I used to laugh at people who spelled our country as “Amerika.” Here’s video of cops stopping a car full of video journalists in Chicago last night:
And in related news: At the time of this blog post, there are reports that the City of Chicago website has been DDOS’d. Over the weekend, there were reports of other such DDOSes.
Follow the Chicago protests today as they unfold, with the livestreamers the Chicago police and Homeland Security are following: Tim Pool’s web video stream, Luke Rudkowski’s web video stream. On Twitter: Geoffrey Giraffe (@jiraffa), Tim Pool (@timcast), Luke Rudkowski (@lukewearechange).
And here’s one inspiring example:
WINCHESTER, Ky. (WHDH) — It may be spring, but one man is already playing the role of Santa for one Kentucky town, purchasing the remaining inventory at his local Kmart and proceeded to donate all the goods to a local charity.
“This is the largest donation we’ve ever received,” Clark County Community Services director Judy Crow said.
The person playing summer Santa is local businessman Rankin Paynter.
“It was $200,000 at retail,” Paynter said.
He was at the Kmart in Winchester a few weeks ago, buying things for his business.
“I said to the lady, ‘what are you going to do with all this stuff that’s leftover two days before you close?’” Paynter recalls.
They told him everything goes to Kmart power buyers, so he became one; six and a half hours and four cash registers later, Paynter had his fortune.
“To be honest with you, I could have made $30,000-$40,000 on it,” he said.
Instead, he paid it forward.
“Certainly unexpected. Very unexpected,” Judy Crowe said. “A businessman are in business to make money.”
Paynter’s road to success wasn’t always so smooth.
“It was hard sometime,” he said. “Tied rags around my feet sometimes too. I only had summer slippers.” Now at his age, he’s also in the business of making people smile.
“This will be the first year we have enough hats and gloves for all the children we serve during Operation Happiness,” Crowe said.
Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage—a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio reports is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense—having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light—at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.
Each of these crimes, neo-crimes, and pseudo-crimes carries financial penalties as well as the threat of jail time, but the amount of money thus extracted from the poor is fiendishly hard to pin down. No central agency tracks law enforcement at the local level, and local records can be almost willfully sketchy.
According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.” If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80 to 90 percent of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor.
And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.
Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states confiscate the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work. Michigan just started suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets. Las Cruces, New Mexico, just passed a law that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage.
Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal-justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of Wipeout. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money.
In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time. If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender.
The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.
Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, making this less like a “cycle” and more like the waterslide to hell. The further you descend, the faster you fall—until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk.
I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.