Do you remember the “hero mom” whose story went viral in April, 2015, when she was caught slapping her masked, black-clad teenage son at a Baltimore riot?
Toya Graham said she didn’t want her son becoming another Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury while being transported in the back of a police van. He was left without a seat belt but his hands and feet were shackled. No evidence has been reported as to why, but he died a week later of a spinal chord injury.
That was what the riot was all about.
Gray had been arrested a dozen times, mostly on charges of selling or possessing heroin or marijuana. His final arrest was for having a switchblade in his pocket. At that time he had committed no crime.
For these two families, Toya’s and Freddie’s, this was tragedy spawned by economic injustice. For the rest of us it was “entertainment.” We all got a big kick out of Toya’s behavior and wagged our tongues about how parents ought to dispense that kind of discipline more often.
To the protestors, Freddie was a “brother” whether they knew him or not. He was a symbol of the same injustice they all shared.
Freddie was the son of a disabled mother addicted to heroin, which was what got Freddie connected to drugs in the first place. Freddie was illiterate and lived in a rented house with walls and windowsills containing enough lead to poison the children, leaving them incapable of leading functional lives. Freddie was four grades behind in reading. His life was not of his choosing.
His close friends described him as warm and friendly, humorous and happy. One said, “Every time you saw him, you just smiled because you knew you were going to have a good day.”
So, why do we get such a kick out of this story? Is it because we care about people like this? Or is it that we just enjoy being judgmental?
We Love Violence
Truth is, we love violence. TV programmers know we will watch the nightly news if there’s plenty of murder and mayhem. We pay to watch violence at the movies. We are as addicted to crime shows on the tube as we are soaps. Parents pay money so their kids can play war games and other forms of virtual violence on their mobile devices. We cheer when there is a fight at the hockey game. Baseball, a relatively genteel sport once known as the “Great American Pastime,” has been replaced by football which is so violent it destroys the brains of those who play it.
Games of violence may not, in themselves, be a direct cause of violence in real life, but social stress and economic injustice are not a game. Guns may not kill but they come with an attitude. Chain smokers may not die of cancer but that doesn’t mean smoking won’t kill you.
The consequences of games played on the field of economic injustice affect us all. The attitudes that come with a steady diet of violence exacerbate the problems of poverty and deprivation in stress and unhappiness for some of us. For the most of us, it is behind the issues that affect us all: in gender inequalities, in family breakdown and teenage pregnancy, in childhood disadvantage and educational failure, in health, in crime and disorder, in polarization and increasing fragmentation between communities, ethnic groups, geographic regions and social classes.
Worst of all, it is the reason why we, as a society, spend so much of our tax money on the welfare state rather than on repairing the cause of all this misery, the predatory economy.
Gender Inequality Equals Income Inequality
A study by the World Economic Forum concludes that gender inequality is strongly associated with income inequality. Gender wage gaps still account for a large proportion of income inequality between men and women.
Women are more likely to work in the service sector in which earnings are lower. Because of their economic status, they face unequal access to education, healthcare and financial services.
And, the negative impact of economic injustice on women extends to children, families and young adults.
Within the nuclear family, stress from job insecurity and loss, home foreclosures and the destabilizing loss or lack of family savings place great strain on parents and their children. For low-income families, the impact is even more severe with the struggle to provide basic needs like food, healthcare and shelter.
Graduating high school students are often forced to postpone their plans for higher education, opting instead to seek increasingly scarce jobs at insufficient pay in order to contribute to the household economy. Low-income college students spend more time at work than in school.
All of these issues lead to anxiety, lowered self-esteem, emotional and behavioral issues that affect us as both individuals and as a society. It weakens us as a people and as a country.
Social stratification is what social scientists call it; it can explain why the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in all the world, including undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.
Crime and Private Enterprise
One reason is that disadvantaged populations simply don’t have access to the tools necessary to reduce or eliminate their disadvantages, and many of them become involved in the criminal justice system as a result.
The other reason is that private prisons are Big Business with a business model that depends on the system of injustice to produce high rates of incarceration to drive profit.
Think about that. Economic injustice and Big Business gang up on society’s most abused social classes. Sends them to jail and then sends us the bill!
While the nation’s unprecedented rate of imprisonment deprives individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers, the private prison industry reaps lucrative rewards.
And recidivism (repeat convictions) keeps the flow of repeat business coming back to those private prisons. The process of the prison system is punishment, not improvement. If prison is a learning place, it is where the convict can hone his or her skills as a criminal and create more and better crime. There’s very little chance our prison system takes the time to provide offenders the tools to become productive members of society.
Since 1980, imprisonment in the U.S. has increased explosively, spurred by criminal laws that impose steep sentences on minor crimes. Opportunities to earn probation and parole are lacking.
According to the ACLU, this system of criminal law has, at best, a minimal effect on public safety. Crime and punishment are simply Big Business.
State and local police forces are also cashing in. They have grown by leaps and bounds, outfitted with much of the same stuff used by the U.S. military’s ground troops. Some even have bears in the air. All funded by the booty and sale of confiscated property.
If enforcement will reduce crime, then it’s needed:
- Last year’s data shows there were 95,730 rapes reported to law enforcement.
- Of the violent crimes reported to police in 2016, aggravated assault made up 64.3 percent, while robbery was 26.6 percent. Rape accounted for 7.7 percent of the violent crimes reported last year, and murder made up 1.4 percent.
- About 7.9 million property crimes were reported, with losses (excluding arson) of about $15.6 billion.
- The report estimates that law enforcement agencies made about 10.7 million arrests in 2016 (excluding arrests for traffic violations).
But neither punishment nor the fear of punishment is reducing crime rates. The U.S. has a larger prison population than any other developed country in the world while the enforcers are looking more and more like the bad guys.
Some claim you’re safer in Afghanistan than you are in the United States of America.
Chances are you haven’t seen any of this in your neighborhood, but you see it every night on the boob tube or your mobile device.
Home Sweet Violence
Sometimes it comes closer to home.
In the middle of the night I received a call from my daughter asking me to come rescue her children. She lived in a mobile home at a dead-end intersection of two back streets of a Tampa suburb.
A drunk driver in a monster truck had run the intersection at top speed, leaping through an outbuilding and landing on three vehicles in the carport. It happened three feet from my granddaughters’ beds.
The children were unhurt but traumatized and were afraid to sleep in their beds for weeks. I suspect the event is still an item in their nightly prayers.
I thought it was ironic because I once visited the family when they had guests, adults and children, gathered around the TV playing a video game in which a monster truck was “joy sticked” through city streets wiping out other vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians.
None of us lives outside the reach of violence.
American Opioid Epidemic
Just as worrisome as violent crime is the opioid epidemic in America and its effects on society. The federal government recently declared the epidemic a national public health emergency but failed to allocate funds to do anything about it.
If funds were made available, I imagine they would be used to study the problem, rather than combat it. Especially if it turns out the primary cause is our upside down economic system.
Opioid addiction now kills almost 100 Americans each day, more than motor vehicle accidents.
We don’t need studies. There are enough reasons being argued about already. Those who are mostly to blame argue it is a disease of social character, not socio-economic injustice.
There is plenty of evidence to show that the worst of opioid abuse is found in places where economic injustice is the most severe. Where well-meaning doctors prescribed drugs to help suppress patients’ stress and pain. And insurance and pharmaceutical companies switched prescriptions from non-addicting drugs to cheaper opioid alternatives.
Areas of economic and social distress, such as the poor and densely populated parts of cities – and in rural areas like Appalachia with failed industrial economies – have some of the highest rates of addiction. Racial and ethnic minorities in urban areas have historically struggled with the combination of economic hardship and drug abuse.
The connection is clear and it is part of the social collapse in America. Our economic system is poisoning us. We can’t treat the disease until we defeat the cause.
Mother Jones lost her entire working class family 150 years ago to yellow fever in Memphis, Tennessee. They didn’t know then that yellow fever was caused by mosquitoes swarming the feces-infested swamps in the poor neighborhoods of their industrial town.
We either drain the swamps, or we die.
We will probably have to do it ourselves.
Medical Care Cost Is a Shell Game