Archive for July 26th, 2013

This essay first appeared in Cliterati on June 23rd; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

camel's noseIt’s funny how people can be so familiar with received wisdom that it begins to sound trite and clichéd, yet at the same time they fail to internalize that wisdom.  One perfect example is the famous Martin Niemöller quote which begins, “First they came for the  communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…”  I daresay few literate people in any Western country haven’t heard it, and most who have can clearly understand the implication of the grim litany:  if we don’t speak up for the rights of minorities, even small and unpopular minorities, the precedent set by their maltreatment will be expanded by slow stages until it encompasses everyone but the rulers themselves.  But it’s clear that most don’t grasp that truth fully enough to actually do anything about it; instead they say, “Oh, but surely that doesn’t apply to sex offenders, or terrorists, or illegal aliens,” or whatever other unpopular group they consider beneath basic human decency.  And then the number of groups so treated, and the scope of each group, expands until…

But rather than talking about it, let’s look at a real-life example from Greece.  It started early last May, with the police making a big show of rounding up sex workers and forcibly testing them for HIV:

Greek authorities announced the arrest…of 17 HIV-positive women who allegedly worked illegally as prostitutes, accusing them of intentionally causing serious bodily harm.  [Their] names and photographs…were published on the Greek Police’s website, angering human rights advocates who said it was unclear whether the women were aware they had HIV…The women were among 130 women screened…Hundreds more women are likely to be screened in the next few weeks…Authorities say they are concerned about the overlap between drug use and illegal prostitution…The Athens city government said at least 315 brothels are currently operating illegally…[and] renewed its call on the government to relax strict licensing rules.  Greece is the busiest transit point for illegal immigration in the European Union…

Though prostitution is legal in Greece, its strict rules result in 95% of all Greek prostitutes working illegally, as strict rules invariably do; that’s why Athens wants the rules loosened, and why persecuting sex workers is such a spectacularly bad idea.  But since virtually nobody stood up for the whores, the police were encouraged to expand their campaign of terror to the larger group alluded to in the last line of that article:

Athens police are conducting abusive stops and searches and have detained tens of thousands of people in a crackdown on irregular migration…Human Rights Watch…documents frequent stops of people who appear to be foreigners, unjustified searches of their belongings, insults, and, in some cases, physical abuse.  Many are detained for hours in police stations pending verification of their legal status…Between August 2012, when Operation Xenios Zeus began, and February 2013, the police forcibly took almost 85,000 foreigners to police stations to verify their immigration status.  No more than 6 percent were found to be in Greece unlawfully, suggesting the police are casting an extraordinarily wide net…

Greek detention center

Xenios Zeus was the aspect of the ancient Greek god who was the patron of hospitality; obviously Greek police have the same sort of warped sense of humor as their American counterparts.  But despite the jolly good time they’re having, they’ve now reached the practical limit of the number of people they can harass this way:

A year after beginning…Xenios Zeus…Greece’s detention centers are full…and there’s no room for more…Police are now just taking the immigrants from the center and transferring them to Anavyssos, a town in East Attica, and releasing them to walk back to Athens, facing the prospect of being picked up again and taken back to the center to be released again…

The police claim to be “overwhelmed”, but perhaps they just got tired of harassing migrants and decided to pick on someone else instead:

…transgender people in Thessaloniki…are arrested and detained in the police station in daily police “sweep” operations, for at least 3-4 hours, on the pretext of…ID verification and their identification as sex workers…[those who] complained…were threatened to be sued for disrespect if they did not “comply”…all arrested transgender women who [sought] the help of Greek Transgender Support Association…were found to be innocent…the court accepted the [defense] that the…presence in a specific location does not mean that the person practices sexual work, let alone that she “harasses” the [passersby]…

Advocates have asked for the harassment to stop, but I’m sure advocates for migrants’ rights and sex worker rights have asked for the same thing.  Until the majority gets it through their skulls that the police need to be reined in, the number and size of persecuted groups will only increase…and this sort of thing isn’t limited to Greece.

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