Justice In The End

In a comment this morning under the recent thread about the late Beulah Toombs, evicted from her HUD apartment for smoking in it, Audrey Silk wrote:

Third, the logic in preferring to support one affected individual rather than supporting something that defends her and all others who are in her position escapes me.

And my reply was:

The answer is: Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks was not the only coloured woman to refuse to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. She was just one affected individual among many. And so by your reasoning she should never have been given special attention.

Instead, precisely because she alone was singled out, she became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation….

I think this illustrates two different ways of thinking about and trying to solve the exact same problem. Audrey thinks that smokers will only get any justice when their case is taken to court. But I think they’ll only begin to get any justice when a glaring individual example of injustice captures public attention, and eventually results in laws being changed.

Or, to put it another way, she thinks that the law comes first, and I think that the law comes last. The law does not lead: the law follows.

And that perhaps simply reflects the fact that Audrey served in the New York police department, and I didn’t. Or, more generally, it reflects the fact that she is conversant with law, and knows how it works, and I don’t. I’ve never been to court about anything, ever. Starting a lawsuit is the very last thing I’d ever do. It’s almost unthinkable.

So I think that smokers need their own Rosa Parks. They need an iconic individual smoker who has been the subject of profound injustice. They need a lone figure like the guy who stood in front of the tanks in Tiannenmen Square. I think these have to be single individuals, not groups of people. And that’s why I was singling out Beulah Toombs as an egregious example of injustice. And ‘egregious’ just means ‘standing out from the crowd’.

It’s also why I created the Smokers’ Graveyard, which is full of individual smokers, real people with names and faces, who had lost their lives as a result of smoking bans or restrictions. Because I think you can really only empathize with individual, real people, not with abstract groups or classes of people. It’s only with individuals that people snap into focus. The crowd is a blur.

Rosa Parks was someone that people could identify with. And it wasn’t just people in the black community in Alabama who could identify with her, but all sorts of other people, of all colours, all over the USA, and all over the world. She was the catalyst for a civil rights movement in the USA that gained support from all over the world. Because anyone could empathize with her, being asked to give up her bus seat to some white person: the injustice of it was glaringly obvious to pretty much everybody (even to a small white boy in England).

Would the same thing have happened with lawsuits slowly moving through Alabama courts? The answer is, quite obviously: No. It required the glare of publicity to focus people’s attention. And the attention usually gets focused on some individual or other, because we can only focus our attention on individual people, one at a time.

Quite why some people attract attention, and others don’t, I wish I knew. There are probably a lot of key ingredients, and if any of them are missing, it doesn’t happen.

Anyway, I don’t look at the world the same way that Audrey does. And I think it’s a good thing that people look at the world in different ways. And I think she’s perfectly correct to think that smokers are only going to find justice through the courts: that’s what has to happen in the end. But I still think that it’s something that will happen in the end, not in the beginning.


About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to Justice In The End

  1. Vlad says:

    Advertisement paid for by Change Incorporated (VICE) for its Quit Cigarettes initiative. Philip Morris International funds this initiative but has no editorial input, so may not share the views expressed.
    Sponsored article on DailyMail paid by the manufacturers of Marlboro cigarettes…..this is insane.

  2. Joe Jackson says:

    I don’t see why you and Audrey can’t both be right. Yes, attention focussing on an ‘egregious’ individual case, would certainly help us, and may well happen at some point, but the time has to be right for it. Somehow there needs to be a shift in the zeitgeist, or else no one even hears about the Rosa Parkses. Another example is how the Gay Rights movement was sparked by the Stonewall Riot in NYC, a bunch of drag queens barricading themselves in a gay bar and defying the police – If it had happened ten years earlier, it might have just fizzled out or gone generally unreported, or public opinion might even have been with the police. But new ideas about sexual freedom and fairness were bubbling to the surface. Maybe there will be a Smokers’ Stonewall, but we can’t predict how are when it might happen. In the meantime, winning a lawsuit would be a pretty good result, wouldn’t it?

    • Frank Davis says:

      I don’t see why you and Audrey can’t both be right.

      I agree.

      Somehow there needs to be a shift in the zeitgeist, or else no one even hears about the Rosa Parkses.

      Exactly. And I’m beginning to think that we’re seeing this happening. Next week when I go and vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, I won’t be voting as a nationalist or a populist but as an angry smoker. I think there are a lot of us about, not just in the UK, but all over Europe and the USA. We don’t have a voice, but we have a vote. One day we’ll maybe have a voice too.

      I think whatever happens has to be spontaneous. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat seems to have been something she did quite spontaneously. As were the Stonewall riots you cited.

      Stonewall riots:

      The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

      The more that smokers get marginalised and excluded the more likely it is that a Rosa Parks will step forward from among their ranks.

      In the meantime, winning a lawsuit would be a pretty good result, wouldn’t it?

      Can this lawsuit be won? I have very little faith in the law. Although Audrey would seem to have a lot more than I do.

      • waltc says:

        Audrey alone can speak to her “faith” but I can tell you she’s got a thorough and very sophisticated case that comes at the housing ban from every conceivable angle, each backed with precedent. She’s also got excellent lawyers though it has to be said that she only presented the case to the lawyers after she herself had researched and ferreted out so much of the legal ammo, she could likely pass the bar. The test case has to be made and has to be made NOW before the juggernaut rolls on further. If the plaint is denied, IMO it would be on the grounds of judicial bias rather than its premises. But, yes; if the Nuremberg trials had been held in Nuremberg in 1941 instead of post-war, the perps would have gone free and likely been awarded some trophy from Public Health.

  3. waltc says:

    As I said earlier, there’ve been many outstandingly cruel individual cases that have made the newspapers and not only not created an echo or left a shadow, but inspired scores of comments siding with the evictions. (After all, these smokers who’ve themselves been smoking for sixty-some years are killing their neighbors!) When and whether the tide will have turned to make the public more sympathetic to the rights–any rights–of smokers or even of these particular victims is a matter of speculation, but the HUD rule is [i] now[/i] and has to be combatted, legally, now.

    C’mon guys: 10 bucks, or pounds, or euros.

  4. Audrey Silk says:

    First, thank you Joe and thank you Walt.
    Frank, you do a disservice to the discussion by continuing on with your line of reasoning without fully presenting or giving a moment’s consideration to my point that I elaborated on in the post that sparked this one: I had written:

    “In this particular post, in regard to financial support, you made a direct connection between a lawsuit over smoking bans in public housing and one poor woman who suffered from such a policy (“I’d like to give money [to that woman]. She’s the one who really needs it.”).

    “It’s my opinion that you are now conflating (moved the goal posts) two different kinds of action and support. Money given directly to Rosa Parks wouldn’t have helped her. Donating to the NAACP that represented her in court would.”
    Let me reiterate… I have a huge problem with the times that people who take a singular point that has been made, don’t acknowledge it, and then digress to a tangential discussion on the matter and think it’s relevant to the point just because there’s some acquaintance to the subject matter. For instance, I can post a story about, say, how my flowers are doing poorly because there’s been too much rain and next thing you know there’s someone answering that bees are good for flowers. Well of course bees are good for flowers but the point was too much rain. A more appropriate response would be something like how to keep the soil in a shape that it could take on all that rain and avoid flower damage.

    Within your screed about general abuse you directed your attention toward a very specific thing — this lawsuit — as if it’s an ideology instead of an event. I then zeroed in on your response to FUNDING this lawsuit — an event — where you said you’d rather give that money to the one woman and I said that when it comes to poor souls being evicted for smoking in their homes ALL can be saved rather than just one woman. You ignore the fine point and then call us at odds.

    You were talking about bees but then said something about too much rain. I responded to that part about too much rain, and you want to say we disagree (more, say that I’m wrong) about bees. What I had to say had nothing to do with the bees. I’d appreciate it if you stopped saying I did.

    If your original post was ONLY about what it takes to turn the whole social tide then that’s the discussion I would have had and we’d be mostly in agreement. As Joe essentially said, it’s something else altogether.

    • RdM says:

      I’ve added a mere $8 USD from my overdraft in NZ, to take it to a sort of round figure:
      $5,490 of $50,000 goal
      Hearing you …

    • Frank Davis says:

      Money given directly to Rosa Parks wouldn’t have helped her. Donating to the NAACP that represented her in court would.

      Firstly, when did I say that Rosa Parks should have been given money? I didn’t. Secondly, in what way would giving money to the NAACP have helped Rosa Parks? It wouldn’t. Or not directly.

      When I see people in difficulty I want to help those people. When I see people drowning, I want to throw them a lifebuoy. I don’t want to just give money to the National Lifebuoy Association. The National Lifebuoy Association might be able to help people in 10 years time, by ensuring that there are plenty of lifebuoys around, but it can’t help them right now.

      I primarily wanted to help Beulah Toombs in particular. She was the one who was in trouble. She was the one who had been made homeless. Giving her money would probably have helped her. Publicizing her plight might also have helped her. There were probably lots of different ways to have helped her.

      Only secondarily would I have wanted to prevent the same thing happening to other HUD residents in general, most of whom I assume haven’t been evicted yet, and so aren’t in trouble yet, but might be soon.

      Our goals are the same. Our methods are different.

  5. Roobeedoo2 says:

    When being thought of as a smoker is preferable to being accused of voting ‘Leave’:

    ‘At an Oxford college event, an international relations student had to pretend to be smoking with me afterwards to admit he agreed with me, and physically jumped when his tutor walked past:

    ‘“I don’t trust he won’t mark me down if he knows – he is a virulent Remainer.”’


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