Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Musings on Due Process and Human Rights Violators

Hello Dear unreaders. I know that by calling for the immediate firing of the police officers who perpetrated a violent crime against a number of students protesting wealth inequality and the cuts in education that America's most recent economic bust has brought about nonviolently at the University of California, Davis will be met by cries of what about due process and what about union and management agreements and process from my critics.

Let me say straight off that I fully understand the concerns of my critics. I am a member of a proud union, United University Professors, and am normally in favour of due process in such matters. However, in the case of the cops at UC Davis who perpetrated this violent act against students and in the case of a professor of law at UC Berkeley who was complicit in the torture of human beings I am not sure I am in favour of union due process within, and this is an important distinction, academic institutions.

Academic institutions should be places where freedom of speech is cherished, within limits, and where freedom to protest is cherished, again within limits. I do, by the way realise that historically academic institutions have often cherished neither. Academic institutions, however, should not be places where violence perpetrated against students for no good reason is acceptable. And this is why I strongly believe that the cops who violated the human and civil, rights of students at Davis, and the chancellor, who set in motion the events which violated the human rights of Davis students, should immediately be fired and stripped of all benefits they have accrued at the university over the years. Violent violations of the human and civil rights of others by those who have an obligation to protect them (in loco parentis) are simply beyond, or should be, the pale of civilised behaviour. As a result their presence on college campuses should not be tolerated. By firing those who violate human rights, even if the dismissal is purely symbolic, the university is making a statement about the importance of protecting human rights. They are making a statement that the violation of human rights on college campuses is simply unacceptable.

While some may regard this as a violation of due process I don't. It is not that the cops and the chancellor have no other recourse to challenge their dismissals. They can go to the union if they are part of a union. They can go to the courts to challenge their dismissal. They can, in other words, get their due process.

I recognise that what I am calling for raises a number of issues. I recognise that protecting freedom of speech requires protecting the freedom of speech of those who verbally express the worst form of speech, the White Supremacist speech of Nazis, for instance. In the past I have actually argued that freedom of speech is a zero plus game and that as a community we must protect the speech even of racists because if we don't we could be on the slippery slope toward criminalising other less offensive forms of speech. 1984. However, and this in my mind is an important thing to realise, protecting freedom of speech doesn't require that we protect those racists whose speech and ideologies lead them to attack those who they categorise as subhumans. For me firing those who physically violate the human rights of others by pepper spraying them fall into the same category. They have engaged in violent acts and, in my mind, have abrogated, in the process, their right to due process at a university and to hold a job at an institution that should appreciate and vouchsafe freedom of speech and freedom of protest.

As I said, the perpetrators of such violence still have the option of going to the unions, if they are in a union and I recommend that all Americans join a union if they can. If the unions want to fight for the civil rights of the perpetrators of human rights violators, fine. I would just say, however, that fighting for the rights of violent "perps", to use a term the cops and the media love to throw around, may give and probably will give unions even more of a bad name than they already have. It is important to recognise, as much as I like and appreciate what unions do (and there are limits to what unions can do given inequalities of power as I well know), that unions, particularly police unions, sometimes do things to protect workers at the expense of justice and what is right. In the case of the cops at Davis who perpetrated violence on peaceful students, what is right is that they lose their jobs. In the case of John Yoo, official in the Department of Justice during the Bush pere years who gave his approval to the violations of the human rights of others and now law professor at Berkeley, what is right is that this massive human rights abuser should not be allowed to teach students about the law, the very law he so blatantly and violently violated.

Alternatively, perhaps we can make the punishment fit the crime. Perhaps we can let the students, with the agreement of the cop perps, pepper spray the cops in the same way the cops pepper sprayed them. And perhaps we can let those tortured on the basis of judgments given by a John Yoo, again with the perps permission, torture him in the same way that they were tortured thanks to him. But that would be eye for an eye justice, wouldn't it? And we can't have that in an increasingly dixiefornicated America, can we?.

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