Thursday, September 12, 2019

Neighbor Love and Punishment

In Christianity, Judaism and Islam the faithful are enjoined to live in peace with their neighbor, to treat them kindly or even to love them. This command has its secular equivalent when a peaceful world, a world free of war and cruelty is set as a goal of political action.

This injunction to universal kindness is pulled up short in the face of cruelty when neighbors oppress neighbors. We are reminded that this is the hundreth anniversary of what is known to historians as the "Red Summer" when white mobs burned black churches, often with their congregations still inside and then went on rampages of lynchings in which hundreds of African-Americans died. One of those burned churches was rebuilt. It was burned down the gain in 2014. In 2016 several black churches fell victim to arson attacks in Louisiana. The cruelty of 100 years ago continues to this day. The advocates of peace and reconciliation are facing serious challenges today.

Dedicated to a world of peace, whether for religious reasons or following secular political principles, how shall we treat the arsonists, the lynch mobs, the murderers?           At this moment, in Togo, a small African country that only very recently emerged from a brutal dictatorship, maintained by murdering often innocent citizens, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission encourages citizens to confess whatever terrific part they played in the past and for the victims to try to reconcile with the guilty parties. The assassins will not be tried in a court of law, they do not face long periods of incarceration or even death. The goal of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to reunify a population divided for many years between the henchmen of the dictatorship and the victimized population at large. Here is one way in which the religious and secular political injunction to practice kindness to all is actually being applied.           Not everyone is satisfied with this interpretation of neighborly love. Surely, they say an important part of loving your neighbor is to respect them. One form of paying respect to human beings is to hold them responsible for their actions. You disrespect them if you do not pay attention to their actions, may those be acts of heroism or self-sacrifice or maybe they be deceitful acts or acts of violence. Refusing to acknowledge what a person has done, how he lived his life, whether she contributed to the well-being of our community or acted to destroy it is to deny respect to the perpetrators of civil oppression and war, the recognition that is an important element of respect. If you forget how a person has lived his life, how he injured neighbors he did not even know, you refuse the person the respect and thus the kindness or love you are professing.. The forgiveness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission denies genuine respect to the persons offered forgiveness.          Can one forgive and respect a person guilty of exceptional cruelty? It is a question that is not easy to answer. The truth is that forgiveness may be respectful, fully horrified by the action of the person before us, or it may be as it were absent-minded, unthinking and more or less mechanical. In that case it clearly denies the person forgiven the respect they are entitled to. Respectful forgiveness makes difficult demands on the person trying to forgive.          But punishment as it is demanded by the enemies of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions continues the cycle of brutality. It inflicts pain on those who inflicted pains on others. Now they are aggrieved and the cycle of victimization is being continued.          However heartfelt our desire for peace and an end to inflicting pain on those who have inflicted pain on others, that end remains unattainable unless we practice what we preach and forgive. Punishment as the response to breaking the peace will never allow us to restore a more durable peace than we have accomplished so far.          Fully aware of the misdeeds of those who supported and practiced violence against their fellow citizens, we need nevertheless to allow them back into our community in order to try to heal it and allow it once again to come together and to create as much harmony as it can. That is the true meaning of the injunction to love our neighbor, to befriend our neighbors and to be genuine promoters of peace.

Monday, September 2, 2019

About Elections

We recently hosted an event in support of one of the candidates for the local School Committee. This young person was born in Africa and came to the US as a child and went through the entire public school system in my town. She knew at first-hand what it was like to be a public school student in our town as a person of color. Since there had been a good deal of controversy recently about the treatment of African-American and Latinx students in our school system, run by white persons almost exclusively, supporting her campaign seemed important. Add to that, we came to like and respect her as we got to know her better.
Most of the members of our school committee have had their position for a long time. Their names are familiar but I have never met any of them and have a very hazy idea of any of them. I am not clear what they stand for when it comes to educational policy and I do not know them personally. I do not know to what extent to trust their campaign statements and whether one could rely on them to act on the principles they profess.
Well, you say, that's the way it is in a large country like ours. But that is of course totally beside the point. I have the same problem of not knowing what candidates I vote for in the town I live which is not a big town by any means. More importantly, we say that in our democracy the people have the ultimate power over the government and that they exercise that power by selecting representatives of their choice. But a population voting for representatives they often do not know and who are, in fact, different from the voters think they are does not strike me as a population that is in control of its government or society. The choices we make, most of the time, are rather sightless. Rather than making thoughtful, well-informed choices, we yank the lever of an electoral slot machine. Our choices tend to be pretty random.
Is there a way of remedying that problem? Suppose in each neighborhood where people know each other or live close enough together to meet and talk, the citizens meet to select someone who is familiar with the school committee and knows the persons who are running to join that committee. Perhaps that person was a member of the committee some time ago and thus knows the personalities of the current membership and the functioning of the body. Suppose further that each neighborhood selects one such person well able to make an informed choice with respect to members of the School Committee. The representatives of each neighborhood will meet and choose the requisite number of persons to serve on this committee. The committee membership is picked by persons who know each candidate and have some judgment as to who may be the best person to help the schools. In this way the problem of citizens voting for more or less unknown candidates has been circumvented.
You may object that this indirect vote for school committee members puts a great distance between the individual citizens and the organs of city government. But that distance exists already. There is a large gap between me and institutions whose members are elected but are on the whole unknown to the people who vote for them and therefore cannot really be said represent those people. If voters under our present system of direct elections of members of the School Board or the City Council wanted to be familiar with the persons they vote for, they would need to spend a great deal more time to meet the candidates at different forums or when they volunteered to work for a candidate or another. Most citizens do not have the time available.
Counting up the number of votes that different candidates get from voters that do not know them strikes me as an irrational way of electing a government. The jobs we elect people for are important. It makes a great deal of difference for us how well those jobs are done. We need the best candidates available. We don't get those as long as we respond to campaign literature written by professional campaign strategists that often are only faintly related to the ideas and practices of the candidate.
We need to elect persons as electors we know, whom we can trust that they will do what they promise us. That means we should choose persons in our neighborhood who are familiar with the office we are voting for and familiar with the candidates. They can choose the one who will do the best job for us.
This is, I believe, a good project. But Is it realistic? In many places in the United States citizens do not live in stable neighborhoods where neighbors know each other and are thus able to choose the right electors for local as well as national elections. Many neighborhoods are unstable in that people move in and out constantly. Think of neighborhoods with large student populations or neighborhoods of poor people who are regularly getting evicted because they are unable to pay the rent. In areas surrounding military installations, families move regularly when their members in the military are transferred. There are parts of many towns populated by young people on their way up who will leave when they get promoted and their pay goes up. Others leave because they lose their job in times of economic instability. In short, the picture of areas with stable populations does not seem to apply to significant parts of the country.
But many folks in these highly mobile populations may not participate in elections, especially not in local elections because their ties to the locality may be very weak. They may also remain aloof from elections because they do not feel at all included in the political system. Candidates do not seek them out or mentioned there needs and problems in their campaign speeches. Feeling overlooked by politicians they may well stay aside when elections come around.
Choosing the electors we do know instead of candidates we don't, is a realistic project that deserves serious consideration.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Our History

Recently the President traveled to Virginia to commemorate the Jamestown settlement and the first legislative meeting held there in 1619. He was celebrating 400 years of democracy on this continent, that 400 years earlier the first legislative meeting was held in the Jamestown colony.

The first English settlers had reached Jamestown about 10 years earlier. Most of them had been gentlemen unused to working the land or doing much of anything else for themselves. They were accustomed to having others – laborers and servants – do the work of maintaining them. One part of the workforce in the new colony consisted of what were known as "indentured servants." These were impoverished English people, some of them petty criminals, who were offered a choice between going to prison or shipping out to the colonies in the New World. Indentured servants served without getting paid from 7 to 10 or more years to pay for their passage and their food and clothing. After serving that time they would be free and be given a piece of land to farm for themselves.

The other part of the workforce consisted of black Africans who were bound for Bermuda on a slave ship that pirates captured and unloaded in Jamestown.

For the first 50 years the White indentured English and Black Africans lived and worked side-by-side (and sometimes married) pretty much under the same conditions as indentured servants. By 1660 legislation passed by the new legislative assembly-- so recently celebrated by our current president-- imposed on the Africans the status of slaves, a lifetime condition. Once a slave always a slave. The children of slaves were similarly enslaved for their lifetime. This legislation created a body of workers who labored year in year out without getting any reward for their work. Their work served to enrich the gentlemen in the Jamestown colony as well as the wealthy investors back in England who had financed the ships and equipment to found the colony in the expectation of rich rewards.

Barely hanging on for the first 10 or 15 years, the colony began to thrive when tobacco was first planted in Virginia. The soil and climate turned out to be favorable and the indentured servants, black and white, could be made to do the hard work in the tobacco fields.

The land needed to raise all this tobacco was taken – stolen – from the Native Americans who lived in the area. Many different tribes, organized into a powerful coalition, lived where the English colonists chose to settle. Initially welcomed by the native inhabitants, relations between the English and the local inhabitants soon soured and more than once erupted into bloody warfare. The colonists received instructions from England to convert the native peoples to Anglicanism and to civilize them in the ways of the English. The authors of these instructions did not see the irony of stealing people's land and then ordering the thieves to civilize the victims who had been robbed by teaching them the ways of the thieves.

This irony has been with us ever since. White Americans have ravaged the lives of the descendants of Black Africans and the descendants of the Native Americans and taken their own inhumanity as a sign of White superiority. Appropriating the land of the one and the ability to work of the other, White Americans have become very rich at the expense of people who are not White. They have shamelessly interpreted their success in exploiting other human beings as a sign of moral and even spiritual superiority.

The Jamestown assembly, the precursor of the US Congress and of the varied institutions of the United States government, in passing the first Black Codes defining slavery as a lifetime condition of utter deprivation set the precedent for later American legislatures that to this day, for instance by demanding picture IDs for voting, deny the humanity and the citizenship rights of Black and Native Americans. Successor legislatures to the Jamestown assembly have only managed to expand the range of peoples insulted and exploited and treated as less than human than White Americans.

That Donald Trump, arch racist, should celebrate that institution is not surprising. We, on the contrary should mourn it. In Jamestown, North America got off to a really bad start. We have never recovered from that. The efforts of many people to overcome this terrible heritage have only had very limited success so far.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Shame! Shame!

On the Fourth of July we celebrated the United States of America and glorified our democracy.
Two days later the New York Times reported on a group of lawyers visiting the Clint, TX detention facility where our government, just raucously celebrated, detains about 300 children ranging in age from 5 months to 17 years. Yes, you read that right-- FIVE months old. Surely an infant did not come to the US border without a parent or some other adult who brought that child. But now this infant is on its own. The older children, themselves seriously distressed, are tasked with taking care of the little ones.
I hold my seven month old grandson and think about this story. I know how utterly dependent infants are. I can imagine those children wailing in their misery and I weep.
Among these children are a number of teen mothers who gave birth very recently. All the children are filthy. Since crossing the border they have not been able to wash. They do not have water to wash, let alone soap or showers. They do not have toothbrushes or a change of clean clothes. The babies and infants do not have diapers. The government—OUR government—has argued in court that it has no obligations to allow the children to wash themselves or the clothes they have been wearing since coming into the country, often weeks ago. The government does not believe that it has obligations to acknowledge the immigrants’ most elementary dignity.
In El Paso, TX. Border Patrol agents told us some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks,” the inspector general’s office said in its report, which noted that some detainees were observed standing on toilets in the cells “to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets.” It is difficult not to think of Jews packed into box cars, standing room only, on the transport to extermination camps in the East.
One of the lawyers visiting the Clint, TX. Reported “ “So many children are sick, they have the flu, and they’re not being properly treated.” The same reports from different detention sites, are available on the websites of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee and other non-profit organizations.
Having been a child refugee myself, these reports distressed me deeply. I began to think that perhaps there would be a way of fostering or adopting one of these unfortunate children in order to save at least one child. But all I found out was that the government cruelty extended also to fostering and adoption. It turns out that the government did send some of the children they had taken from families at the border to the largest adoption agency run by very right-wing evangelical organizations. The Border Patrol meanwhile was making no efforts to find the families whose children they had taken away. But videos of children being taken from their parents to be given out to adoption were being shown to refugees to make them “behave.” One woman was persuaded to retract her application for asylum by threatening to give her children out to adoption. Adoption has become a tool for suppressing refugees.
All of this happens in the context of steeply restricted availability of children ready to be adopted. A few years ago, American parents looking for children to adopt had children available from many foreign country such as Russia or China. Both of these countries have since prohibited foreign adoptions. So have many other countries. Fewer children are available for adoption in the US today. Fox News provocateur Laura Ingraham, herself an adoptive mother, was calling to “make adoption easier for American couples who want to adopt these kids.”
What can we do? The key lesson is that we are completely powerless although we are living in a democracy. Websites promising to tell us how we can ameliorate the suffering of children and adults at the border have two recommendations: send money to non-profits and write letters to your representatives in Congress. But the non-profits in spite of feverish activities in the Courts and elsewhere have been spectacularly ineffective. Congress after a long time has managed to pass a bill providing more resources for the Border patrol. But the bill provides no monitoring mechanisms. ICE and Border Patrol can do whatever they want, as before. Congress has not intervened on behalf of the refugee children being abused at the border. Neither non-profits nor Congress have been able to respond to the moral outrage of the majority of citizens. Citizens have been unable to act on their sense of justice being violated grossly at the border.
In the land of the free, citizens find themselves thwarted at every turn when they try to be faithful to their sense of justice. They can not put their understanding of what is right and wrong and of what they owe to their fellow humans at the border in practice.
Freedom does not amount to much when one is prevented from being a good person because all the power is in the hands of the morally damaged and the cruel.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

What is Socialism?

 The headline in the Seattle newspaper was something like “Socialism Contested in Seattle City Council elections.” In national contests over the soul of the Democratic party, socialism is an important issue. A word that was taboo ten years ago, or less, is now important in the current political vocabulary. But what does it mean? Do you know what President Trump means by socialism, or Bernie Sanders? Most likely they attach different meanings to that word and when one condemns socialism and the other advocates it they are likely talking about very different things.
I want to talk about several quite different kinds of socialisms. The first identifies it with the system prevalent in the Soviet Union—USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics where the word “soviet” is Russian for “council.” Russian socialism, especially as represented by media in the West was an unrelentingly brutal dictatorship which killed millions or exiled them to harsh lives in Siberian prison camps. The essence of that kind of socialism is a violent and coercive government that did neither recognize nor respect any human rights. President Trump thinks that Bernie Sanders wants that kind of violent dictatorship for our country.
In actual fact, Sanders’ socialism is without doubt democratic; it will have no truck with authoritarianism, even the relatively moderate authoritarianism of Donald Trump or of other recent Presidents who went to war without Congressional approval and gradually extended the power of executive orders instead of asking Congress for legislation. The target of Sanders’ sort of socialism is inequality. Contrary to the practice of the current president, or of the Republican and Democratic presidents before him, the socialism of Bernie Sanders, often called “social democracy” will ask the rich to pay for assuring the poor a half-way decent life. 
Social democracy does not attempt to equalize the incomes of different citizens; it is content to accept the existence of persons who earn very little and persons who earn an enormous amount of money. But social democracy wants to make sure that everyone has enough to eat and does not have to worry about food. Everyone is entitled to decent housing, to the best available medical care and to an affordable—affordable for everyone—education. Social democracy relieves parents by providing adequate daycare for all children and assures all children a first rate education that begins in preschool. All of this calls for a great deal of money. The millionaires and billionaires will pay for that.
A different kind of socialism has capitalism as its target. In a capitalist economy, like ours, a small number of persons owns the factories, banks, modes of transportation—trucks, railroads and airlines—and modes of communication—radio and tv networks, internet providers, phone companies. Others own sources of energy, hospitals and medical clinics and privatized prisons. These owners hire the rest of us. Unless we belong to a strong union and can therefore bargain with them effectively, they pretty well pay us what they want. They hire and fire and thus determine whether we have work or not. They have far reaching power over the lives of the rest of us and our families.
The owners get rich from their ownership. They can use that money to buy many houses, in the US and abroad. They can use the money to invest in new businesses and get even richer. They can use the money to buy their children admission to the fanciest universities . They also use their wealth to influence the political processes , through lobbying, through graft, and through buying and controlling the media. A real democracy, by contrast, gives equal political power to everybody. In our democracy, the rich have effectively many more votes than ordinary people. They pretty well run the country.
The socialism that targets capitalism is also democratic but in a more radical way. Abolishing capitalism also abolishes the existence of a class of people who have a lot more political power than the rest of us. Abolishing capitalism restores political equality and thereby restores our democracy to some extent.
There are different versions of the socialism that will replace capitalism. Often socialism is described in predominantly economic terms as a system where the productive apparatus is not run by private owners—that would be capitalism—but by the workers in the enterprise. Often socialists add requirements for a socialist politics: the government is elected by all equally and its task is to serve all equally. No more governments for the rich and by the rich and of elected officials for sale to the rich.
To those two requirements for socialism—workers control of the economy and political equality for all – some people want to add a third requirement, that a socialist society will have different values. In a capitalist society profits are a more powerful incentive than human well-being. Companies will regularly pay starvation wages for the sake of their profits. In a capitalist society that is morally acceptable. People who get filthy rich by pay starvation wages are held up as models to our children. They have fancy buildings names after them. But from a socialist perspective exploiting your workers is pure wickedness. Human flourishing is a more important goal in a socialist society than profits.
In the upcoming elections socialism will be an issue—not the authoritarian dictatorship President Trump condemns rightly, but the socialisms that propose different means for restoring a society in which human lives are more important than money, and for restoring the political equality without which democracy remains a sham.
The choice is yours. What will it be: people before profits or profits above everything, even human lives?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Wake Up, America.

We tend to think of ourselves not only as generally good people but also as people who place a high value on liberty and equality. But a good deal of this positive self affirmation seems justified because we don't pay attention to what we actually do. I wrote about one instance of that in a previous blog, about Jim Crow – the hundred years from the end of the Civil War to the 1960s when American Blacks in the southern states were subject to a daily regime of terror. That regime of terror now continues in the form of murders of young black men and women by police, by mass incarceration of African-Americans, a process that begins by unfair treatment of black children in kindergarten. Most Americans are not really aware of these injustices because they're not paying attention.
As a nation we are not only good-natured and dedicated to freedom but we are also capable of sustained brutality and gross injustice. The latest instance of that is our treatment of people who come to our borders from Central and Latin America fleeing hunger, unemployment and violent cultures. We hear about that but we do not really pay attention to take in the gravity of the condition of hundreds of thousands of men and women and children taken by the border patrol, CBP, and the immigration police, ICE.
When refugees come to our borders they frequently are held in facilities of the Border Patrol prior to being processed. The available facilities are completely inadequate. Adults and children have to stand up often for several days because there are too many people for anyone to sit down or lie down to sleep. In order to get a little bit of room some people end up standing on toilets which are then not accessible to their proper use.
Once processed many of the immigrants instead of being allowed to seek out their direct relatives or friends with whom they were planning to stay are imprisoned in facilities designed to hold convicted criminals where they are treated as if they were criminals. They are made to wear a prison clothes. They are subject to prison routines even though they have not been in front of a judge or a jury. They have not even been arraigned for committing a crime. They are simply interned in ways reminiscent of the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. They're just being shut up because our President and his people have made hostility to immigration a signature political issue.
Who are these people? Why do they undertake the hard journey from Central America through other Central American countries and Mexico – thousands of miles – and expose themselves to brutal treatment at the border? Story after story from the frontier documents that refugees leave their house in their country after gangs murdered a husband and threaten the life of the wife and the children, about parents who are afraid criminal groups will recruit their children and turned them into criminals, about families living in abject poverty and seeking a better life for their children. The government refuses to see any of that. All they see are "illegal immigrants."
There are some media accounts of the conditions in different Latin American countries that force large numbers of people to pick up a bag of clothes and their children and start traveling by whatever means available to the US Mexican border. But no one wants to talk about the causes of this wave of violence engulfing Latin America. No one mentions that leaders in the militaries of these different countries have been trained in the United States. At Fort Benning, Georgia what was formerly known as the "School of the Americas" and was then re- christened the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" they learned how to suppress restive populations and to bolster dictatorial regimes. The violence the refugees are fleeing is to a significant extent “Made in America.”
The majority of detained refugees are held in private prisons owned by either the GEO Group or Core Civic (formerly called “Corrections Corporation of America”) -- both generous supporters of the Trump Inauguration Fund and Trump election campaign funds. Conditions in these prisons are truly deplorable. The detained immigrants are mostly Spanish speakers and few have any English. Border Patrol and ICE agents, on the whole, do not speak English. Our government and its agents regard and treat them as lesser beings than white Americans. The detained immigrants do not understand what is being done to them or why. If detainees have health needs they are likely to be ignored. Pregnant women do not get medical care. In some cases the result is a stillbirth. A man who told the guards that he had a heart condition was, when he alerted officers that he was having chest pains, not sent to a hospital but to a different detention facility where he died. Women, especially young women are in constant danger of sexual abuse by guards. Rapes are common.
In many detention facilities the food is inedible. Meat has been observed to be raw or expired. Inspectors saw open packages of chicken leaking blood all over refrigeration units and identified slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat, which appeared to be spoiled. Bread is regularly moldy,
To add insult to injury, the inmates of private prisons are made to work for pennies an hour. All the cooking and cleaning and maintenance in the prison facilities is done by inmates who are paid a dollar a day or less. The inmates are virtual slaves. The private prison companies do not have to hire outside persons to provide the services that prison needs to operate. The system for treating immigrants is not only brutal it is thoroughly corrupt, a bonanza for the private prison companies and of course indirectly their political beneficiaries – the President.
It is time for Americans to wake up, to pay attention to see what our government does in our name, how we need to be ashamed of ourselves because the government brutalizes people in dire need. It is time to speak up very loudly against the maltreatment of immigrants.

Friday, June 7, 2019

    Our border with Mexico: a national disgrace.

Francisco Cantu, a Mexican-American born and raised in Arizona at age 23 joined the Border Patrol. It did not take him very long to become appalled by the inhumane treatment the border patrol meted out to people crossing the border without  proper papers. Four years after enlisting he left the border patrol. Today he volunteers to visit detained immigrants to bring them small gifts and to try to help them maintain their spirits in hope as they wait for the often inscrutable decisions of the US border bureaucracy.

    In a recent article in the New York Times Cantu describes the fate of one of the persons he visits in one of the many privately owned prisons in Arizona. Here is a woman he calls Ysabel who presented herself at the US border after fleeing violence in Venezuela. She ends up in a detention center and after some months  is told that her request for asylum has been granted. She expects to be released but that expectation is disappointed. She remains in detention in what are essentially prisons for criminals judged to have broken the law. She has done no such thing but continues in this prison.

    Her friend Francisco makes inquiries. After many phone calls to different government agencies he is told that the government is trying to appeal her grant of asylum. No date is set for such an appeal. If the appeal is ever considered by the Board of Immigration Appeals, there will be no public hearing. Isabel will have no opportunity to speak for itself. The board will make its decisions in private.

    This entire process contravenes traditional standards of justice. The immigrants are considered guilty and the burden is on them to prove that they deserve to be accepted into the United States. The hearings are secret; immigrants are not given a chance to speak for themselves. They do not have the support of lawyers.

    The government is very clear: the point of all these violations of traditional standards of legality is to deter people from coming to the border in order to ask for asylum. Human rights and legal rights count for nothing.

    Many Americans, especially supporters of the president, will reply to these complaints about government malfeasance at the Mexican American border by saying that immigrants who are crossing the border without proper papers are breaking the law and are therefore at fault. They deserve to suffer because their actions are illegal. They deserve punishment. They deserve to be sent back to where they came from.

    But that is an excessively simplistic way of thinking about the law and lawbreaking. The seriousness of lawbreaking depends on the law being broken. Some municipalities, for instance, try to reduce the number of automobile accidents by setting the speed limit very low. Most motorists break that law; they simply cannot bear to drive that slowly. No one thinks that their lawbreaking makes these drivers into pariahs because the law that is being broken is thought to be unjustified.

    In the 1920s, during prohibition, most Americans broke the law because they thought it was in error. No one thought that people who bought  illegal alcohol were serious lawbreakers who deserved harsh punishment such as being sent back to their country of origin.

     After the Civil War,  Southern states reacted to the emancipation of former slaves by passing a large body of laws that seriously circumscribed the lives of black Americans. The laws determined where African-Americans could sit on the train or the bus, where they could get a drink of water or relieve themselves. So-called Jim Crow laws imposed curfews and many other illegal limitations on former slaves and their descendents. They deprived African-Americans of the legal rights of white Americans. They deprived African-Americans of recourse to the legal systems. They were once again close to being enslaved. This was an utterly shameful set of legislative actions motivated by completely unacceptable racial prejudice. The laws were enforced not so much by police and sheriffs but by a series of public tortures and lynchings of black persons. In the 1890s a Black person was lynched every second or third day. The frequency declined in the 20th century but lynching did not end until late in the 20th century. Police shootings of Blacks have taken the place of lynching.

    If someone broke any of these Jim Crow laws we would not call them a law breaker who deserved serious punishment. How should we think of people fleeing violence and poverty in their country of origin? Do they deserve the harsh treatment meted out to the Ysabels of this world? There is no justice in our treatment of immigrants from South and Central America.