government and by their governors and because of resistance — sometimes violent resistance — to the few public health measures that are in effect.
How did we end up with a new member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who used her first moments in Washington to criticize masks? Why has the federal government given up on a national response to the Covid-19 pandemic? Why are people threatening violence against governors who propose even modestly restrictive public health measures?
Why are we being so reckless about something so important?
The short answer is that public health has become politicized, and political conflict makes us stupid.
The short answer is that public health has become politicized, and political conflict makes us stupid. Most people know almost nothing about public policy, and when we make political arguments, we reason in ways that would be embarrassing in other contexts. Being smart offers little protection, and it can even make us more vulnerable to distorted political reasoning.
In 2013, Yale researcher Dan Kahan worried that politics could quickly pollute the science communication environment about vaccines. Even though beliefs about vaccine science and immunization policy were not then strongly associated with political identities, he was concerned that this could change quickly. Something similar had happened before: In the 1990s, beliefs about climate change were not significantly politically polarized; that consensus evaporated in the first decade of the 2000s.
In 2020, it has become clear that Kahan was right to be worried. Americans’ willingness to accept vaccines and their feelings about vaccine laws are increasingly split along party lines. The same is true for views about Covid-19 lockdowns, mask mandates and social distancing. The new Covid-19 vaccine could be political dynamite.
A common explanation for some people’s resistance to public health measures is that previous generations were more virtuous than we are. You might point to the example of the school-age Polio Pioneers who participated in vaccine testing and to Jonas Salk’s (supposedly) altruistic refusal to patent the polio vaccine.
But it is a self-congratulatory fiction to attribute the public health compliance of earlier generations to a now-lost commitment to fairness and solidarity. A truer story would focus on the fact that earlier Americans had more in common and were more obedient to authority figures.
Consider that, until the 1970s and the 1980s, patients rarely provided informed consent to medical procedures. While the medical abuses of the Holocaust illustrated that patients and research subjects should have the right to make their own decisions, American doctors largely rejected the 1947 Nuremberg Code’s call for informed consent and continued to practice more paternalistic medicine — they would continue to treat patients over their objections or otherwise disregard patient preferences — until the law forced their hand.
America also used to be a more collectivist place, at least in much of the post-World War II era. Most people were bound by a shared civil religion of patriotism (including a Cold War hatred of communism), and their private religious beliefs were more often connected to churches that occupied centrist positions in political life. Among white Americans, there was greater economic equality, more optimism about improving standards of living and greater trust in social institutions (including government, medicine and science). Racism and, more importantly, the influence of white supremacy — in education, housing and the workplace, among other things — shaped a shared experience for white Americans and imposed a similarly common oppressive way of life on nonwhite Americans.
Cold War conformity and Jim Crow terrorism are not good models for contemporary social cooperation. We applaud the accomplishments of the civil rights and patients’ rights movements. We are glad to live in more pluralistic and diverse communities.
However, the loss of common identities and shared political aspirations has led directly to rising levels of political polarization around policies that used to be less controversial.
Common enemies often generate a sense of shared purpose. Perhaps the Covid-19 pandemic will become so severe that our mutual vulnerability will cultivate recommitment to public health measures. For example, some Republican governors have recently reversed themselves and embraced mask mandates. But even if this trend continues, it is not likely to be a stable basis for an ongoing public health consensus after the pandemic.
It seems more likely that opposition to a foreign enemy — say, China — could cultivate longer-lasting common political commitments in a diverse America. Political leaders of both parties support America’s imperial projects, and most citizens seem open to bipartisanship in the name of resisting (supposed) existential threats to the country. This kind of shared political identity could be more stable, but only if the struggle lasted a long time and only if it did not result in catastrophic wars. But this is a dangerous and unethical basis for political consensus.
We hope, instead, that Democrats and Republicans can find common cause in conceptions of freedom that express our shared values. We all ought to be free from restrictions on what we say and believe, and we have good reasons to protect valued spheres of civic life from the corrupting influence of politics and the unwelcome oversight of government. We all also ought to be free to live in healthy and peaceful communities, participate in well-functioning economic systems and have access to targeted social welfare programs. Whether America can re-create stable public health governance depends on whether Americans can promote these kinds of freedoms in our ongoing work of living together.
All Santa Wants for Christmas Is to Stay Out of Politics – The New York Times