Thousands of Americans are sent to jail not for committing a crime, but because they can’t afford to pay for traffic tickets, medical bills and court fees.
If that sounds like a debtors’ prison, a legal relic which was abolished in this country in the 1830s, that’s because it is. And courts and judges in states across the land are violating the Constitution by incarcerating people for being unable to pay such debts.
Ask Jack Dawley, 55, an unemployed man in Ohio who between 2007 and 2012 spent a total of 16 days in jail in a Huron County lock-up for failing to pay roughly $1,500 in legal fines he’d incurred in the 1990s. The fines stemmed from Dawley’s convictions for driving under the influence and other offenses. After his release from a Wisconsin correctional facility, Dawley, who admits he had struggled with drugs and alcohol, got clean. But if he put his substance problems behind him, Dawley’s couldn’t outrun his debts.
Struggling to find a job and dealing with the effects of a back injury, he fell behind on repayments to the municipal court in Norwalk, Ohio. He was arrested six years ago and sent to jail for not paying his original court fines. Although Dawley was put on a monthly payment plan, during his latest stint behind bars in 2012 the court ordered him to pay off his entire remaining debt.
” I called my brother, and they told him I have to pay off the whole fine in order for me to get out,” he said. “That was $900. So I sat my whole 10 days [in jail.]”
Such stories are by no means unusual. Rather, they reflect a justice system that in effect criminalizes poverty. “It’s a growing problem nationally, particularly because of the economic crisis,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the justice program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Roughly a third of U.S. states today jail people for not paying off their debts, from court-related fines and fees to credit card and car loans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Such practices contravene a 1983 United States Supreme Court ruling that they violate the Constitutions’s Equal Protection Clause.
Some states apply “poverty penalties,” such as late fees, payment plan fees and interest, when people are unable to pay all their debts at once. Alabama charges a 30 percent collection fee, for instance, while Florida allows private debt collectors to add a 40 percent surcharge on the original debt. Some Florida counties also use so-called collection courts, where debtors can be jailed but have no right to a public defender. In North Carolina, people are charged for using a public defender, so poor defendants who can’t afford such costs may be forced to forgo legal counsel.
An Afghan migrant is stabbed in the heart on the streets of Athens. Black-shirted paramilitaries linked to Hungary’s third-largest political party march through a Roma neighborhood shouting, “You will die here.” A neo-Nazi gang commits a string of murders of Turkish immigrants in Germany. An ideologue driven by hatred of “multiculturalism” kills 67 mostly young people on a Norwegian Island.
It may be comforting to see these incidents as isolated, disconnected or driven by local events. But the truth is more discomforting: hatred and intolerance are moving into the mainstream in Europe.
Divided We Fall: Intolerance in Europe Puts Rights at Risk | Human Rights Watch (via humanrightswatch)
Europe, everyone. Europe.
The great “civil society” that is Europe. (via biggadjeworld)
This is not over…I have a gut feeling this is only a continuation of a thing that was put on pause.
It’s getting worse, though. The crisis has given blood-thirsty, racist, nationalist, capitalist neo-liberals get on the top positions like prime ministers, even presidents. And they’re using the crisis as an excuse to kill off any social/”welfare” aspect of a country, decapitate the public sector, promote nationalism and neo-nazism and steal all the money they can get until they run away with their millions again.
Hitler did the same, he used the crisis and desperation of the people as a tool to gain popularity and spread his sick ideas. And if the same isn’t happening now, I don’t know what is.(via bitchtitsagainstcapitalism)
Listen up, Tumblr. There are some cold hard facts about being poor that you need to know before you try to talk to me or my family or any other poor person about anything involving money, food, jobs, housing or healthcare.
- Being poor is expensive as fuck. Living paycheck-to-paycheck means you can’t shell out lots of money at once for a reliable car, so you have to buy a used car that might break down more often. Or maybe you can’t pay monthly insurance costs so you end up with a $2000 emergency room bill. Renting costs more in the long run than owning. And so on.
- Asking for money doesn’t fucking hurt anybody. As long as you ask in a way that is not abusive or coercive, you should not feel ashamed if you sometimes have to ask for money. ESPECIALLY if you do it via crowdsourcing or some other method that doesn’t put pressure on any one person. Don’t you dare shame a poor person for asking for help taking care of themselves or their family.
- Sometimes poor people have nice things. Yeah, I fucking said it. I have a nice TV and some game consoles that I bought when money was less tight. In fact, anytime a poor person gets an unexpected sum of money, like a birthday gift or a tax return, it often goes to something like that. Know why? Because we know we might never get another chance to buy the thing. And being resourceful people, we also know that if we have a chance to buy a nice thing now it will cost less in the long run than buying a neverending series of things that break after a month. We also get really fucking tired of always looking like poor people to everyone else. It sucks always being the house nobody wants to visit because somebody else can afford an XBOX 360 and you can’t. Finally, you don’t fucking know where that nice thing a poor person has came from. Maybe it was a gift, or somebody gave them a Best Buy gift card and they bought a laptop. Maybe a rich person was giving it away on Craigslist. Maybe the person wasn’t always poor but shit got hard recently. Maybe they actually saved up pennies for a year to buy it. You don’t know, and it’s not actually your business anyway.
- Healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food. I’m not going to even argue this point, I’m just going to fucking shout it. HEALTHY FOOD IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN UNHEALTHY FOOD.
- It’s none of your business why someone is poor. Maybe they have a disability, maybe unemployment is high in their field, maybe they are part of a group that has been socioeconomically oppressed for generations and you don’t just fucking pull your bootstraps up out of that. I’ve never met anybody who was poor just for the hell of it. But you know what? Some people are poor because they made irresponsible decisions or they’re addicted to drugs or gambling. Those people are still people and they still deserve food and shelter.
- You can’t always get what you need at a thrift store or garage sale, and if you can, it still costs money. Some people have never actually set foot in a thrift store, so let me tell you what they’re like. There are rows and rows of clothes that are ugly or have holes in them or don’t fit you. And by ugly, I mean ugly-sweater-party ugly, like if I wore that to work I’d get fired ugly. If you’re REALLY lucky you might find ONE OR TWO things that fit and won’t fall apart after one washing. If you’re fat, trans or having other specific clothing needs it’s even worse. These are clothes that people rejected, and most of the time it was for a reason. Then there’s a lot of sketchy appliances from 1973 that somebody cleaned out of their mom’s garage after she died, toys for children 3 and under but fuck you if you have a ten-year-old, etc. They can be surprisingly good places to find books and Disney VHS tapes, but that’s about it.
- For similar reasons, things like Freecycle are spotty as hell. I live in a major metropolitan area. Currently, the things that are available on my local Freecycle list include an automatic pet water dish, various non-essential baby supplies, a “microwave splatter cover”, and a couple of office chairs. This is pretty representative of what is generally offered. It’s not a great place to get things you specifically need.
- There is no such thing as the welfare queen. This could be an entire post by itself, but let me give you a quick run-down of what ‘welfare’ usually consists of. This varies by state, but the aid available in Massachusetts includes food stamps ($200 a month max, doesn’t buy things like toilet paper, diapers or pet food), Emergency Aid for Elders, Disabled and Children ($300/month max if you qualify, you obviously have to be elderly, disabled or have children, and have to have almost nothing in your bank account), MassHealth insurance (actually pretty good but the application process can be long, and the state penalizes you by withholding some of your tax return if you go too long without insurance), and Section 8 housing vouchers, for which there is a waiting list of a year or more. If you manage to qualify for EVERYTHING, and you don’t have any kids, you might manage to scrape together enough to live off of. But barely. And MA is one of the better states for stuff like this.
There is probably a lot more shit I could tell you about what it’s like to be poor, but I’m tired and achy and so done with this shit, so I’m gonna stop here.
Nothing drives crime rates like poverty and unemployment. Kids who grow up in communities where most adults are working in at least living-wage jobs and who can envision a future that includes the possibility of a living-wage job for themselves do not tend to join gangs or get involved in gunfights on the streets. But ask the government to fund after-school programs for kids or job training programs for their parents and agencies will insist that funds cannot be found.
Meanwhile, if Kimani Gray had lived longer and had, hypothetically, been convicted of an actual crime, the same government would have had no problem forking out $200,000 a year to house him in a juvenile detention facility. Nor do you ever hear anyone quibbling about the millions of dollars spent each year sending huge numbers of police officers into neighborhoods like the one where Gray ended up being shot dead by two of them.
The point is moot for Kimani Gray now, but if there is to be any hope of preventing senseless-seeming deaths like his in the future, there has to be concerted effort to address the core problems in troubled communities like the one where he was killed, rather than spending limitless sums policing them and punishing them.
— Sadhbh Walshe - The Sad Death of Kimani Gray and Society’s Bad Choices (via anarcho-queer)
Students who considered themselves socialists were not so
much interested in the poor as they were desirous of leading
the poor, of being their guides and saviors. It was just this
paternalism toward the poor that the vision of solidarity I had
learned in religious settings was meant to challenge. From a
spiritual perspective, the poor were there to guide and lead the
rest of us by example if not by outright action and testimony.
As a student I read Marx, Gramsci, and a host of other male
thinkers on the subject of class. These works provided
theoretical paradigms but rarely offered tools for confronting
the complexity of class in daily life. […]
[W]hen I told friends and colleagues that I was resigning from my academic job to focus on writing, I was warned that I was making a dangerous mistake, that I could not possibly live on an income that was between twenty and thirty thousand dollars a year. When I pointed to the reality that families of four and more live on such an income, the response would be “that’s different”; the difference being, of course, one of class. The poor are expected to live with less and are socialized to accept less (badly made clothing, products, food, etc.), whereas the well-off are socialized to believe it is both a right and a necessity for us to have more, to have exactly what we want when we want it.
— bell hooks, where we stand: Class Matters, chapter 4 (via snailfan)
That the minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with the met demands of increased production is nothing other than a sign that cooperation in capitalist society has become a one-way street. Hence, all the focus on “The Middle Class” in late capitalism. Working classes are to cooperate with employers are starve. And nobody in bourgeois society gives a shit.
It’s not hip to talk about class. Re-reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress. There’s a reason she ends the book with a discussion of why class matters.
Much of the calls for intersectionality tend to be grotesquely turned into reasons to ignore class. At your peril, then. We simply cannot address poverty without a focus on class, no matter how much we’d like to make it a thing that can be fixed simply because we address racism and sexism.
I must remind you that starving a child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.”
— Coretta Scott King (via samirathejerk)
To think that legalization of marijuana or of any drug in the United States and Mexico is going to stop violence in Mexico is to ignore the root of our social illness. Violence is the result of economic exploitation, of poverty. Violence manufactures your very legal computer, your jeans, your shoes, your tv, your iPod. The blood of Mexicans is in your luxuries and in your vices, in your comfort, not in laws that preclude you from smoking your marijuana cigarette or sniffing your coke in public spaces. Blood and pain is in the tomato you eat, the flowers you send to your wife, the poultry you buy. Once marijuana is legalized, Mexican workers, like many other dark-skin human beings in the world, will still cater to your needs and wants and will be subjected to slave-like conditions so you can have the best pot at the best price.”
Dr. Selfa Chew Ph.D. African American Studies Lecturer (via lostruth)
Special education law relies on certain assumptions regarding brain development, function, and dysfunction. Recent neuroscience research suggests that some of those assumptions are open to serious question. The definition of learning disabilities in special education law thus excludes from eligibility students whose learning problems are due to “economic disadvantage,” reflecting the belief that poverty is purely an external factor that diminishes the motivation or opportunity of poor students to learn.
Neuroscience research, however, suggests that the conditions associated with poverty can have internal, physical effects on the brain. Growing up in poverty, in short, can alter how a child’s brain develops and functions. The sharp distinction in the law between internal disorders and external circumstances thus appears increasingly untenable.
I couldn’t figure out how to reblog this although I think it’s already on tumblr somehwere.thepeoplesrecord)
[Image: A view across San Francisco Bay, shot from a high rise in San Francisco. A tower of smoke is visible over Richmond.]
So the Chevron refinery in Richmond is on fire again. Shelter-in-place warnings have been issued, ordering people to stay indoors to protect their respiratory health.
Here are some things to note about this situation:
- The refinery is the city’s largest employer.
- Richmond is a primarily POC community.
- The poverty rate is double that in the rest of the state.