Anti-Oppression and Law Enforcement

By way of Emily's The Partial Muse, I came across a comment Tim Wise left on Racialicious that backlashes against veganism. Wise's comment on Racialicious shows some confusion over anti-oppression work and law enforcement, not to mention a need to learn more about human supremacy and the oppression of nonhuman animals.

Wise, in an argument that relies on the authority of the criminal punishment system and law enforcement, attempts to demonstrate "conclusively that ... all life is not literally equal." The argument, based on the assumption that a driver who hits a child should be prosecuted for vehicular homicide, is unsupported and problematic.

A child hit by a drunk driver is a tragic accident, but it is not the result of a system of oppression. However, the criminal punishment system (and we are talking about punishment, not justice) is an institution of oppression. Let's be clear, locking people up isn't going to protect children from drunk drivers.

What Wise should consider is two different drunk drivers: a White driver who hits a Black child, and a Black driver who hits a White child. Now, consider that both are prosecuted but the White driver gets community service, while the Black driver gets 40 years in prison. Wouldn't this show "conclusively that ... all life is not literally equal"? That is, we see the life of a White driver/child is worth more than the life of a Black driver/child. Is this evidence of the moral and practical difference between the life of Whites and Blacks? If we make an honest assessment of the U.S. criminal punishment system we find differences in the harsher prosecution of Black defendants compared to White defendants, and in the more aggressive prosecution for White victims compared to Black victims.

I'm sure Wise would understand that the reason that, under the law, the life of a White person is worth more than the life of a Black person has everything to do with White supremacy and racism, and has nothing to do with the a moral or practical difference. However, Wise refuses to acknowledge how human supremacy and speciesism play out in his own "thought experiment" about a drunk driver hitting a squirrel.

Wise claims that since no one, including animal rights advocates, would push for the prosecution of a drunk driver who hits a squirrel that he "demonstrates conclusively that even they know all life is not literally equal." First, locking up a person who hits a squirrel isn't going to do anything about the system of human supremacy and speciesism, the same as locking up a drunk driver or a racist doesn't make society safer or more just. Also, as long as people deliberately consume other animals on a daily basis it will be impractical to consider prosecuting people who only accidentally kill other animals.

While it's easy to say a person should be prosecuted for deliberately being cruel towards nonhuman animals, anti-cruelty laws don't require us to examine human supremacy. Likewise, it's easy to support hate crime laws and call for the prosecution of a White person who deliberately beats a person of color, while still refusing to see White supremacy as a problem. This is the subtext of what Wise is saying about nonhuman animals. That deliberately beating them is wrong, but benefiting from their oppression is fine. We can continue enslaving and consuming other animals, just don't be "cruel" about it.

Veganism and anti-speciesism challenges us to reflect on how, as humans, we enjoy privileges that come from the exploitation of other animals. This is not unlike anti-racism challenging Whites to reflect on White privilege. Tim Wise and other White anti-racists aren't insisting that all Whites be locked up, even though all of us who are White, including Wise, benefit everyday from racism. Instead, anti-racists, and anti-oppression advocates in general, are asking that we examine our privilege and divest ourselves of it. Veganism is doing the same thing in terms of human privilege.

Jailing people does not create social change, and laws don't lead the way to such change. The laws change when society changes. Laws are enacted to institutionalize both racism and speciesism. We should never use law enforcement as the measure of the value of life.

Re: Anti-Oppression and Law Enforcement

Thanks for the link. Wow, this blog is excellent! I'm so glad I found it.

Re: Anti-Oppression and Law Enforcement

The powers of denial are amazing that a person as socially aware as Tim Wise could make such, to borrow his language, asinine arguments.

I know that you know about this, but to add to what you wrote, we must of course examine the systematic nature of the oppression of animals by roads and vehicles.

My goodness, even making the driver drunk is an effort to avoid examining how regular drivers kill 1 million animals every day.

The animal rights approach to animals being killed by drivers is not locking people up, but things like ceasing to build new roads, getting cars off the road, having more public transportation and bike paths, and setting up ambulance services for nonhuman animals, as they have done in India.