What Are Civil Rights, Anyway?

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Illinois defense attorney, Illinois criminal lawyer, Illinois criminal law statutesOver the past few years, there has been a wave of civil rights protests in the wake of jury decisions in different criminal cases across the country. Protesters, community leaders, activists and even some local politicians refer to these events  as miscarriages of justice and violations of civil rights. But what exactly are “civil rights,” and what constitutes a violation of these rights?

Defining “Civil Rights”

Generally speaking, “civil rights” refer to an individual’s right to be free from unequal treatment or discrimination in a variety of settings. Some of these settings include housing, employment, education, and treatment by law enforcement and the judicial system. A violation of one’s civil rights occurs when one individual is treated differently by another individual or a local, state, or federal agency on the basis of some “protected” classification. For instance, the following would be considered violations of a person’s civil rights:

  • Refusing to hire a person – or even to ask inappropriate questions during an interview – on the basis of the person’s race, national origin, sex, age, or disability (amongst other classifications);
  • Offering less-favorable rental or sale terms, refusing to rent to certain individuals, or refusing to even show a house on the basis of a person’s race, color, religion, or familial status; and
  • Police officers arresting an individual without probable cause, causing a prosecution to be initiated against an individual without probable cause, or applying excessive force against an individual (usually on the basis of a person’s race, color, or national origin).

Civil rights are most often created and guaranteed by federal laws, although a number of states also have laws that mirror the federal laws.

Civil rights should not be confused with civil liberties. Whereas civil rights concern being free from unequal treatment in various spheres, civil liberties are those freedoms guaranteed either explicitly or implicitly by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Civil liberties would include the freedom of speech and the freedom to petition the government for change.

What to Do When You Feel Your Civil Rights Have Been Violated

Federal and state laws allow individuals whose civil rights have been violated to recover certain damages. Such victims are also entitled to certain other forms of relief. But civil rights cases are complex and your particular facts and circumstances must be actionable under the law. In order to increase your chances of success, you should:

  • Record as many details about the incident as possible, including when the event happened, who was involved, what exactly happened, and the names of any witnesses or descriptions of evidence (photographs, video recordings, etc.) that might be available;
  • Depending on the type of violation, contact local, state, and/or federal agencies that investigate claims of discrimination or violations of civil rights;
  • Contact an experienced civil rights attorney who can evaluate the facts of your case and inform you if your case is actionable under the law; and
  • Be prepared for a lengthy process, as civil rights cases can take a long time to resolve.

If you believe your civil rights have been violated, contact an Chicago defense attorney at the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today at 312-629-0669 for a free consultation.


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