how to respond to dehumanization
On Thursday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders endorsed this interpretation of Trump’s remarks, saying that “I don’t think the term the president used was strong enough...it took an animal to stab a man 100 times and decapitate him and cut his heart out,” referring to a particularly gruesome murder committed by MS-13 gang members. - Vox
We once kept runner ducks in our backyard. I woke one morning to let the ducks out of their overnight shelter and found the plywood and cinder blocks shoved aside. The ducks had been killed but not eaten. It was possible a fox, a fisher cat, or a bobcat. It's as if the ducks were killed for fun by the predator. What the predator did not do was arrange a display of the victimized ducks.
Unlike MS-13, their hearts were not cut out. Unlike some Mexican cartels, the victims were not hung on an overpass as a warning to others. Animals are not intelligent enough to "send a message" to rivals or snitches.Animals do not keep body parts of their victims as trophies or financial rewards as was done by white settlers against indigenous people, as they did to each other both in north America as well as in Europe. Animals do not torture other animals so that they may extract information from them, but call it "extraordinary rendition" because those words do not trigger a legal response in violation of signed treaties. Animals do not torture a minority as part of an extra-judiciary lynching then invite thousands of majority population members to view the execution...etc.
What MS13 gang members do is entirely human. The same hands that can carve out a heart can also cradle a baby. We humans are able to selectively deny the full humanity of one person and embrace the full humanity of another. When dehumanization is met with dehumanization, a cycle of vengeance and violence starts. It ends wither with everyone dead or when everyone gets tired. The Hatfields and the McCoys kept it going in Appalachia for decades. The Palestinians and Israelis have kept at it for decades. The Irish and English did it for centuries.
The founders of this country knew how important it was for a citizen to be guaranteed basic rights that attempt to preserve the citizen's full humanity. When a judge denies those rights an appeal can be made and another trial held in a higher court. When the executive of said country speaks of criminals as less than human, he sets an example of opposition to those rights. Even non-citizens are guaranteed basic human rights by treaty. The problem with dehumanizing one group is that the dehumanization doesn't stop. Eventually the name caller is also called a name. The de-humanizer is equally vulnerable to dehumanization. It's a self-destructive cycle. We are all of the same blood.
The answer to this is to name the crime of the human, honoring their agency, assigning their culpability. Bring these humans to court, affording them the rights that are due to them, a fair trial, a fair defense, a conviction by evidence of reasonable warrant, then start the process of rehabilitation, building up the positive humanity, weakening the violent and terrible aspect of our nature.
But calling gangsters animals, no. Pre-judging people by their skin-color (caravan of rapists), country of origin (shit-holes), or theology (ban all Muslim refugees), is to deny their full humanity in all their complexity. There is good and evil in all of us, let's affirm the good, and not resort to the bad we don't want others to be.
I have spoken as an American citizen. But now I want to speak as a follower of Christ, who teaches me to love my enemies, to love my neighbor as myself, who affirms all of us as children of God made in their image. Christ's story is the story of Roman occupying forces torturing him alive and his response to ask for their forgiveness. It's a better way, acknowledging the full humanity of another human being, regardless of their behavior. In doing so, one of Christ's persecutors, a soldier, changed his opinion about Jesus, as he died. There is a better way.
The president's spokesperson is wrong, just as he is wrong. They are not animals. Animals are not as cruel as humans. They are fully human, made in the image of God just like they are.