Friday, May 11, 2012

A Welcome Shift

No doubt about it: President Obama's announcement that he supports gay marriage and the rights attendant to that is the biggest news of the week so far. While I admit to wishing he had left the crap about "states' rights" out of his speech, I think that his announcement is important and might very well make a difference, a welcome difference.

No, I'm not going to say much more than that, but not because I don't have anything to say. It's just that others have said it so much better than I could. For example, David Horsey has a cartoon and a column that is terrific, especially as it recognizes the risk the president is taking (about which, more in a bit). And Amanda Marcotte has a brilliant analysis of the predictable backlash led by allegedly Christian churches and why it matters. I urge you to read both.

No, what I want to talk about is the shift from talk about the economy and the budget (both of which are important), to what I consider to be a more basic, root issue: civil rights. That is what the whole business of "gay marriage" is about: extending the same protections to same-sex couples that "married" heterosexual couples enjoy, from health insurance coverage, to tax breaks, to probate laws, to visitation rights when one of the two is hospitalized.

Civil rights is an issue that has been ignored for more than a decade as the haves and have-mores have tightened the noose around the necks of the rest of us. We are supposed to sit still as our emails and cell phones calls are surveilled, as drones observe us overhead, as a few of us are targeted for assassination. And if we are superficially "other" (more melanin-enhanced), we can expect lots of police attention.

Take, for example, Maricopa County, Arizona (please). The feds have once again filed a civil right suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his department.

The Department of Justice sued Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Phoenix law enforcement department Thursday alleging a pattern of abuse and racism against Latinos, especially immigrants, and asking a federal judge to force the 20-year, often outspoken and brazen sheriff to stop racially profiling Latinos and abusing them in his jails. ...

Among the findings by Justice officials in the suit are that Arpaio allowed and encouraged his deputies to randomly profile Latino motorists and stop them for little reason. ...

Other alleged violations detailed Thursday were not providing language assistance to Spanish speakers in the jails, and Arpaio’s retaliatory actions against local critics, which have included judges, lawyers and community leaders.

As an example of what he called pervasive demeaning behavior against Latinos, Perez said deputies once circulated a picture of a Chihuahua dog in swimwear, with the caption, "A rare photo of a Mexican Navy Seal." ...

It asks a federal judge to "put in place any remedies to correct the violations" by naming an independent monitor to oversee the sheriff’s office, develop reform policies and possibly find Arpaio and other top sheriff’s officials in contempt of court if they do not comply.

Sheriff Joe's behavior over the years has been chronicled, but more for its amusement factor than for its devastating effect on Latinos, both documented (including citizens -- some native-born) and undocumented. Targeted harassment and abuse get downplayed because, oh, I don't know, Joe is so colorful? And little has been done about it.

The DOJ did file a previous civil rights suit against this department, but it settled once Joe promised to behave. Unfortunately, the DOJ didn't provide for any kind of monitoring, so things were back to 'normal' in short order. This time, the relief sought includes a monitor, and any settlement will also require one. If DOJ holds firm, even if Joe decides to fight the issue, there's a good chance things will change.

My point is that the economy isn't the only crucial issue facing the nation, and some leadership from the White House on civil rights is both overdue and welcome. Here's what David Horsey had to say (link above) about the president's announcement on gay marriage:

The president probably lost votes by speaking up for gay marriage, but, at least with half the country, he won new respect. Obama came into office with expectations he would be a transformational president. On this issue, at least, that is what he is becoming.

Now we need him to extend that to the other areas of civil rights.

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Blogger Florence said...

I hope that President Obama will finally give up the idea of working with the republicans. (I use a little r because they have become such little people.) Maybe he will express his views in other areas as thoughtfully and clealy as he has on this issue.

6:24 AM  

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