Thursday, March 10, 2011

We Have No Rights

George Carlin used to have a routine about how, contrary to popular belief, we don't actually have any rights. You know, like the right to free speech, due process, trial by jury, and the right to be absolved from cruel and unusual punishment. We don't have these rights, Carlin said, because at any moment they can be taken away from us. To illuminate this point he referenced the interment of Japanese-Americans in 1942, where over 110,000 American citizens were jailed without due process or any rights at all except, as Carlin said, "Right this way! Into the internment camp."

And to me, Carlin is spot on with this assessment of rights in America, or anywhere else for that matter. Rights are privileges, he says, and temporary at that, because nothing is a right if it can be taken away. They're certainly not God-given rights. They're ideas, invented by humans, and which can be erased by humans. And you don't have to go back to 1942 to see action like this in the United States.

I just finished a book called Zeitoun (pronounced Zay-toon) which centered on the life of a man named Abdulrahman Zeitoun, his wife Kathy and his four children in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

To make a long story short, Zeitoun was a carpenter, painter and business owner in New Orleans when the hurricane hit in 2005. Because he had so many responsibilities to various properties in the city, he stayed behind to weather the storm while his wife and children fled to family and friends elsewhere in the country. He had no idea how bad the storm would be, and in the aftermath he spent his time not repairing properties but saving people from their flooded homes (the water reached the second story windows of most houses, even on the north side of the city where he lived) and feeding dogs left to die by their owners.

After about a week of rescue work, Zeitoun and three companions were arrested in a house that Zeitoun himself owned, were not read their rights, were not charged with a crime, and were taken to a Greyhound bus station where an enormous makeshift jail had been erected. Without charges he was handcuffed, strip-searched, probed and imprisoned by heavily armed guards with no discernible identities or affiliations to a particular law enforcement agency. He was kept for days at the Greyhound station, and then transported to a maximum security prison. All in all he served almost a full month without a phone call, a hearing or bail. The companions arrested with him were held at longest for eight months, and all charges were eventually dropped.

It was so unbelievable to read this about the United States in 2005, that in a time of catastrophe while people were struggling to escape the roofs of their houses and find clean water, so much effort was being put into arresting and detaining innocent civilians. In another account, one that received media attention in New Orleans at the time, a 73 year-old-woman was wrongly-arrested for looting when she was carrying a package of sausage from her car to her hotel room. She was incarcerated in a maximum security prison for over two weeks. In another incident, a woman working at the Greyhound prison compound threatened a reporter to leave the premises or else she would "throw him in a cage."

And I'm reading this book in the midst of news that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has plans to implement policies that could dissolve local governments and unseat elected officials under the direction of a single, unelected authority figure or board of directors.

And in Wisconsin the governor was attempting to eliminate the right of union bargaining in order, I can only guess, to further oppress the working class.

And the Patriot Act was extended at the end of February and the crazy power granted to authority figures under that act is still in effect.

And when the American government observes a person's right not to be tortured or detained indefinitely without trial, they simply move those operations to other countries.

And racial profiling of Mexican Americans is now protocol in Arizona, shifting the burden of proof off of the state and on to the individual, who must now make excuses for his or her right to live in a country they are a legal citizen of.

And I just realized earlier this week that I watch what I say on the phone because, in my heart, I don't 100% believe that there's absolutely no chance someone is listening.

Because we have no rights.

No comments:

Post a Comment