Celebrating the Bill of Rights

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227 years ago today, the Bill of Rights was shown to the public eye. The people of the eye are also protected by the Bill of Rights. As I wrote this column for DEAF LIFE: Our Constitutional Crisis in April 2018 Issue. Permission was granted to share this column.

“When Deaf people are facing a time of crisis, it is extremely important that they understand their Constitutional rights.

For the past five years, I’ve been asking Deaf people basic questions about the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution)—and considering what’s been happening, a basic knowledge of the answers to these questions could be life-saving. But during these five years, I found only one Deaf person who knew all ten amendments.

Only one? What happened to what we learned about democracy in school? Were we ever taught that the Constitution was written and ratified to resist the tyranny of the ruling minority? Were we taught about the Bill of Rights, discussing each amendment, so we could understand the principle of equal protection?

We can ask—but won’t get any answer—why Deaf students didn’t learn about this before graduating, or why Deaf schools or mainstreamed programs failed to teach them. How can we hold schools accountable for these results?

The U.S. Constitution is a “living document” that can be interpreted, as legal protection should Deaf people face excessively harsh treatment by law enforcement. Recently, one Saturday night, I attended a Deaf social gathering in Washington, where a Deaf woman was sharing her experience with me about an encounter with local police, and how an officer, who knew a little bit of ASL, told her, “I am cold, I need to come in,” and forced himself into her house without her permission. She told me that she felt violated.

Then I asked her if she knew anything about the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. She said, “No.” I explained to her what the Fourth Amendment says: Prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any search warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.

I told her that her Constitutional rights had indeed been violated. Certainly, it’s not the first time that a police officer entered a citizen’s house without a search warrant. It is perfectly legal to tell the police that they cannot come in without a proper search warrant. You have the right to say no, and they don’t have the right to barge in. It is your home. It is your property. (Even if you’re renting an apartment or saying at a friend’s house, you have your property with you.)

The key is better education about our Constitutional rights. If it’s impractical to enroll in continuing education classes, you can get access to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and study them carefully. And reread them every so often so you don’t forget. The text of the Constitution and Bill of Rights are posted online, can be borrowed, in book form with commentaries, from the public library, or can be purchased. It’s a good investment. Booklets containing the text and amendments can sometimes be obtained free of charge from nonprofit organizations.

Parents of Deaf children, Deaf members of locally elected Deaf school boards, teachers of the Deaf, Deaf advocates, and grassroots Deaf community members should recognize that we’re responsible for ourselves and our fellow Deaf citizens. Empowerment begins with education. We need to teach each other and educate the uneducated about why understanding our Constitutional rights is crucially important, and a survival skill we all need to know.

If we believe that our rights have been violated, do we understand what those rights are? Do we understand what the laws are?

Shouldn’t we?”

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-Jason “JT” Tozier is a former Gallaudet University graduate student living in Washington, D.C; He was a scholarship recipient for ASL/Deaf Studies with emphasis in Cultural Studies at Gallaudet.

He is Chair of Deaf Political Action Committee—District of Columbia Chapter, Chair of National Deaf Consumers United, Director for We the Deaf People, Inc.’s District of Columbia Chapter, member of National Deaf Task Force on Police and Emergency Services, and Founder of Deaf Access Justice.

In his spare time, he loves to play cribbage and chess, reading books, lecturing, and blogging.

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My Experience With ACLU National Conference

Deaf Returnees: What Do They Return To?

DEAF LIFE has granted permission for me to share my article I wrote in December 2017 Issue.

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December is National Human Rights Month. In the Deaf community, we continue to work to eliminate hatred and bigotry, to strengthen relationships, and to foster greater understanding, inclusion, and justice for Deaf returnees–men and women who have served their prison sentences and are now returning to society and freedom. In doing so, the Deaf community should be supported by the principles embodied by human rights.

Ignoring their fate is not an option for anyone who believes Deaf returnees should be guaranteed basic human and civil rights. There are plenty of discriminatory policies against Deaf returnees that have persisted for years and years while going largely unreported as hate crimes.

With the support of Deaf people like us, we have documented and exposed multiple hate crimes and widespread violations of human rights in communication, knowledge, and information. We continue to expose incidents of hatred in the Deaf community that have all the hallmarks of language bigotry, to intensify pressure against discriminatory policies, and compel the Deaf community to impose sanction on perpetrators if the hatred continues.

The true stories of Deaf returnees have been too often hidden from the American people. They have been shamed and ignored for political reasons. Did the perpetrators encourage bullying tactics that tear Deaf returnees down? We must take bold action to defend human rights and the core values of democracy in supporting Deaf returnees. We are tired of being attacked, seeing the truth distorted, the media playing mind games, targeting Deaf returnees as scapegoats.

Terms such as ex-convict, felon, offender, and criminal are negative. The terms returning citizen and returnee are positive. 

Media images of Deaf returnees are all too often negative, grotesque, suggesting that they can’t survive in society, can’t turn their lives around, are incapable of giving back to the Deaf community. They are seen as unintelligent, sick, lazy, and not to be trusted. How could they succeed if they actually had to earn merit to advance in society? Why bother giving them second chances?

The U.S. leads the world in the proportion of prisoners to the free population. We comprise 5% of the world’s population, yet fully 25% of the world’s prison population. In other words, our nation has the highest prison population anywhere on the globe. Prisons are huge, profitable industries, generating 80 billion dollars a year. The systematic denial of providing resources and opportunities to help Deaf returnees after years of incarceration and brutal oppression is the issue here.

Denying Deaf returnees a chance to rejoin the Deaf community as contributing citizens is a crime. Many of them are barely surviving as second-class citizens. Many struggle with poor literacy, as they may not have been able to take advantage of educational programs offered to hearing prisoners, counseling, mental-health services, or job training.

There are innovative halfway program that teach soon-to-be-released inmates vital skills. But many Deaf inmates do not have access to these. They may have tremendous difficulty finding places to live. Some have no families; others have been banished from their families. And some returnees can’t be released unless they have a definite place to go.

As if all this were not enough, we know that they often have difficulty finding jobs. Once released into society, they are all too often subjected to harassment and discrimination in the job market. Unemployment among Deaf returnees is approximately three times as wide-spread as among hearing returnees. There’s a “Ban the Box” campaign–removing the box as in background check–to give them a better chance of finding employment, a vital part of rebuilding their lives.

Our society should be motivated to reduce recidivism. But we know that many Deaf returnees cannot easily adjust to being free once again; they have a hard time turning their lives around and finding healing. Many have struggled to find Deaf-centric counseling because of lack of health or medical insurance.

Every day, returnees’ human rights are being violated. They are denied access to higher education, they’re shunned by society because they can’t be “cured”. They’re kept invisible. The stigma they experience is deeply rooted in the sense of struggle, a fear of being silenced. How would it be if Deaf returnees were no longer a marginalized group–and will never be forsaken–due to our relentless resistance, reporting, and advocacy? I’d say we’d have a much better, more peaceful, more productive society.

What can we do to increase awareness about the rights that Deaf returnees share with free people?

Subscribe DEAF LIFE. www.deaflife.com  where I write as a regular contributor.

-JT

Copyright © 2018 Jason Tozier

This text may be freely copied in its entirely only, including this copyright message.

Eyes to the Knowledge of Interpreters

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Thank you, DEAF LIFE for giving me the opportunity to write an editorial column called Interpreters in Deaf Education: Them and Us for November 2017’s DEAF LIFE. If you are curious what the article is about, please subscribe DEAF LIFE. Interpreters are important assets in our every day life. Without interpreters, it would be not so quite triumphant as it ought to have been. Imagine in a higher education environment, interpreters are also critical in our eyes.

-JT

Copyright © 2017 Jason Tozier

This text may be freely copied in its entirely only, including this copyright message.