Barbara Ehrenreich's Sunday column for this week's edition of The New York Times is an absolute must-read. Like her groundbreaking and controversial Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich simply and eloquently describes how cruelly the deck is stacked against the poor in this country, from minor drug violations that are exacerbated by lack of proper legal council to struggling to pay rents on minimum wage.
This column, however, explains how new laws, such as forbidding the feeding of homeless in public places, creates an atmosphere of intolerance to those not only without basic human needs, but to charitable causes which may help alleviate the problem. Where trillions of dollars bail out insolvent banks, gravely irresponsible insurance companies, and investment companies which haven't even thanked the American people for saving their trade, the poor, without sufficient work, shelter, food, or dignity are forgotten. The most damning revelation is in this short paragraph:
Some of the community organizers I’ve talked to around the country think they know why “zero tolerance” policing has ratcheted up since the recession began. Leonardo Vilchis of the Union de Vecinos, a community organization in Los Angeles, suspects that “poor people have become a source of revenue” for recession-starved cities, and that the police can always find a violation leading to a fine. If so, this is a singularly demented fund-raising strategy. At a Congressional hearing in June, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers testified about the pervasive “overcriminalization of crimes that are not a risk to public safety,” like sleeping in a cardboard box or jumping turnstiles, which leads to expensively clogged courts and prisons.
It never amazes how the poor, brought down by excessive debts, which sometimes just go to basic services like rent or (what is treated like an essential but is billed as a luxury) education are the last to rebound. and pay the biggest price for inequalities that the ruling class perpetuates. Then they're punished with "zero tolerance" laws passed by those who pretend poverty and inequality are nonexistent. If anything, this recession exposed one thing: how woefully unaware and unprepared the middle and upper classes are for the living conditions that most Americans call Everyday Life.
The above photo, titled Pan, is by esteemed photographer and friend Brian Carroll, from his Flickr photo stream.