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Good Germans?

My birth parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were taken away from me by the FBI when I was three, and I was seized from my proposed adoptive parents, Abel and Anne Meeropol, by New York State authorities when I was six. Maybe that’s why I can’t get over the outrage I feel when I see and hear about the thousands of children torn from their parents at our borders. The heart-wrenching stories of distressed children are already being pushed out of the headlines by new developments, but I still wake up fuming about this.

What can I do to help these children? I’ve written something about this [see link to The Marshall Project on the top left], and attended demonstrations, but I burn to do more.

I keep thinking about how the Nazis separated parents and children. That was the national program of the Nazi government, but thousands of prison guards put that policy into action. Those guards, who were facilitating and perpetrating ghastly human rights abuses, were given a free pass by their local populations. “Good Germans” ignored the holocaust going on in their midst.

I live in a community that is overwhelmingly appalled by the Trump regime’s policy of ripping families apart. Yet, even here, two thousand miles from the Mexican border, ICE agents are detaining immigrants and destroying families in the process. Locals have made laudable efforts to protect vulnerable people, churches have offered sanctuary and local police departments are not aiding ICE. But the daily dirty work of the individual ICE agents continues and no one is confronting them face-to-face about their ugly behavior.

These agents live amongst us. They eat in local restaurants and attend local activities. Surely, there are those among us who have the research skills to identify who they are, and publish their names and images.

We’ve all seen the stories of high-level Trump officials confronted in restaurants and on the streets. These policy makers deserve imprisonment more than embarrassment, but I join Congresswoman Maxine Waters in applauding these actions. However, it is individual ICE agents who are the immediate cause of the state-sponsored harm that terrorizes our vulnerable neighbors.

I want to be clear that I’m writing about verbal, not physical, confrontation. And I also want to be clear that the ICE agents would be confronted not about their ideas or beliefs, but about their specific actions in our communities. I want us to actively show our disapproval of their behavior.

My wife, Ellen, disagrees strongly and I respect her opinion. So I am going to try to state the pros and cons of our discussion of the proposal, and I’d love to know what you think.

Pro: Why should ICE agents be able to enjoy a pleasant meal at a restaurant or go to a movie without someone pointing out to other patrons that they are dining out with human rights’ abusers? If we ignore them, and their behavior, aren’t we being “Good Germans?”

Con: Wouldn’t such tactics display class bias by targeting working people who need these jobs?

Pro: Possibly, but couldn’t the same be said about people who work selling drugs in poor neighborhoods? The ICE agents’ jobs are wrong. No one should do them, no matter their class. These agents are no better than the scabs, who also need jobs, brought in to break strikes. Strike breaking is terrible, but is it any worse than destroying families? And I must reiterate, since union members often physically attacked scabs, that I am only advocating verbal action.

Con: This tactic won’t change the policies that make it legal for ICE to separate families. And it may backfire, with the mainstream media turning the ICE agents into victims and possibly justifying more attacks on the left and on immigrants communities. Do we want to stoop to the tactic of individual shaming, rather than focusing on the big-picture politics and policies?

Pro: It won’t accomplish much if only a few people do it, and might expose those few to potential civil, even criminal liability. But if a significant segment of the community, repeatedly and publicity, displays its disapproval, it could have a powerful impact. And if it is done in manner that is protected by the first amendment, it will be very difficult for the agents of repression to convict anyone.

Con: While it might feel personally satisfying to call out these individuals, such confrontations will intensify and harden the profound polarization and divisions rather than bring people together. It would be better to counter ICE’s destructive behavior with positive displays of solidarity and support for the vulnerable populations in our midst. This is primarily what people of goodwill have been doing, and it has mobilized a surprisingly broad coalition. Using a confrontation tactic could split this coalition at a time when we need all the support we can get. And, it is likely that verbal attacks can escalate into physical violence, further increasing tensions and increasing harsh treatment of immigrants.

Pro: Despite all the work done by people of good will to combat family destruction, many children have not been reunited with their parents, and ICE shows no sign of being transformed into a more humane institution. Don’t such extraordinary times call for more aggressive forms of protest?

Con: Might shaming individuals cause even more division and hate? Are there “aggressive forms of protest” that bring people together, rather than further polarize us?

What do you think?  Read More 
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