It has been said many times that the person you are in the face of adversity is your true character. The current times are proving to be difficult for immigrants, Muslims, women, and the LGBT community. As many of us are finding ourselves under attack from the Trump administration, we have to lean on our legal system for answers. The confirmation of Justice Neal Gorsuch was one of the most watched and controversial appointments in decades. On the surface, putting all of our hope and faith in our legal system doesn't seem like a bad idea, until you take a closer look at the system.
In 1619 the first African slaves were brought into the Americas. This was called the Middle Passage. These Africans were brutally taken from their homes and packed onto slave ships like canned sardines. The Africans were shackled together for up to six months during the journey. Many were only fed once a day and provided one cup of water daily, if at all. Many did not make it to America, as the horrific conditions on the ship caused their untimely deaths. Once they arrived, the slaves were auctioned off and became the property of the highest bidder. Slaves were beaten, raped, and forced to work under harrowing conditions. Slavery was deplorable, but somehow it was deemed legal. Slavery was legalized in Massachusetts in 1641. Below are some of the slave codes:
Slaves were forbidden to leave the owner's property unless accompanied by a white person, or with permission. If a slave left the owner's property without permission, "every white person" was required to chastise them.
Any slave attempting to run away and leave the colony (later, the state) received the death penalty.
Slave homes were searched every two weeks for weapons or stolen goods. Punishment escalated from loss of an ear, branding, and nose-slitting, followed by the death penalty on the fourth offense.
There were also rules for slaveholders:
Freeing a slave was forbidden except by deed. After 1820, freedom could only be obtained by permission from the legislature. Georgia began requiring legislative approval after 1801.
Fines of $100, and six months in prison were imposed for teaching a slave to read and write. The death penalty was imposed for circulating incendiary literature.
Owners refusing to abide by the slave code were fined and forfeited their slaves.
In 1863, an executive order signed by President Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves. This victory was quickly minimized, however, because the assurance of equality did not follow closely behind freedom. In 1877, Jim Crow laws, which officially and legally segregated black people from the white population, were enacted. These laws were set out to disenfranchise black people, and it worked. Black people could not vote, could not serve on juries, and had to use separate facilities from their white counterparts. During this time the amount of lynching drastically increased throughout the south.
The Civil Rights act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. From 1619 until 1964 - 345 years - American law allowed the debasement of an entire group of people. African-Americans were not the only group of people to face such atrocities in our country, but I am focusing on this particular time and this particular struggle for a reason. This was a time in our country that the laws supported bigotry and intolerance. Sometimes, the law, meant to uphold justice, can be unjust.
That is why it is imperative for people to use their innate sense of judgment and empathy. While I wish we all did this, recent events have shown me that as a nation, many people will allow their thoughts to be driven by what is written, often times wrongly, by lawyers and bureaucrats.
Many people look back on the time of slaves and wonder, "What would I have done?" The answer can be found by asking a simpler question: Are you a leader or a follower? In today's climate, I have noticed a great deal of people speak of what is legal and what is not legal. During most of the conversation surrounding DACA, a point of contention is the legality of the Act. I believe in following the law, but I also act on my morality. I believe that it is wrong to send 800,000 people to a country that is foreign to them. The laws have not yet caught up with morality. In terms of the Muslim ban, the same argument was had. If Trump signed an executive order, it is legal, but is it MORAL? We will not grow as a nation until we start to do what is right, and not question the morality of what may have been written. If this were the 1700s, those same people saying "it is the law" would be the same people who owned and beat their slaves. Attorney General Jeff Session would proudly proclaim violence against slaves, because it was legal.
I for one will never turn my back on my morals in favor of being a law-abiding citizen. This is what makes me and others like me, the real patriot. After all, this country was founded on the illegal rebellion of Patriots.
Contributing Editor: Ken Mejia-Beal
Ken Mejia-Beal is a concerned citizen, who cares deeply for his country. Ken wants to make the world a better place for all people. A capitalist with a heart who believes in free thinking and human rights. Ken wants to use his words in order to shine a light on political ventures in order to allow those without knowledge to form strong positions through fact based conversation. Ken resides in DuPage County, within Illinois. He has ambitions to motivate those around him to communicate differing ideas while remaining civil.