A necessary act occurred this week. It had to do with an act of bravery.
Does any one of us really know what it means to show courage, to be truly brave? We have all heard of inspiring stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the face of danger. Saving a drowning child, running into a burning building. These are truly inspiring acts of bravery. They are often instinctive acts, with very little time for contemplation.
I am speaking of a different kind of bravery. The kind where you seriously consider the risk you are about to undertake. Where you know the risk could affect your life, your liberty, your ability to earn a living. Perhaps even placing your family and your community in jeopardy because of a decision you made. Like standing up to your ruling government as an act of patriotism. That is also true bravery.
On July 4, 1776, fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence accepted that risk, listing their grievances against the King of England and asserting certain natural and legal rights. Eleven years later the Constitution was signed and the adopters demanded a “bill of rights” that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens.
Similarly this week, on July 3, 2012, thirteen men and women, fishermen all, signed a “Fisherman’s Bill of Rights.” It states:
We The Fisherman of the State of New York, grateful for our freedoms, knowing that all men and women are created equal, thereby recognizing that the Government of the State of New York shall pass no law treating Fishermen and women as less than ordinary citizens, on this 3rd Day of July, 2012 DO ESTABLISH THIS BILL OF RIGHTS.
- That All Fisherman shall be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches and seizures, unless upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and judicial review.
- That No Fishermen shall be deprived of their property without due process of law.
- That No Fishermen shall be deprived of their property without just compensation.
- That No Fisherman shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of this state.
- That No Fisherman will be subject to excessive penalties or sanctions without benefit of a Hearing or Judicial review.
- That No Fisherman shall be subject to any moratorium, being thereby disfranchised or deprived of the right to work in this state, unless by the law of this land.
Today, these men and women are standing up to their ruling government as an act of patriotism. They are placing themselves at risk of being prosecuted by a government that has the right to take their property, to take away their liberty, charge them with a crime and entirely prevent them from earning a living.
One might ask, why is all this even necessary?
Under New York State Law, the Department of Environmental Conservation has the legal authority to deny fishermen as a class the basic constitutional protections afforded other citizens. Because they are fishermen, they are legally subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. Because they are fishermen, they can be deprived of their property without any measure of compensation. Simply stated, because they are fishermen, they are denied the equal protections of the laws that those brave people stood for in 1776.
And that is why this is necessary.
Daniel Rodgers is an attorney representing more than two dozen East End fishermen.