It is amazing to me how the liberal ethos of the bureaucratic systems we produce so effectively negates people’s humanity. It shoves it to the side and places it outside of consideration. What’s worse, it then rationalizes this negation as not only necessary, but good.
But it’s not. When we turn off our ability to sympathize with people’s human struggles and needs as they move or are moved through these unnatural processes and institutions, we don’t just deny them the compassionate respect of personhood, we kill a little bit of it in ourselves, too.
Let me give you an example that fills in for the host of things I am thinking about today. It comes from page 5 of a report from Amnesty International called “Jailed Without Justice.” Published in spring 2009, it is a sobering yet important read. (A complete PDF of the report can be downloaded here.)
A 34-year-old Mexican mother of three told Amnesty International that she was arrested at her home in front of her 3-year-old autistic US citizen son by local police and jailed for 24 days. According to her attorney, she was arrested for failure to appear for a petty theft offense. She was taken to jail “handcuffed to other people on the way” and interrogated that evening by an ICE officer. She told Amnesty International that she does not speak English and had no idea why she was being held. She also told Amnesty International that ICE officers said that it was her fault she was being separated from her family and she should just accept an order of deportation.
The last line–her account of an ICE officer blaming her for her own situation–is exactly the point I am trying to make. I think it is reflective of the way a lot of “fair and balanced” people would think. That’s just the way the system is, after all. If she didn’t want to be treated that way, she should have appeared in court on her petty theft charge, not migrated to the US without papers, and so on.
The problem is the way we shape a reality where this conclusion seems rationale, safe, fair, and uncontested. It is not. It is a product of our inability to shut off our sensors to her human needs, fears, and hopes. It is fundamentally based on our choice to she her not as a person but as a subject.
Many argue this is the necessary condition to make “justice blind.” Let me suggest it also places true and meaningful justice out of our reach for if this is a world where people’s lives are reduced to a set of so-called “facts,” then what have we gained?