This past week, we’ve had a series of rude awakenings on the harsh reality behind the beautiful imagery of American justice. At the same time, we occasionally hear complaints from certain privileged people about their lack of satisfaction with the process. Today, let’s put all of this into proper perspective.
What does “do it the right way” really mean?
Last Saturday, we were reminded of the real, human toll of President Donald Trump’s political posturing when immigrant rights activists gathered at First AME Church in North Las Vegas to discuss how to protect themselves and each other from Trump’s anti-immigrant regime. Despite Trump’s last-minute cancellation of his planned ten-city ICE raids, refugee children are still being neglected and abused in federal prison camps while immigrants with undocumented status are still being targeted by ICE (often with assistance from local police, as we know quite well here in Nevada) for arrest and removal.
Earlier this month, an NBC News investigation revealed that 24 immigrants have died under federal custody since Trump launched his “zero tolerance” program to escalate immigration enforcement actions at the U.S-Mexico border and across the nation. While certain politicians and pundits continue their semantics debate over what to call the prison camps, real people continue to suffer and the Trump administration is arguing in court in favor of allowing this suffering to continue indefinitely.
Every so often, the White House and Trump supporters argue that immigrants should “be legal” and “do it the right way”. What they leave out of their argument is that the “legal, right way” isn’t as straightforward as they claim. I now know, as I witnessed immigration court proceedings firsthand while covering Cecilia Gomez’s case last year.
While waiting for Gomez’s case to be called, I noticed as other immigrants who were applying for asylum had their next hearings pushed back to this year and 2020 due to the immigration courts’ extensive backlog. And unlike Gomez, whose lawyers found an “Ace in the Hole” with the invalid 1998 order for removal, some of the others had their asylum claims swiftly rejected despite providing evidence proving their validity. Under a series of executive actions ordered by Trump and then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the immigration courts that were already difficult for migrants to navigate have become even further stacked against them. And now, Trump wants to rig an already “rigged system” even further against refugees and other immigrants under the guise of “border security” and “humanitarian aid”.
Abuse of power is never right, so why are we still getting it all wrong?
Though Trump’s recent taunting of immigrant communities with renewed threats of raids, incarceration, and deportation merit plenty of our attention, it’s not the only harrowing story of injustice deserving attention. Just as ICE agents were preparing for what was to be their massive ten-city raids, New York Magazine published E. Jean Carroll’s account of Trump sexually assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman’s dressing room in 1996. She now joins the list of at least 15 women who have accused Trump of harassment and/or assault.
So why did Carroll wait until now to finally say something? In her own words, “Receiving death threats, being driven from my home, being dismissed, being dragged through the mud, and joining the 15 women who’ve come forward with credible stories about how the man grabbed, badgered, belittled, mauled, molested, and assaulted them, only to see the man turn it around, deny, threaten, and attack them, never sounded like much fun.”
E. Jean Carroll on Trump denying rape accusation she made against him: "With all the 16 women who have come forward, it's the same — he denies he, he turns it around, he attacks, & he threatens. Then everybody forgets it, & then the next woman comes along. And I am sick of it." pic.twitter.com/OuP20AvKTF
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 24, 2019
So far, Carroll has been spot-on in her assessment. Since coming forward, Carroll’s story has largely been buried by the major TV networks and newspapers. Even though Trump has already been caught lying in his denial (by claiming he never met her, despite photographic evidence proving otherwise), far too many in the national press corps continue to give Carroll short shrift, with NBC opting instead to air a puff piece of an interview with Trump last weekend.
As we discussed during our Dirty John debriefings in January, true stories of physical, psychological, and sexual violence don’t always fit into our neat, little stereotypes. Yes, U.S. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, private sector “captains of industry”, and other “distinguished men” can be just as guilty of abusing their power as that creepy dude who followed you to your car at the Target parking lot that one time. And yet, it feels so much easier and better for us to normalize this abuse than to actually do something to stop it.
Let’s bring this home.
These are just a couple examples of the harrowing injustice that still plagues our nation today. Just last week the U.S. Supreme Court publicly chided the State of Mississippi for allowing a district attorney to try Curtis Flowers six times for a murder he can’t prove Flowers committed (using actual evidence, instead of just racial animus), and that same district attorney may yet opt for a seventh trial. Closer to home, Clark County’s District Attorney (Steve Wolfson) has been using his power, and more specifically the unique influence he has over the Nevada Legislature’s leadership, to kill several criminal justice reform bills this past legislative session, from ending cash bail to repealing the death penalty and curbing prosecutorial misconduct. And speaking of the latter, quite a few former prosecutors who’ve faced serious charges of misconduct have instead “failed upward” and become judges.
As we assess all these injustices near and far, it’s hard for me to get all that worked up over Republicans struggling to decide whether to sue Democrats for extending the current payroll tax (or Modified Business Tax) rate without their votes, or for that matter Democratic leaders patting themselves on the back for extending that payroll tax rate and passing the buck on a sales tax hike to County Commissions rather than even try to address the larger failure to fund public schools and the rest of Nevada’s social safety net at “adequate” levels. At the same time, it’s hard for me to get all that worked up over Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) officials complaining about having to spend an extra $250,000 to defend themselves in the Wolf Creek lawsuit that centers on the question of whether they can set water prices on a currently unusable contract.
State legislators, VVWD officials, and other powerful people have the privilege of enjoying a great deal of due process. Refugees, rape survivors, and victims of the criminal justice system failing to live up to its name, on the other hand, have yet to see much of any. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to put all this into proper perspective, especially when those with privilege complain about the legal process as those with far less privilege keep waiting for any kind of justice.