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Is it now a crime to be poor? The criminalization of everyday life

Students Getting TicketedBarbara Ehrenreich's op-ed, Is it now a crime to be poor?, published on August 9th in the New York Times is an important contribution, written for the readers of the New York Times, about the criminalization of poverty in the U.S.  The work of the Bus Riders Union and Community Rights Campaign is featured in it.  Ehrenreich describes the campaign's aim to end LAUSD and LA City's use of punitive and regressive "truancy tickets" against Black and Brown students.  She also features the voices of many other movement groups, including the eastside's very own, Leonardo Vilchis of Union de Vecinos.

Ehrenreich captures how cities across the country, big and small, are choosing a punitive and racially targeted set of policing methods, court procedures and city ordinances that criminalize everyday acts of life by outlawing sleeping on the streets, truancy, loitering, littering, not paying your transit fares, not having car insurance, street vending and worse, even criminalizing acts in which people who choose to help the poor are charged with a crime.  Ultimately, the outcome of the criminalization of the poor has created the massive human rights violation that has over 2.3 million people in the U.S. behind bars, which means 1 out of 100 people in the US. Not surprising, in a country that was born out of slavery and stolen land, the vast majority of those in prison are Black, Indigenous and Latino people.

Recently, I went to a court appearance for a citation that one of our members received on the infamous ghetto blue (blue line).  We went to court in downtown Los Angeles next to the LA County Jail, known as the Twin Towers.  Not surprising, 95% of the people waiting to see the judge were Black and Brown people.  The "crimes" included fare evasion, open alcohol containers, urinating in public, "unruly behavior" and other hard to define and unimaginable "unlawful acts".  I was struck how the judge kept repeating to those who were present that they were the cause of the California state budget crisis, because they "choose" to break the law and now the courts were pressed to process their paperwork and spend precious resources in hearing their story. He said "because of you teachers and professionals have lost their job!

Can you imagine that while the State has given massive tax breaks to the rich and big corporations the judge is blaming fare evaders as the problem?  Not to mention that the State has spared, up to now, the institutions that created the massive land and loan fraud mess to begin with!

And what were those excuses people were telling the judge?

"I didn't have any money to pay the fare to go to a job interview, so I took the risk of riding the train." 

"I was released out of county jail without a cent in my pocket, I rode the train." 

"I was collecting cans to make ends meet and was cleaning out the beer can when the police stopped me."

The criminalization of everyday life for those who are broke, Black and Brown, are too real and the legal system is really a criminal legal system, not a justice system.  

Link: Barbara Ehrenreich's Is it Now a Crime to Be Poor? (New York Times)

Comments

Sad to say but nothing will change until we refuse to pay taxes and arm ourselves. This slow dance into the New World Order has been picking up speed recently and we must resist before we become fully enslaved.

The stories above are heart breaking. Coming from the hills of East LA, City Terrace proper, these acts of abuse are not unfamiliar. Just last January 09 a police officer was reportedly shot by two bald headed Latinos a couple of blocks from my house, but after some investigation the police officer was found guilty of shooting himself in hopes of receiving financial assistance. I believe he spent a few weeks in jail, if that. You can imagine what transpired while militant police officers combed the community represented by youthful Latinos sporting the style of close fades, but not criminals. The police with heavy duty machine guns and sub-stations took up so much space in our community. Just last week it became clear to me how normalized the occupation of our community is. I cannot stop by a coffee shop without noticing police officers there laughing and joking around with each other as their guns swings back and forth from the hip. It's like a scene out of Reservoir Dogs when Tim Roth walks into the restroom with the police speaking loudly about their acts of repression. I have faith though, so much can be blown into a balloon before it pops, batons swung at our heads raise consciousness with the bumps, and our parents are waking up too, with every ICE raid and no knock search and seizure. Peace, Power, and Solidarity to The People!

I live in Carson up the street from where the police recenly shot and killed a young man. The sheriffs often patrol my neighborhood which is a small enclosed residenial community and lock people up for minor infractions and harass us when we are peaceably socializing in the community park. I want to know what rights we as citizens have against such harassment and intrusive presence. It is disturbing because someone from our community has already been killed (the man who was shot had filed a complaint against the deputy who later killed him, causing the deputy to be written up) so it makes us feel uneasy and we as citizens have a constitutional right to assemble peaceably which is what we do as everyone in our community knows each other and is friendly. Most of us are low income and there are also a lot of children so we have concern for the kids too. Some members of the community are on paole or probation also and we feel that the police use this as an excuse to harass people who are doing nothing wrong other than to walk around our own streets with our friends. I just want to know if there is anything we can do to keep ourselves from being harassed and disturbed in our own yards and there is absolutely no reason they need to come in the gate sometimes 5 cars at a time multiple times a day. It is an enclosed neighborhood with a security gate at the front and we have our own security officers who look out for our safety and watch the neighborhood. I feel it is getting to be too much and our rights to peaceful lives are being infringed on and we get discriminated against because we are low income and most of the people in my neighborhood are black or mexican. If there is anything I can read about the laws and our rights as citizens or something we can do it would be helpful. Thanks

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