09 March 2015

From "The Hero's Fight"

     Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, a sociologist trained at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has written a book entitled "The Hero's Fight".  In her introduction she sets out some thoughts on the situation of the slum people of west Baltimore which show a good understanding of not just poor people, but how they became poor and their relation to the governments they must interact with.  One of her themes is penalization as the method of control of the work force without jobs--the result of the massive movement of well-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.   The conservative emphasis on penalization is    co-existent with the liberal emphasis on social programs operated by social workers.  Both have the purpose of forcing the poor to live middle class lives and both are debilitating.

     Both penalization and social programs enforced by social workers hold that their clients, the poor, are morally to blame for their failure to adhere to middle class values. In Baltimore the areas where the author researched were one time prosperous neighborhoods of well-paid blue collar workers, now ghettos.  The book is a documentation of this transition with an attempt to understand it.  It is relevant to me as a criminal defense attorney who represents people charged with crimes, minor and major, almost all of whom have nothing.  Most are dysfunctional in one form or another; relying on disability payments from the state for what little money they have.  These people have no future, whether male or female, and their relation to the state is constant in either the form of police or in the form of social workers.

      I do not live in a ghetto nor do my defendants; we live in small communities in central Iowa or in Des Moines which does have an area which is considered by some as a ghetto, but not really--nothing on the scale of our major cities such as Baltimore.  Here the same forces are at work however, created by our legislature-penalization and social programs both aimed at correcting the behavior of the poor.  We can't kill them like Hitler did but we have decided we can change them and if they don't change we put them in jail or prison and take their kids from them.  The one thing we can't do apparently is to accept them for what they are.

     Ms. Fernandez-Kelly thinks that two factors would make a difference:  education and property.  We don't often hear property as a factor in behavior but as they say in the classroom, it is intuitively obvious.  If a person has property, that person behaves in ways different from a person who has no property.  A person who owns his house lives differently in that house than a person who rents his house.  If you have nothing, jail isn't so bad.  In jail, you will be able to socialize with people like yourself; you will have three meals a day; you will have a warm bed in winter.  Sometimes it is better than being homeless.