Friday, January 8, 2010
What do a white mother of nine and a black suspect beaten by police have in common?
First, 35 year old Tessa Savicki, Springfield mother of nine children, filed a lawsuit against Baystate Medical Center, two nurses and three doctors, claiming she was sterilized against her will while undergoing a cesarean section during the birth of her last child..
Then, on Thursday, news broke that the Springfield Police Department is investigating the beating of 28 year old Melvin Jones III by four Springfield police officers in late November, 2009. The Springfield Republican posted a videotape of the beating taken by an anonymous bystander.
Public reaction to both stories has been vocal and across the board politically, but much of the discourse can be place in one of two categories.
EITHER human rights apply to everyone equally OR human rights should be applied differently depending on one's perception of the human beings involved.
When I say human rights, I also mean the laws and regulations that are supposed to support those rights.
Ms. Savicki has nine children, has never been married, and has spent a good portion of her motherhood receiving public assistance of some kind.
Mr. Jones has a previous arrest record and recently finished an 18-month jail term for possession of crack cocaine.
According to some of the public, Ms. Savicki, should have been forcibly sterilized a long time ago, and Mr. Jones got what was coming to him. Poor people shouldn't have children and young Black men shouldn't get addicted to drugs. Therefore, whatever happens to them that violates their human rights is acceptable.
The problem with having a flexible standard for human rights is, of course, who gets to decide how those rights are applied.
Forcible sterilization of particular groups of people such as Jews, gypsies, and the physically and mentally handicapped were well-accepted during certain historical times and by certain governments. Apparently much of the today's public finds forcible sterilization of welfare mothers quite appropriate-- after all, it's their tax dollars that support these mothers. However, the forced sterilization of a mother of nine-- or nineteen!-- who's a good evangelical Christian in a two-parent family not accepting any public assistance would create a huge public uproar.
Many countries at different times have ceded their human rights to law enforcement, and though private opinion might hold otherwise, public opinion is often vociferously supportive. So what if our phones are tapped, our email monitored, and our headscarves trigger a full body search? Hey, if you haven't done anything wrong, what have you got to worry about?
I have my own opinions, of course, about Ms. Savicki and Mr. Jones. I think anyone who has nine children in this day and age, and who still wants more, is out of her mind-- whether she's on welfare or wealthy. I also think Mr. Jones is clearly not benefiting by his relationship with illegal drugs.
Readers of this blog also know I support decriminalization of drugs and believe that a public health approach rather than a criminal justice approach would be more beneficial both to drug users and society. And I shook my head in dismay but not disbelief when Officer Jeffrey Asher's was revealed to be one of the four officers being investigated; I'm all too familiar with that name.
But what I believe, with all my heart, is that human rights belong to everyone. You have the right to have children whether society approves or not, and you have the right to be treated humanely even if you have broken the law. That so many of us are willing to allow these rights only for those of whom we approve is sad and repellent. I can only hope that the majority of us continue to feel differently.
Photo from riacale's photostream at Flickr.