Tag Archives: human rights

In Brief: Dred Scott

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford, by a margin of 7 to 2, that Black people, whether free or enslaved, were “beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations.” Indeed, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney famously insisted that Blacks are “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

While most now regard the Dred Scott Decision as an embarrassing taint on the Court’s jurisprudence, it remains a frightening reminder of the depth of hatred and irrationality that once ruled the day. But Dred Scott and the legacy of slavery in this country, as well as the tremendous strides we have taken over the last 150 years, also point to what I believe to be a larger truth: it is much harder to hate and oppress a people when you recognize their humanity… And not only does this recognition make hate more difficult to sustain, it also makes the denial of fairness, justice and common human decency that much harder to justify.

(via the ACLU’s Blog of Rights)

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Lock ’em up and throw away their rights

Yet more plans are being suggested by the British government which will actively widen the gap between the privileged and the unfortunate.

These latest proposals suggest stripping those in prison of even more of whatever rights and human decency remain to them. Convicted criminals may be banned from “claiming compensation for injuries sustained in attacks, in prison or after release”, as well as being denied the right to vote while serving time.

As The Justice Gap points out, the language used by politicians around these issues often serves to place “criminals” in some external category, as being separate from the rest of us and wholly defined by the fact of their having been convicted of some crime. The fact that these are still people we’re talking about is easily forgotten, making the idea of denying them compensation if they’re physically assaulted easier to swallow.

This othering and dehumanisation is even worn as a badge of pride by the people who run the country. The Prime Minister was quoted last year as saying:

It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison.

Now, that’s a very unusual thing to have your stomach literally turned by. It seems far more likely that David Cameron is merely strongly against the idea, and used this common idiom to emphasise his point. But the fact that he was so keen to exaggerate his feelings makes it clear that he expects to be praised and admired for taking such a strong, no-nonsense attitude. He finds it a courageous and powerful aspect of his character, to be so sickened by this entire demographic of the citizens whose interests he’s supposed to be serving.

Rights are called rights for a reason. They’re things we’re all supposed to be entitled to, not things we are only granted by the magnanimity of the state.

Clearly there are some individual instances in which restraining some of those rights is currently the best we can make of a bad situation – I’m not arguing that every violent offender should be allowed the unmitigated right to walk the streets.

But to sweepingly deny basic individual liberties to an entire swathe of the population, generalising about every one of them, regardless of personal circumstances, and marginalising this out-group even further for the good of the “society” you’re trying to pretend they’re not a part of? That’s some fine othering, right there.

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