Sunday, August 09, 2009


Good news, lads, good news! The half dozen 32 oz. bottles
of beer on the shelves at Ralph's in Pasadena only lasted
a couple of days. I bought one before the anti-vagrancy
burgomeisters complained again!

One of the symptoms of the economically as well as morally bankrupt country -- ours -- is the amplification of its desire to criminalize the poor.

The Republican party is one of the best examples of this in action. It's no secret anymore that it hates immigrants and, as a consequence, has utterly lost that vote.

The New York Times made note of this last week in an editorial which hailed the Obama administration's stated desire to change the policies of the former administration toward illegals -- which was to lock as many as possible up in Handcuff USA. Outside the party, the rest of the country doesn't really see the party's professed 'distinction' that it's only interested in jailing illegals.

In 2008, the nauseating TV show, Homeland Security USA, seemingly unsuccessfully tried to turn this into reality entertainment. Every show featured a good number of small, poor Mexicans being locked up. Real inspirational viewing, that.

Another part of the equation was covered today in a Times editorial written by Barbara Ehrenreich. (Hat tip to CE.)

"In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty," Ehrenreich writes. "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."

The editorial describes Los Angeles as one of the country's meanest cities in this regard, something which is hardly news if you read the daily paper here.

Ehrenreich describes a path by which people who are poor run afoul of the law through some trivial non-criminal action which has been 'outlawed' by local city ordnance. Unable to pay fines, or if they miss a court date, they find themselves issued with a warrant and subject to arrest. If they do get arrested in some sweep, it becomes even more difficult, if not impossible, to find a job.

Pasadena, for example, issued DD a whopping $720 fine for not having a seatbelt on while sitting at a stop sign late last year.

It is, by any standard, a totally unreasonable fine -- not alleviated by the LA Superior Court's offer of deducting three hundred dollars from the bill if it is paid at once.

Why was the fine so high?

Well, LA County says it doesn't have to send out a bill with the amount to be paid, like almost everyone's used to when they get a traffic ticket. If it doesn't and you don't respond, the fine is escalated radically. Then you get a notice. For sure.

Anyone who is poor, or on perilous ground in this time of economic hardship, can be wrecked by a seven hundred, or even a four hundred dollar fine. If they choose to walk away, they're threatened with collection, revocation of driver's licence, and a warrant. All for the trivial 'crime' of not having the seatbelt buckled, in my case, when the car was stopped and an officer looked inside.

Another example, which mirrors examples given in the Ehrenreich essay, is the criminalization of fare evaders on light rail in Pasadena. DD has seen Los Angeles County security men, working under the authority of the LA County sheriff, regularly manning traps for fare evaders in the city. Typically, they set up just near the exit of the station, out-of-sight if possible, so that they can intercept everyone leaving a train. If you can't produce a ticket for the train you just left, you're whacked. The crime is trivial, but in 2009 -- the fines issued are not.

"For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalization -— one involving debt, and the other skin color," continues Ehrenreich. "Anyone of any color or pre-recession financial status can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t afford to pay their traffic fines may be made to 'sit out their tickets' in jail.

"Often the path to legal trouble begins when one of your creditors has a court issue a summons for you, which you fail to honor for one reason or another. (Maybe your address has changed or you never received it.) Now you’re in contempt of court. Or suppose you miss a payment and, before you realize it, your car insurance lapses; then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight. Depending on the state, you may have your car impounded or face a steep fine — again, exposing you to a possible summons. 'There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,' said Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. 'It just keeps accelerating.'"

The guy ain't lying.


Blogger Brett said...

This is not really new. Back in the 1970s, while in my post-student alcoholic days, I failed to pay a traffic fine in Kansas City for driving a truck (a mini-pickup truck) on a Boulevard. Next thing I know I'm in jail in Santa Ana, CA with a $1000 bail, having been stopped on suspicion of drunk driving (not this time, but a single male driving a mini-pickup truck at 2am is suspicious) when the failed appearance from Kansas City raised itself from the dead an landed me as a guest of Orange County. Scraping up the $1000 for bail was a bit of a feat, as I was still the dirt-poor former student just starting a new job in Anaheim.

So California has a long tradition of this behavior. Let's hope they keep it up so our grandchildren can see how it was back in the old days...

8:03 PM  

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