Nonviolence as Compliance

Officials calling for calm can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death, and so they appeal for order.

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By Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic

Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.

The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson ….

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims—if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him—a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

Read more at The Atlantic

Poor People Need a Higher Wage, Not a Lesson in Morality

David Brooks’ rendition of poverty is as “representative” of people with low-incomes as corrupt corporate titans are of small entrepreneurs.

By Greg Kaufmann in The Nation

Baltimore, Maryland (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore, Maryland (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“The idea that poverty is a problem of persons—that it results from personal moral, cultural, or biological inadequacies—has dominated discussions of poverty for well over two hundred years and given us the enduring idea of the underserving poor.”

—Michael Katz, The Undeserving Poor

In a recent op-ed, New York Times columnist David Brooks called for a “moral revival,” one which requires “holding people responsible” so that we have “social repair.”

To illustrate the need for said revival—which he frames as a reassertion of social norms—Brooks offers what he describes as three “representative figures” of “high school-educated America”: a man whose mother was absent, Dad is in prison, attended seven elementary schools, and “ended up under house arrest”; a girl who was “one of five half-siblings from three relationships,” whose mom lost custody of the kids to an abuser, and whose dad left a woman because another guy had fathered their child; and, finally, a kid who “burned down a lady’s house when he was 13” and says, “I just love beating up somebody and making they nose bleed…and beating them to the ground.”

So goes the latest iteration of the “undeserving poor,” an age-old concept brilliantly excavated by the late historian Michael Katz in his book of the same title. Like the long lineage it stems from, Brooks’ rendition is as “representative” of people with low-incomes as corrupt corporate titans are of small entrepreneurs. Anecdotally, in my years working for Boys and Girls Clubs, reporting as a poverty correspondent for The Nation, and now editing TalkPoverty.org which regularly features posts from people living in poverty—Brooks’ “representative figures” remind me of exactly zero people I have met during this time. I’m not saying that these individuals don’t exist, but they have little to do with the policies or the morality we need to dramatically reduce poverty in America.

Read more at The Nation

Instead of Criminalizing Homelessness, Utah Is Doing the Opposite — And It’s Working

Utah

After Barbara Simons left her abusive husband and the house they lived in together six years ago, she had nowhere to go. She was without a job and her daughter, Jamie, was struggling with mental health issues. She ended up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and feared she’d become homeless.

Then she heard about a program run by the state that would pay for her and Jamie to get an apartment with no strings attached. The Housing First program started in 2005, and Simons says it might have saved her life.

“I don’t know if I’d be alive,” Simons told Mic by phone. “Or I’d be alive and living on the street. It just helped me get back on my feet. It showed that people cared about you.”

Even though Utah is one of the most conservative states in the nation, it has become a leader in progressive policies meant to help the homeless. By proving that a conservative state could solve its chronic homelessness problem for less money than traditional homelessness policies, Utah has become a model for towns, cities and states across the nation.

Read more at Policy.Mic

Majority of public assistance goes to working families, report finds

"20111110-OC-AMW-0050 - Flickr - USDAgov" by U.S. Department of Agriculture - 20111110-OC-AMW-0050. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Government Food Stamps, 1941. Image via the United States Department of Agriculture (public domain).

State and federal public assistance programs pay $153 billion to low-wage workers who can’t make ends meet

The majority of American families on public assistance or Medicaid are headed by at least one full-time worker, according to a report released Monday by the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Researchers who analyzed annual state and federal spending on public assistance programs — including food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families and the earned income tax credit — found that more than 56 percent of that spending goes to working families.

In other words, employers, such fast-food restaurants, are paying their employees so little that they must rely on government assistance to make ends meet. In total, these employees seek an estimated $153 billion in public assistance each year, according to the report.

“When companies pay too little for workers to provide for their families, workers rely on public assistance programs to meet their basic needs,” Ken Jacobs, chair of the Center for Labor Research and Education and co-author of the report, said in a release. “This creates significant cost to the states.”

Read more at Al Jazeera America

Hospitals Are Robbing Us Blind

Forget Obamacare. The real villains in the American health care system are greedy hospitals and the politicians who protect them.

Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals have huge power in their local markets.
Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals have huge power in their local markets.

By Reihan Salam

Five years ago this week, Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, and we’ve been debating it ever since. Like many Americans, I oppose Obamacare, and I think we ought to repeal it and replace it. Over the past few months, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the fight over Obamacare is a distraction from a much deeper problem, which is that America’s hospitals are robbing us blind.

I realize that this is an impolitic thing to say. What kind of lousy ingrate doesn’t love hospitals? Go to any big American city, including cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh that have been devastated by deindustrialization and joblessness, and you’ll find a mammoth hospital complex in the center of town, buzzing with activity. Forget about big cities—there is a hospital in every congressional district in America, and local hospitals are often among the largest employers in the district. One of the reasons President Clinton’s 1993 health reform effort failed is that he never won over the hospital lobby. President Obama learned from the Clinton debacle; hospitals were among his most important allies. Republicans get in on the act too. Right now, for example, a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing a Medicare “reform” that guarantees higher payments to doctors and hospitals today in exchange for the promise of spending reductions a decade or two from now. Good luck with that.

You can hardly blame them though. The health sector employs more than a tenth of all U.S. workers, most of whom are working- and middle-class people who serve as human shields for those who profit most from America’s obscenely high medical prices and an epidemic of overtreatment. If you aim for the crooks responsible for bleeding us dry, you risk hitting the nurses, technicians, and orderlies they employ. This is why politicians are so quick to bash insurers while catering to the powerful hospital systems, which dictate terms to insurers and have mastered the art of gaming Medicare and Medicaid to their advantage. Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies. We have to break them before they break us.

Read more at Salon.com