Calling a checkpoint by another name doesn't make it legit

PERIMETER: Two Guam National Guard airmen assist the Guam Police Department with perimeter security and visitor control at the isolation site in Barrigada Heights. The members were activated March 21 to help the island during the COVID-19 response. The governor will mobilize guardsmen to "road closures" starting this Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Guam National Guard 

By today, the Guam National Guard will be stationed to enforce “road closures” that Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero wants to enforce every day for perhaps as long as our community is under threat of COVID-19.

They’re not called checkpoints, she said, which was her initial idea and characterization.

These newly branded “road closures” will be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and will be posted:

• On Route 1 by the former Shen’s Furniture in East Hagåtña near Mobil and Lin’s Jewelry;

• On Route 1 by the Calvary Chapel in Asan near Fish Eye Marine Park;

• On Route 1, in Dededo by Lucky Supplies; and

• On Route 8, Barrigada, by the Shell gas station.

Lanes will be reduced to one in each direction to allow the troops to, in the governor's words, “educate” people.

The way the governor and an Office of Civil Defense official described the "road closures," the soldiers and airmen from the National Guard will have enforcement powers. They will stop motorists and “remind” them not to go out unnecessarily. These troops will ask motorists where they're going. The soldiers and airmen will tell drivers and their passengers things we already know, such as the need to wash our hands. They are also supposedly going to remind us, motorists, to remove our shoes before we enter our homes, according to the governor.

Acknowledging she doesn’t have the authority to establish checkpoints – she’s waiting for the Legislature to give her that power – she decided to call these checkpoints road closures instead.

“I am not calling it a checkpoint because I don’t have the legal authority,” she said, for her law enforcers to issue citations and penalties.

These road closures are not checkpoints, she further said, because checkpoints stop motorists for suspicion of a crime. Road closures don’t stop motorists for that reason, she said.

We give the governor credit for trying to set in place more urgent measures to discourage the public from continuing to go out and about unnecessarily – while the COVID-19 threat is still among us.

We also call out the senators for delaying their discussion and vote on this and related issues. They did have time on Thursday but they prioritized discussion on giving additional pay to essential GovGuam workers in this crisis. If senators are for or against checkpoints or curfew for adults, the public should know where they stand.

They should not be on a weekend break and letting the governor stand on her own defending what could be indefensible in the absence of the requisite legislative authorization.

At the same time, everyone should be concerned that this is the administration that believes we, as community members, are naive enough to accept that calling a checkpoint not a checkpoint will somehow be OK. It is also alarming that our local attorney general has given her the go-signal to establish indefinite road closures, making comparisons with momentary road closures during 5K runs.

Clearly the guardsmen will be stopping each motorist at this “road closure.”

Motorists will be asked where they’re going. And if they don’t like the answer motorists give, the Guard will have the discretion to call the police – who will also be around.

These road closures do appear to be checkpoints. A different label will not make checkpoints legit - absent a law that authorizes them.

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