Humanitarian Aid is Sometimes a Crime
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
I enjoy going for walks or bike rides around dinner time. One of my favorite places for such an excursion is the neighborhood south of downtown Tucson, particularly on 3rd Avenue between 14th and 17th Streets. For some reason, it has a midwestern feel to me, and I love the smells of dinner cooking, candle wax burning, and the potted flowers that are flourishing due to our warm winter.
This area is also the heart of extreme liberalism in Tucson. Lately, nearly every house has a sign in the yard that states, “Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime.”
This references a group of activists on trial for transporting illegal aliens ostensibly in need of medical attention to a hospital. I really don’t know the facts of the case, but it occurs to me that such a blanket statement is absolutely wrong.
For instance, it would certainly be considered “humanitarian aid” if I were to help a wounded person gain medical attention. It would certainly be a crime if I were to do that by walking into an emergency room and forcing a physician to provide medical care at gunpoint.
Or perhaps I may be concerned for the humanitarian impact of a neighbor being abused by her boyfriend or husband. Offering to bring her to a shelter or testify against the beast in court might be proper recourse, but I would be committing a crime if I were to offer humanitarian aid by ridding her of her abusive man in the form of an execution style killing in the middle of the night.
The history of western philosophy has included a constant debate over the nature of morality and ethics. In a nation governed by laws, we do not cede moral decisions to the state, but we do accept that the laws of the nation must be followed regardless of our agreement with their morality, and if we do not, we implicitly accept the punishment for breaking those laws. Plato figured that out 2500 years ago with the trial of Socrates. If we choose to follow our morality in contradiction to the laws of the nation, then we must accept the consequences. We have means of recourse – democratic elections, jury trials, and the due process afforded us by our nation. But in the end, the expectation of selective enforcement of the law is erroneous. If we disagree with the law and are unable to change it, then we need to vacate the area governed by those laws or rise up in revolution against unjust laws.
Those displaying the “Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime” signs, and I assume, the defendents in the case of humanitarian aid are unwilling to do either of these. They expect an exception to the law in their case, and in fact, a blanket exception to criminal prosecution if a crime is committed while carrying out humanitarian aid. I’m sure many murderers and rapists would like an exception to the law in their cases as well. The fact of the matter is, for better or for worse, it doesn’t work that way. Leave, fight, or concede – those are the options. Don’t expect exceptions to the law. Blanket statements, although catchy, mean nothing.
Sometimes humanitarian aid is a crime.