Poverty is not a crime : protesters appealing to reason. is there any reason out there ?
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Those who wonder why people of color distrust the police need not look only to bad policing. First look might go to the criminalization of poverty.
If you want to own a car — and having a car enables you to move much more freely than by public transit, thus to get to work more quickly and to more places — your cost doesn’t end with the purchase (or the lease). There’s insurance to buy, a driver’s license to pay for and, if you get a parking ticket, fines to pay, all of which tote up penalties in a hurry if not paid on time. There’s also the excise tax, and its penalties that add up forever.
As a recent Harvard Law BULLETIN article (link provided below) pointed out, these fines and penalties put much money into the coffers of cities and towns. And because they are criminal, they can — or could until recently — land people in jail if they’re not paid. Add to that “probation fees” and, in some cases, making people in jail pay for their incarceration, as well as profit or the private firms often hired to enforce these burdens, and you’ve got quite a racket going at the expense of people who haven’t much money ever.
Link : http://today.law.harvard.edu/fighting-unequal-justice/
This particular abuse has been pushed back, thanks to the young lawyers profiled in the Harvard Law article, but many other criminalizations of poverty remain. The driver’s license fee, the penalties for renewing a license late, the risk of driving without insurance because you can’t afford it. And none of this even begins to address the penalties we place on people who are under court order to pay child support, or the penalties we impose on people who sometimes sell their food stamps (EBT in Massachusetts) because they haven’t the money for home heat or clothes for the kids or whatever.
And if you end up with a criminal case and live in poverty, you have to get to court on time, even though you may not have transportation to get there, and to wait in court (or at the probation officer’s office) all day long only to be told to come back in a month, for another all day wait; all of which means a day off from work or, just as likely, no chance to hold a job at all because you’re always having to be in court.
Nor does the criminalization of poverty end there. people who liove in financial crisis every day often lash out. Domestic violence abounds in families living on the edge ; partly because nobody has any security at all, or because they can’t handle the disrespect that comes with argument, or because police are called to the house when an argument erupts, or because families in crisis sometimes turn to drug dealing (or to thievery) because the money is just that good and they simply want to have it. And o course we, the “normal” people, see all this and our first thought is to blame the poor or being…not like us.
And it’s true : public assistance to families in poverty is paid with taxpayer dollars, and so we taxpayers, not unjustly, insist that those dollars be spent as we enact by law they be spent; and we cry “foul’ when some of those dollars are spent differently. Unfotunately, our outcry also reinforces the deparation of poverty people from the rest of us and so adds the barrier of distance to that of penalty.
This is the ground upon which police now come into communities of poverty ; many of which are people of color, because just skin color, in our society, is all too often an occasion for separation; and people of color who live in poverty are thus doubly separated. Then, into their lives, all too oten come police, most of whom are not people of color even in cities where people of color are the greater number. Even the most professional of police, the best trained and the wisest, are still too justly seen as agents of the criminal enforcement system that imposes all those fines, penalties, burdens, obstacles, and frustrations upon people who at the best of times live in the moment, when they’re not being visited by child welfare agents or truant officers, landlords looking for back rent, or utility people coming to shut off the gas because the bill has gone five months unpaid.
Why do we impose the most financial penalties upon the people least able to pay them ?
You tell me. I certainly have no answer for it.
But one thing I do know : those whose everyday lives have been made criminal, for profit or punishment or just because — see the police quite opposite from how gthe rest of us see them. It’s a wonder that people of color haven’t taken up the hue and cry long before now — except that people who love every day of every year in crisis lack all political power; are not heard; are not seen ; tend to vote in fewer numbers; and thus do not exist, for us or, sadly, even for themselves.
For the time being it looks as though the greater society we live in is ready to make big reforms. To police practices, and maybe to the culture of criminalized poverty as a whole. I hope it happens. The next time, things won’t be so simple.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere