The Tide Turns 160 Years of Civil Rights History Backwards
BY: Nathaniel Saad
With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, times have never been more uncertain. In fact, in the history of North America (and the entire world), there have been many pandemics and outbreaks of disease, but rarely have they been as widespread or global as the current one. Now, all eyes are on world leaders to see how they will act in response to these troubling events. Most people would assume the coming of heightened accountability on the parts of governments, as well as more services and care taken to protect civilian populations in the face of danger. However, low was the number of people expecting their civil rights to be revoked. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has begun to happen with the suspension of Habeas Corpus in the state of New York. The civil rights infringement comes at an inopportune time following the death of George Floyd and the eruption of “Black Lives Matter” across the world.
Many readers might be wondering what Habeas Corpus is exactly. The direct translation from Latin is to have/produce the body; it is a legal writ used to demand that a prisoner be brought before a court in order to determine whether the circumstances of their imprisonment were lawful or not. In simpler terms, it is used to protect people against illegal imprisonment and is one of the earliest bedrock principles of the English and American judicial systems. While it has certain limitations, it is nonetheless the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.
There have been a few rare instances in history when this writ was suspended. One of the most famous ones was in 1861 when President Abraham Lincoln used his presidential powers to suspend Habeas Corpus in order to fight the Confederates in the South. The Civil War, as most people know, was a war centred around the issue of slavery, with the North of the United States fighting for the freedom and the human rights of African-Americans, and the South fighting against them. Lincoln used this tactic back in the day to stop the flow of Confederate troops and resources, push back against the rebellion, and ensure the protection of African-Americans fleeing slavery. Now, almost 160 years later, when the entire continent is rallying to the aid of the Black Lives Matter movement, the very same tactic is being used against those striving to uphold what Lincoln fought for.
There has always been a fear that governments will use moments of chaos and panic to further their agendas. Recently, many a gaze has been shifted towards the White House, anxiously awaiting the moment the President will establish new policies to combat the rising Covid-19 virus. The fear is that Donald Trump will use the instability of current society to disguise plans for moving forward his plans and push for some of the more controversial policies. Already, the president has used the pandemic to heighten border restrictions and resist asylum claims. Now, the Justice Department is seeking changes which would remove the safeguard against an abuse of power on the part of the government. Imagine being arrested indefinitely without the chance to see a judge… that is now not only a possibility, but a reality in the state of New York. To add onto this, a Manhattan judge recently ruled that anyone arrested in Bronx, Brooklyn, or Manhattan could be held for more than 24 hours without a charge. This new development has come as a shock to many and has been deemed “unconstitutional” by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
While there are plenty of causes for concern in the world right now, a breach of American Civil Rights is a shocking one. Anyone planning on attending protests should take the time to research and read up on the legal changes that are rapidly taking place lest they find themselves in a situation similar to the Confederate soldiers 160 years ago, trapped by the same law, only on different sides.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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