Monday, April 20, 2009

Civil liberties for me, but not for thee

Last week brought us two unrelated stories about nasty encounters between people going about their lives and law-enforcement authorities. One was a college-age environmentalist who was Tased and arrested by police in Eugene, Oregon. The other was the pastor of an Arizona church who was Tased and beaten by Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint well within the country. In both cases, the treatment of the men seemed not just brutal,but also largely unprovoked.

And in both cases, some commentators reserved their sympathy, because the victim was, to their eyes, the wrong kind of person.

Perhaps Gawker summed up the phenomenon best in a piece about Pastor Steve Anderson called, "This is Not the Civil Libertarian Hero You're Looking For." Wrote John Cook:

[I]t sure seems like he was wronged by overzealous Department of Homeland Security goons. It's the war on terror and war against Mexicans gone mad! Liberals should be outraged. Conservatives should mock them for that outrage.

But wait -- here's a video of him calling Barack Obama a devil. He's a Republican! And the jack-booted thugs at DHS are calling all God-fearing Republicans terrorists. Conservatives should be outraged! Liberals should mock them for that outrage. Wait -- are DHS checkpoints along U.S. highways good or bad now? We're so confused.

As befits Gawker's usual tone, it's hard to figure out whether the author has an actual point to make. But his piece ably presents the notion that sympathy for people whose rights may have been violated is reserved for those with the "right" ideology and affiliations. Registered to vote with the other team? Too bad for you -- get lost.

In cruder form, that notion is captured in comments on news reports about the cases. At the Register-Guard, one genius passing opinion on the Tasing of Ian Van Ornum, who rode the lightning twice while lying, restrained, face-down on the sidewalk said, "Just looking at this guys hair tells me that the police were justified."

In the comments on my own column about Anderson's encounter with Border Patrol and Arizona highway patrol officers, which resulted in 11 stitches, a reader said, "I have a hunch this Anderson boy provoked this incident and, most likely, is not being truthful. Anderson is a classic religious kook, a poorly educated Jesus freak."

Maybe I'm being old-fashioned here, but I'm under the silly impression that our rights are dependent on our being human and having a pulse -- not on party affiliation, culture, religion or whether or not we approve in any way of the people about to enjoy a close encounter with the authorities.

Look, when we treat civil liberties, or protections of any sort against the powers-that-be, as special privileges to be doled out only to those with the right opinions, then we all lose. The authorities are only too happy to exploit that attitude as a wedge to divide and conquer us all, piecemeal. Between the unsympathetic political opponents of whoever has been abused, and the habitual fans of state authority who sympathize with nobody who confronts the authorities (you know, the people who comment, "When A Uniformed Officer (Read Authority Figure) Tells You To Do Something, Keep Your Smart Mouth Shut And Do It."), the government can always command a majority against one of their victims and his few friends.

That is, they can if we play that game.

We don't have to. We can -- and should -- treat protections for our rights as setting the basic ground rules for dealing with each other. With those rules established, we can get about the business of vilifying one another and engaging in the usual political and cultural combat. But those rules are fundamental -- without them in place for everyone, we have no protections for ourselves.

It's up to you, folks. You don't have to like other people to respect their rights. But if you're going to consider civil liberties and individual rights as special privileges to be reserved only for your tribe, you better hope that your buddies are in power -- forever.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I had some great comment to contribute, but you pretty much summed it up. Yeah, what he said.

April 21, 2009 5:56 AM  
Anonymous the infamous oregon lawhobbit said...

Hi JD,

Unfortunately the MKI Human loves to hurt the Other. In fact, he almost HAS to have an Other to hurt, in order to give himself personal meaning. Oh, sure, people can be taught/trained out of that desire, but the State has no interest in doing so, because the desire to hurt the Other is such a useful feature for them to keep the sheeples stampeding in the proper direction. Yer averij Amurkin doesn't CARE where the war is, so long as he can (vicariously) kick butt on Them. Look at the squishy antiwar middle - the ones who were pro war until "They" started winning. All of a sudden it's time to go home, and find some other crappy little country to throw against the wall....

April 21, 2009 7:25 AM  
Blogger Johnny said...

It's obvious most people are simply too insatiably stupid ever to get a clue. If the rise and fall of the Nazis and Soviet Communism wasn't enough for a wake up call, what the hell possibly could be?

April 21, 2009 2:27 PM  
Anonymous LLG said...

If you want civil liberties for yourself, then you have to want them for those you hate. Otherwise, it isn't freedom.

April 22, 2009 5:39 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home