Barbara Ehrenreich's latest op-ed in The New York Times - Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?
- illustrates many cities' efforts to make being poor a crime.
In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty. So concludes a new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which found that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with ticketing and arrests for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering or carrying an open container of alcohol.
She writes of Al Szekely, a wheel chair-bound disabled Vietnam vet who was "dragged out of [of a homeless] shelter and put in jail" because he failed to appear in court for a charge of sleeping on a sidewalk in a suburban Washington, DC, town. As Eric Sheptock, a homeless advocate, put it, "They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless."
To rid their cities of the homeless, many municipalities are passing ordinances against the sharing of food. Teenagers are being targeted with outrageously high fines for truancy - $250 in Los Angeles and up to $500 in Dallas.
The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.
What I don't understand is how this can happen in a supposedly Christian nation. How those who claim to believe in the teachings of their Christ can be so cruel and heartless. After all, Jesus is to have said, "What you do to the least among you, you also do to me."
So, by attacking the plight of the poor, they are also attacking their own religious icon.