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UNALIENABLE RIGHTS

Written by Joanne Reed

According to the American Declaration of Independence, every person has the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, history is full of examples where theory and practice are two different things.

Right now, America is a very divided country with violence caused by racial tensions making headline news. Discrimination based on race in the United States has existed since the colonial era, where owning slaves was legally permitted by law. Over the years formal racial discrimination has been banned thanks to the activism of minority groups who fought for equality in legislation and civil rights. In the 20th century racial discrimination is illegal and it is perceived as being socially and morally unacceptable, but the demonstrations across many cities in the Unites States following the death of George Floyd are showing us that, although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go to allow everyone the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  

“I have a dream”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

In order to understand the present and be better prepared to take effective, long-lasting action, we need to know the history behind it all. Let’s take a quick trip down ‘History Lane’ right to the start of all of this…

The American Declaration of Independence 

According to the American Declaration of Independence every person has the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Unfortunately, history is full of examples where theory and practice are two different things. 

Thomas Jefferson, who was the President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, wrote the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 near the beginning of the American Revolution. The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence starts as follows: 

“We hold those truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

Despite the libertarian rhetoric that followed the Declaration of Independence, liberty and equality became more and more muted in real life; people started realizing that even if the constitution clearly declared that all men are created equal, in real life some men were more equal than others. As the American people fought for independence against British tyranny and drafted their Declaration of Independence, one can only notice the obvious contradiction between advocating liberty on one hand and owning slaves on the other. Widespread talk of liberty gave slaves high expectations for a better future and assumed that the Declaration of Independence would also apply to them. However, the slaves soon realized that the revolutionary rhetoric of the Founding Fathers did not include enslaved black people. The Declaration of Independence promised, on paper, liberty for all men but failed to put an end to an institution that thrived on depriving people of their freedoms. [Extract from Chapter 7 of my book “This Is Your Quest”].

Slavery in America 

Slavery in America began in 1619 when the first African slaves were brought to the North American Colony to aid the production of crops such as tobacco and cotton. Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The movement to abolish slavery started in Europe and its colonies during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and encouraged free blacks and white supporters of the black cause in the Northern United States to start their own movement to emancipate slaves in the South. On 6 November 1860, Abraham Lincoln, known for his “free soil” stance of opposing both slavery and abolitionism, was elected President of the United States; within three months, seven Southern states had seceded to form the Confederate States of America – four more would follow leading to the Civil War (1861-65).  The war bankrupted much of the South, left its roads, farms, and factories in ruins and all but wiped out an entire generation of men with a death toll of more than 620,000 men, more than any other war in the American history.

Though Lincoln’s anti-slavery views were well established, the Central Union’s aim at first was not to abolish slavery but to preserve the United States as a nation. Abolition became a war aim only later. On 1 January 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation:

“slaves within the states, or designated part of a state … in rebellion … shall be then and forever free.”

—Abraham Lincoln

The 13th Amendment of the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States; it was passed by Congress on 31 January 1865 and ratified on 6 December 1865. The 13th Amendment states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 

Former slaves received the right to citizenship and “equal protection” under the Constitution in the 14th Amendment and the right to vote in the 15th Amendment, but the provisions of the Constitution were often ignored or violated. Despite seeing an unprecedented degree of black participation in American political life, African American rights were infringed upon for many years to come even after the official abolition of slavery; the re-birth of white supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan in the South made it even more difficult for African American to make headway . [Extract from Chapter 7 – page 70 of my book “This Is Your Quest”].

It is worth pointing out here that despite what most people believe slavery should not be automatically associated with ethnicity. Slavery has existed since the beginning of time; the color of someone’s skin was not a key factor to determine whether that person could find himself in the unfortunate position of being a slave or being a master instead. Those who became slaves were chosen because of their vulnerability compared to another dominant group and not because of the color of their skin. Since the beginning of times, Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Asians enslaved other Asians, Africans enslaved other Africans and Arabs enslaved other Arabs. A slave is a person who is the chattel or property of another. The etymology of the word “slave” finds its origin in the medieval Latin word “sclavus,” originally “Slav” because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering people [Extract from Chapter 7 – page 76 of my book “This Is Your Quest”].

Jim Crow Laws 

From the late 1870s, Southern State legislatures passed laws requiring the separation of whites from persons of color in public transportation and schools. The segregation principle was extended to parks, cemeteries, churches, hospitals, theaters and restaurants in an effort to prevent any contact between blacks and whites as equals.  The facilities allocated to the blacks were usually inferior to facilities to white people although the laws called for the separate facilities to be of equal quality, advocating the concept of “separate but equal”. ‘Jim Crow’ has long been a derogatory slang term for a black man, making it a fitting name for the laws that enforced discrimination in the Southern States between black and white people.

In the 20th century, Jim Crow laws continued to govern life in America, prohibiting black and white interaction. Blacks who violated these laws could be physically beaten by whites without reprisal; lynching occurred with startling frequency when blacks violated Jim Crow Laws. 

The Civil Rights Movement

Resistance to the lingering racism and discrimination in the United States that began during the slavery era would lead to the civil rights movement of the 1960s; it would force Americans to confront contradictions between practices of racial segregation with the concept of equality and freedom proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.  The American Civil Rights movement started in the mid-1950s and was ignited by Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. 

This led to mass protests against racial segregation and discrimination, mainly in the Southern states. Through these nonviolent protests, the civil rights movement broke the pattern of public facilities being segregated by race and achieved the most important breakthrough in equal rights legislation for African Americans, with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act 1964.

Two key figures emerged during the Civil Rights movement, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. Martin Luther King Jr was born in Atlanta Georgia on 15 January 1929. He was educated, religious, organized and participated in a series of peaceful protests that eventually changed many equality-focused laws. Martin Luther King Jr was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and on 4th April 1968, was shot and killed while in Memphis, Tennessee. Although his life ended that day, the work he has accomplished changed the nation.

“Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Waiting for Press Conference” by Marion S. Trikosko, March 26, 1964

Martin Luther King nonviolent philosophy is best illustrated by the following quote

A riot is the language of the unheardInjustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrow.”

—Martin Luther King

Malcolm X was born on 19 May 1925, he was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was also a popular figure during the civil rights movement. A naturally gifted orator, Malcolm X exhorted blacks to cast off the shackles of racism by any means necessary.  He was also a prominent spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. On March 1964, he broke his relationship with the Nation of Islam as he became disillusioned by its rigid teachings.  Less than a year later, Malcolm X was assassinated on 19 February 1965.

It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself. I always believed that clashes between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and who those who want to continue the system of exploitation are inevitable. People should fight for equality and liberation of the black people by any means necessary.”

—Malcolm X

Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X often clashed over the best tactics to end racial discrimination and prejudice. They had very different approaches to the Civil Rights Movement. King was advocating non-violent civil disobedience protests as the means to attack racial prejudice in America, whilst Malcolm X called for a more militant approach, achieving equality and black liberation by any means necessary. 

Malcolm X was very critical of King’s non-violent approach believing King’s actions to be too slow moving and too accommodating to the white Americans. King was also very vocal about Malcolm X’s approach, beliving that:

Fiery demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, can reap nothing but grief.”

—Martin Luther King

Despite those differences, both men admired and respected each other because ultimately, they were fighting for the same cause. Those two very different  approaches to a common cause did not impact the fight for equality in a negative manner, on the contrary, it demonstrated to the white Americans what a radical and violent approach looks like, making Martin Luther King’s approach and his moderate position a more acceptable alternative.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X met briefly on 25th March 1964, both were on Capitol Hill watching a Senate hearing regarding legislation aimed at ending segregation in public places and race discrimination in employment. The bill had been proposed by President John F Kennedy following intense lobbying by Martin Lurther King and was now being championed through congress by President Lyndon Johnson. After heated debates and fierce opposition from Southern members of Congress, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and signed into law on 2 July 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. No longer could blacks and other minorities be denied service simply based on the color of their skin.

It is around that time, that Malcolm X started to adopt a more conciliatory approach towards the fight for equality, he made the following statement in April 1964:

I was not less angry than I had been, but at the same time the true brotherhood I had seen had influenced me to recognize that anger can blind human vision.”

—Malcolm X


I have a dream…

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News

IS THE CORONAVIRUS DANGEROUS?

Written by Eleena Mendis

The entire world has seized up with the fright of the Coronavirus. Regardless of physical, societal, and economical or even religious boundaries, the number of victims has been increasing since January 2020. Nearly, the whole world is suffering from the virus and fighting for their lives while many people decided to give up. A pandemic is nothing new to the world. But for us as Sri Lankans, the Coronavirus pandemic situation is the very first global outbreak to experience with many difficulties.

All of a sudden, we had to postpone our day to day life. The country has been on lockdown for months. As we all know, sanitizing and social distancing are the precautions to avoid the risks, which seems quite simple, but complex in the act. Doctors, nurses, security forces, and some other laborers have been providing their good-will, and become today’s essential workforce to contribute with the system. They dedicated to serving their nation by sacrificing their personal lives and loved ones on behalf of their duties. 

This drastic incident has become one of the most sensitive topics around the world. Even some governments admired by their voters for taking sudden but harsh actions over civilians to control the outbreak. Is Coronavirus dangerous? Yes, it is, and it is highly contagious with the ability to kill millions of people by suppressing their breath. But isn’t it more dangerous what the other half of the world is facing right now? Isn’t it more serious what hidden behind the bigger picture of the pandemic? 

More than 250,000 people died, and in the meantime, two-third of the population has lost their employment and wages. Some of them are fighting for breath and starving to death every single day. These problems are more viral and dangerous than the biological impact of the virus. These are the problems, created by humans over the past decades. Nonetheless, the discussions on pandemic outbreaks to attack the capitalized system have vastly taken into attention by many authorities, since America and other powerful countries got extremely affected. Did they put any effort into changing their social-orders or bringing equality on the ground-level? The truth is not visible but buried.

Do you still believe Coronavirus is bigger than poverty? Comparing to the recent outbreak incident in the month of May 2020, which took place in Maligawatta, Sri Lanka, reveals the hidden picture of many untold stories. Three women were dead due to unbearable compression amid the crowd. Over three hundred people gathered there for two thousand five hundred rupees, which is less than $15, and stood over their lives because surviving against poverty is harder than getting cured by the Coronavirus disease.

We do not need another CSR (corporate social responsibility) project, a marketing campaign, or a political campaign that nourishes capitalism. We need true humanity for a better chance, and we must stand together.

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Categories
Law News

HOW INNOCENT PEOPLE CONFESS TO CRIMES

Written by Amandi Serena

Movies often depict criminals that are punished for their crimes and sent to jail but what’s the reality like? Currently, 2, 3 to 5% of prisoners in American jails are there because they confessed to crimes they did not commit.

We all have seen movies where the bad guys are sent to jail by police officers and investigators but do we ever stop and think about the mistakes made by the task force against innocents? Those mistakes often put innocents behind bars without any adequate reason. This recently caught my attention and I found out that it is more common than what we might think. In fact, a project called the ‘Innocence Project’ discovered that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in American jails are innocent, which corresponds to about 120,000 people altogether. According to statistics, this is a serious problem and I believe we should learn more about how innocent people commit to crimes they did not commit, so let’s do it together.

The first question to ask would be how this may happen. Well, research shows that one of the major reasons is false confessions, i.e. confessing to crimes one has not committed (Leo, 2009). In other words, some people confirm their involvement in crimes they have not committed but are being accused of because they might want to redeem themselves from crimes or mistakes they might have done in the past and that they were not punished for and thus, would want to ‘make things right’ or also because they want to protect someone close to them. An example of this is the case of Mayra Rosales, also known as the “Half-Ton Killer”, who claimed to have killed her two-year-old nephew to protect her sister. Nevertheless, Mayra’s initial statement was disregarded as further investigations confirmed she could have not done it due to her burgeoning obesity.

From another perspective, police officers might be the ones to influence the interrogations or ask questions in a certain way because they are overinfluenced by what is known as confirmation bias. In other words, they might be biased to ‘hear what they want to hear’ and interpret the interrogations to confirm their assumptions. For example, nowadays, there is a widespread mentality that minority people are more likely to commit crimes and more specifically, individuals that live in the suburbs or that come from less privileged backgrounds. So, when police officers interrogate them they might already think they are guilty and perhaps shape the questions to confirm their beliefs. Similarly, the officers in charge might use a language or questioning that might lead people to confess.

These facts seem unacceptable if we think we live in a fair society, however, we should also be mindful that police officers are human too, and like every single one of us, they might make mistakes. There is no excuse for putting innocents in jail but what we should remember is that several studies have concluded that individuals in the task force are no better than civilians when it comes to detecting when people are lying. The only difference between the two is those police officers are more confident in following their hunches.

Nevertheless, this situation must change but the difficulty is that, especially in Asian countries, there are fewer laws to protect the so-called-criminals thus, they might be subject to both physical and psychological threats and never-ending hours of interrogations. As a consequence, this makes people more likely to confess to crimes they have not committed because they want the suffering and the torture to end. Likewise, after many hours of interrogation and harsh conditions, due to high levels of pressure, stress, anxiety, and pain, people might even start to think they are indeed guilty. This is particularly true for young people as they are more susceptible to confessing if put through highly stressful or traumatic experiences.

A widely used interrogation technique is the Reid technique, which is divided into three phases. In the first one, the police officers ask questions to assess changes in the behavior of the accused. If they think the person is lying, they move to phase two which consists of accusing the suspect and ignoring the suspect’s attempt to deny everything. Sometimes denial is even thought to be an admission of guilt. In the last phase, they might tell the person that they have witnesses to what has happened which might cause doubts in the head of the suspect and question the events they are being accused of. This is particularly true in the USA where police are permitted to lie and tell the suspects that they have witnesses ready to testify against them. 

One example is the case of Barry Laughman, a man suffering from mental health difficulties who was coerced into confessing to raping and murdering a neighbor after investigators had told him they found his fingerprints at the crime scene. Although his other neighbors offered an alibi, the police officers disregarded everything and put him behind bars for 16 years. Another piece of evidence the investigators claimed to have found was his blood at the crime scene, however, what’s important to note here is that Laughman’s blood type was B whereas the blood found at the crime scene was type A. However, they cajoled him to confess after they claimed that the difference in blood type was only due to bacterial degradation.

As seen in movies or read in books, only the bad guys are sent to prison making the job of the police officers and investigators easier with the presence of distinct cues such as changes in music or flashbacks that show the spectators what had happened before. Similarly, if either the suspects or police officers do engage with false confessions, viewers would be able to get a deeper understanding of their character. To illustrate, if the character being accused of crime uses a false confession, we would understand more regarding his or her morals and values whereas if it is used by the investigators, that would tell us about the morality of the police officers or the police department. 

Nevertheless, there are no cues in real life and, although some advancements have been made in this field, there is the need to constantly improve the jurisdiction system and find methods that are improved and the forefront to be able to only accuse guilty people.

In conclusion, there’s only one important question to ask: how can we make this better? How can we make sure justice is served for the bad guys and keep our loved ones at home if they are being accused of crimes they have not committed? To be honest, there is a long way to go but many reforms have been suggested amongst which recording all interrogations and limiting interrogation time and prohibiting the police to lie. With regard to the harsh Reid interrogation technique, some advancement in the interrogation style has been put forward. For instance, it has been suggested that police officers should not overly focus on behavioral assessment but give more importance to the ‘cognitive load’ that is asking open-ended questions to see if the suspects recant or can keep their stories straight. This new method has already been adopted in some countries such as England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

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