I have an 11-year-old son who is pretty much the most wonderful human alive. For a while now, he’s been into toy guns. I know, some might think it’s a terrible thing, but I learned early in my parenting experience that boys will turn everything into a gun. So as a mother, I took the position of talking to my boys about the difference between real violence and make believe. They’re smart. They got it.
One evening at Liberty Park last summer, my 11-year-old, with toy gun in hand (of course), was running for cover behind trees pretending to shoot things. People walking past could not resist playing along pretending to be shot. They laughed and told me how adorable my son is (he really is). It was a moment of fame and adoration for him. A couple of days later I sat down next to him and told him the story of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old black American boy shot dead by police with a toy gun in his hand and a pocketful of Skittles. My son cried. He’s smart. He got it.
Recently, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and a few others signed their names to an op-ed claiming Utahns are second-class citizens because we don’t control public lands in our state. The comparison is not only absurd but also invalidates the significant number of U.S. citizens suffering from gross injustices.
Tamir Rice was a second-class citizen. A second-class citizen is a person entitled to equal rights and protections under the Constitution, but who doesn’t receive them. The law disregards a second-class citizen, or it may be used to harm them. This was the case with Tamir, who was perceived as dangerous because of the color of his skin, not his behavior. A second-class citizen is his mother, Samaria, who could not depend on the police to protect her child from harm.
Second-class citizens are Utah women paid 67 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts. Second-class citizens are people lacking access to clean water, like the families in Flint, Mich. Second-class citizens are the 148,000 children in Utah living below the poverty line, even though their parents work two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Hughes and the Legislature insinuate they are lazy and denies them real Medicaid expansion — expansion that would ease some of their family’s burden and would provide them access to real health care.
Second-class citizenship is being told who you love is wrong and that you can’t participate in marriage or church because of who you or your parents are. Second-class citizenship is being confined to a minute piece of your ancestral land and having no access to health care, adequate education, clean water or electricity, like the Navajo nation on the Utah/Arizona border.
The federal government preserves our national parks and other public lands for the benefit of all Americans. That this preservation inhibits Utah legislators’ desires to claim ownership of — and then rent or sell off — our public lands, piece by piece, all under the pretense of catchy sound-bites and voodoo economics does not relegate me, Hughes or the vast majority of Utahns to second-class citizenship status.
I want to give Hughes and Co. the benefit of the doubt, so I will assume their op-ed was nothing more than an ill-thought out attempt at using buzzwords to gain public support for a frivolous lawsuit costing Utah taxpayers $14 million. Because any other reason means they aren’t as smart as my 11-year-old, and they don’t get it.
Rachel Sanders joined Alliance for a Better Utah this month as the new executive director. Her past experience includes working with immigrant and refugee populations at Promise South Salt Lake.
See the OpEd in the Salt Lake Tribune here.