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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Deaf Citizenry: The Purpose of Constitutional Rights

images-1Last Saturday, September 13, 2014, I grabbed a golden opportunity to visit Fort McHenry, the lost and forgotten war in American history; It was named after the Secretary of War James McHenry who was a signer of the United States Constitution to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Star Spangled Banner written by Francis Scott Key. For example, one listener will summon up a vision of the composer in the ship watching Fort McHenry. Another floats filled with Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners off in a way that each word is signed equally far removed from the reality.  Also, there is a lot of struggling sense of power at the meaning of the individual signs reflecting each word in the prison system.

From the screaming rivers, clear-cut forests to those Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners who had their own constitutional rights broken and committed by naysayers to escape a punishing debt, for example, denying their own language, ASL in prison becomes a constitutional right under First Amendment. Since this week (September 17th-23rd) is Constitution week. There are thousands and thousands of unreported Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners in the database system. They are getting less than a fair treatment of getting full-fledged human rights. There are ghosts everywhere you look in the darkest scandal inside the prison walls. America had taken the rein as a king of the world’s largest inmate inventory.  The same inventory that has almost 1.6 million inmates in America, where is the status of Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners? The same prison walls that own assets equivalent to one-forth of America’s gross justice product. In America, it is five (5) percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners.

IMG_0077 The only park in the nation to bear this dual distinction.

In remembering their Constitutional rights, Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners should develop a formula that defines their human right of being Deaf, Deaf-Blind that supports communicative competency that also supports the right of using ASL in prison. There is a vacuum in the prison walls to raise or find fund for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners whom has the right to branch out their intellectual life by granting them the constitutional rights, so necessarily that Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners and returned citizens can continue to make new meanings. The justice department has failed to resolve many challenges where Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners confront.

The Bill of Rights (First Ten Amendments) are dedicated to protect Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners and returned citizens’ human rights anytime. The prison system is developing a community of hostility—the aversion of Deaf prisoners whose inevitable end of their life skills for better human settings.  It is hard to imagine Deaf, Deaf-Blind or disabled prisoners are forced to forget their constitutional rights, within the political circles, with Deaf inmates in the system, the prison system receive a poor adequate funding to help Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners every day.

It is very important to preserve their rights with the intent of educating them the constitutional rights that they need to recognize that it has a long history, but it is not officially labeled as such. It is to subordinate and intimate not only the reason it is Constitutional week, but also the entire community in which it is needed to use. Preserving the constitutional rights is therefore symbolic in that it sends a message to the entire Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled community to remember their rights. It does matter because it is socially constructed without self-evident definition.  It means that they should be not treated differently. The challenge for the prison system that there are hundreds of Deaf, Deaf-Blind and disabled prisoners  are being on a painful vogue because their constitutional rights in prison has been breached.

-JT

Copyright © 2014 Jason Tozier

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