You may have read the occasional article claiming that the poor in America are vilified and subjugated. You may even have heard rap songs highlighting the legal system’s exploitation of minor crimes in poor neighborhoods. But have you ever really dug any deeper into this supposed problem? Maybe it’s just a minor problem that has been exaggerated by the left. Or maybe the problem is just a myth.
Look closer. Being poor in America leaves you open to exploitation and subjugation by law enforcement and corporations. And it’s an opening that those institutions have been taking advantage of. There’s no denying it: without a big salary and a ton of cash to hand, you are at severe risk in this country. The poor are indeed being punished for being poor.
The criminalization of poor people in America has been publicised on an increasingly wide basis over the past few years. Here are some of the unsettling trends taking place in America display beyond doubt that, while the rich get richer, the poor get punished.
The increased criminalization of minor (see: very minor) crimes
Sure, public urination is gross. But when we say gross, what do we mean? We mean a bit disgusting, kind of off-putting, a little nauseating. Right? But the law would prefer to use a slightly different interpretation of the word gross. The use of the word that suggests something massive, egregious, shocking. Something worthy of severe criminal punishment.
Am I going to defend public urination in general? No. But do I think someone should be put in jail for it? No. Thankfully, New York City laws have eased up on public urination, public drinking, and putting your feet up on the subway. Until last month, you could be thrown in jail for long periods of time for these crimes. Crimes that are, tellingly, most likely to committed by poor people. People without access to toilets, or to a private place to drink, or to put their feet up.
But what about other crimes in other states? Well, in Arkansas, being unable to pay your rent can land you in jail. A resident of Ferguson had to pay $1,200 to avoid jail time because her car was missing a tyre. Such “broken window” policing policies have been put in place nationwide. They ensure that states are able to charge higher penalties for more and more infractions. Poor people all over the country live in fear of the police deciding to pick on them on a given day. If they can’t pay the sort of fine that a rich person wouldn’t even think twice about, they could land in jail.
An unfair bail system ensures poor people either go to jail or risk employment opportunities
If you are charged with a crime and bail is set, you have three options. Let’s say you’ve been accused of armed robbery. There’s no evidence that you did it. In fact, for the purpose of this exercise, we’ll say that you definitely did not do it. But you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You were caught on CCTV near the scene of the crime and you looked suspicious. The victim, mixing you up with someone else, has accused you of maybe being the perpetrator, they think.
The police have arrested you and a charge of armed robbery has been placed against you. Your bail is set at $5000. Your three options are these:
- Accept a plea bargain; you’ll plead guilty to the crime, escaping further jail time. You can remain out of jail and at home while you await trial. Even if the charge is dropped, the fact that you pled guilty to avoid jail time means you have a permanent criminal record. This will affect your chances of getting stable employment.
- You, or someone else, pays the $5000 bail. You get out of there and can remain out and about while you await trial. If the charge is dropped, that’s the end of that. If you’re found innocent at the end of the trial, that’s also the end of that. You don’t get a refund of that $5000, though.
- You’re unable to afford the $5000. You’re also unable to afford risking your future by pleading guilty to a crime that, y’know, you didn’t commit. After all, if you can’t afford that bail amount, then you’re hardly in a position to risk the chance of you getting employed in the future, right? So instead of 1) or 2), you have to go to jail while you await trial.
When I put it like that, it sounds like some Orwellian nightmare, right? Well, that’s exactly how it works. Notice how the only way to escape jail, proclaim your innocence and protect your future is by buying your way out? And how many poor people do you think are able to choose one of the first two options? The rich, very clearly, have an unfair and unjust advantage.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans currently in jail have not been found guilty of a crime. They are awaiting their trial in jail because they were too poor to afford the set bail. Some people in need of bail assistance have been able to get help from A-1 Bonding and other similar companies. But for those unlucky enough to have not been informed of bail assistance, it was jail time. I’ll slip in a reminder about the tragic story of Kalief Browder here.
The ability for the poor to vote is suppressed
Strange but true: there are a lot of little ways in which being comfortable financially enables you to vote. You have photo ID, right? Presumably, you paid for that ID. You probably paid for it a long time ago, or maybe it was a recent acquisition but the amount you had to pay didn’t seem like a lot to you. Either way, you’ve almost taken it for granted. But the fact is that it costs money to get photo ID.
Simple logical reasoning will reveal to you that not every poor person has photo ID, for obvious reasons. But without that photo ID, most states won’t allow you to vote. Never mind that this has been shown to make no economic nor civil sense. That’s just the way it is.
There are other factors to consider, too. Election day, after all, takes place on a work day. No public holiday has ever been given to ensure that every American has the ability to vote. Do you think that the poor are always able to afford missing a day’s paycheck to go vote? And besides, how politically engaged do you think someone who struggles to feed themselves is going to be? It may seem like the answer is an obvious “yes”. But such concerns may seem impractical when you’re actually living that lifestyle. So what happens? The rich-obsessed status quo continues to reign.