my view

The unlawful response to COVID-19

By NOAH KAMINSKY
Posted 10/7/20

I wrote an opinion piece a few weeks ago about the White House’s missteps to uphold certain universal human rights since the pandemic arrived in the United States. I want to revisit that claim. …

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my view

The unlawful response to COVID-19

Posted

I wrote an opinion piece a few weeks ago about the White House’s missteps to uphold certain universal human rights since the pandemic arrived in the United States. I want to revisit that claim. Initially, I was interested in showing how we broke a hollow promise, but now, I want to know what laws were broken and who broke them.

A faithful commitment to uphold the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is meaningless to a warmongering superpower if its leadership is not held accountable. When the United States refused to ratify and then revoked its signature from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), we plunged deeper into our disdain for peer oversight. We turned away from the law of all lands and the human rights they protect elsewhere—not here, at home.

If our leaders are not subject to any higher authority, then our UDHR commitment remains nothing more than a signature. Where rights are the improbable aspirations within which exists hope for a more just society, laws are a government’s credence to achieve such aspirations. When upheld, laws prevent governments from their willful neglect and active oppression.

I’ve never heard of a president being held accountable to our First Amendment, but this president’s mislabeling of SARS-CoV-2 has incited violence and xenophobia toward Asian Americans. Is it going too far to recommend civil action against the highest office in the land for our most fundamental law?

On June 1, the President interfered with a peaceful protest in Lafayette Park so he could take a photo in front of St. John’s Church. The U.S. Parks Service protected the President with riot gear, flash-bang grenades and tear gas, which were used on the protesters. There have been countless examples of law enforcement’s improper response to peaceful protesting, but I can’t remember a time when a president actively allowed for and was present during an assault on his own citizens. Can you?

Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Central District of California ordered the removal of immigrant children from family detention centers on June 26. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is still out of compliance with that order. ICE is a federal agency within the Department of Homeland Security, which is overseen by Acting Secretary Chad Wolf—a White House cabinet member. Is he responsible for ICE’s non-compliance?

Voting rights carry a darker, more sinister history of discrimination and subversion. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these transgressions fully apparent with an unprecedented need for absentee ballots. States like Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin innovated questionable strategies for blocking citizens from casting their votes. Did these election boards find unconstitutional ways to sidestep the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the 24th Amendment?

Prior to COVID-19, many lingering inequities, still in disrepair from past generations, never would have penetrated our collective American conscience, but today, those inequities have moved into the forefront of our national conversation. Voting, policing, health care, redlining, incarceration, subprime mortgage lending, taxation and school segregation are just some of the many broken promises written into law to create “all men equal.” Even that statement is problematic. Are our laws written poorly, or do we enforce them poorly?

But governments are people! Or, at least, their lawmaking should represent and be driven by people. At home, on a local scale, our judicial system honors the decision made by a jury of peers for criminal proceedings. Unfortunately, no such accountability exists on the international scale for the United States government. Our leadership is not subject to crimes against humanity, or a jury of its peers. So when does excessive, preventable death qualify as a crime against humanity like genocide?

The UDHR is an important document, but it does not enforce itself. Our modern history reveals the moral path our leadership chose for us. McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, the War on Terror, the 1980s crack epidemic, the opioid epidemic, mass incarceration, Guantanamo Bay, Saudi Arabian armament, immigrant concentration camps, impoverished indigenous peoples, reprehensible income inequality—the list goes on to remind us how we’ve honored our “faithful commitment.”

I changed my mind. We don’t need the UDHR if we enforce and improve the legal framework that already exists. We can do right by Rights if we hold our leadership accountable to our laws.

Noah Kaminsky is a middle school science teacher and a youth sports coach. Legalese is not his squeeze.

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