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The Crooks Get Cash While the Poor Get Screwed

Posted on Jul 6, 2009
AP photo / Amy Sancetta

Children leave a Chicago homeless shelter on their way to school. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than half of children in low-income families have at least one parent who works full-time.

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

Brown found that life had changed when he got out. He had lost his job as a fork lift operator. And there were no new jobs to be found. He had faithfully paid child support until his arrest but, with no income, he could not pay from jail and now he was being hauled into court by the state every few weeks for being in arrears for $13,000. The mother of his three youngest boys goes to court with him. She explains that he paid regularly while he had work. She explains that when she works on the weekends Brown takes the kids. She asks that he be forgiven until he can get a job and begin paying again. But there are no jobs.

“I would not be in arrears in child support if I had not been incarcerated for something I didn’t do,” he says. “I will never get above ground owing $13,000. How can I pay $120 a week when I don’t have a job?”

Brown lives on $200 a month in food stamps and $40 in cash. Welfare will pay his apartment for another four months. He is barely making it. I ask him what he will do when he loses the rent subsidy.

“I’ll be homeless,” he says.


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“My son says come down to Texas,” he adds. “Start a new life with me. But what about my three little boys? I can’t leave them. I can’t leave them in Trenton. They need a father.”

Brown works out every day. He does calisthenics. He is a vegetarian. He volunteers at a food pantry. He attends the Jerusalem Baptist Church with his little boys. “They are church kids,” he tells me proudly. “They are pretty much raised by the church.”

He is trying to keep himself together. But he lives in a world that is falling apart. The gangs on the streets of Trenton carry Glock 9-millimeter pistols and AK-47 assault rifles. When the Trenton police stop a car or raid a house filled with suspected gang members, they approach with loaded M-16s. A local newspaper, The Trentonian, reports the daily chronicle of crime, decay and neglect. The lead story in the day’s paper, which Brown has with him, is about a young man named James Deonte James, whose street name is “Lurch.” James was charged in the death of a 13-year-old girl during a gang shooting. He is reputed to be a “five star general in the Sex Money Murder set of the Bloods street gang.”

In another story, an ex-con and reputed mobster, Michael “Mickey Rome” Dimattia, was arrested in his car after a woman behind the wheel was seen driving erratically. “Mickey Rome,” dressed in a black bathrobe with a red scarf around his neck, was found to be wearing a bulletproof vest, with three guns stuck in his waistband, and had a crack pipe, crack cocaine and prescription pills in his pockets. He had been convicted in 1990 of killing a 17-year-old boy with a shotgun blast to the head. He served less than three years for the murder.

A feature story on Page 4 of the paper is about a man with AIDS who raped his girlfriend’s son 55 times and infected the boy with the virus. The boy was 9 when the rapes took place.

“There are thousands more guns out there than when I was on the street,” Brown says. “It is easier to buy a gun than get liquor from a liquor store.”

He says he rarely goes out at night, even to the corner store. It is too dangerous.

The desperation is palpable. People don’t know where to turn. Benefits are running out. More and more people are out of work.

“You see things getting worse and worse,” he says. “You see people who wonder how they are going to eat and take care of themselves and their kids. You see people starting to do anything to get food, to hustle or rob, to go back to doing things they do not want to do. Good people start doin’ bad things. People are getting eviler.”

He pauses.

“All things are better with God,” he says softly, looking down at the tabletop.

He is reading a book about the Bible. It is about Jesus and God. It is about learning to trust in God’s help. In America that is about all the poor have left. And when God fails them, they are on their own.

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By Sheba, July 6, 2009 at 9:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

on that note, i just read someone commnting on some website that “Last week the CA. governator and the legislators requested financial relief for the state budget.  Obama’s anwser, “not one red penny.”  Yet, on that very same day Israel was given 2.77 billion in aid.  People of America, this shit ain’t right! ”

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By felicity, July 6, 2009 at 9:28 am Link to this comment

Were the MSM to air these individual stories around the clock and non-stop, the people of this country just might start making demands on their reps in government to begin working for our welfare rather than as they are now working for the welfare of about 2 percent of us.

It amuses me that there are too many of us so quick to find fault with those who bought houses they couldn’t possibly pay for when, on the other hand, we give a pass to the likes of AIG which obligated itself for $500 billion while having 5 times less than that in assets.  Not only do we give AIG a pass, we reward it.

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By analogkid, July 6, 2009 at 9:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The ruling class is sweet.  We should keep voting them into power because they think sky fairies are real. 

Every politician in power thinks sky fairies are real.  If a politician tells you they believe in god, stop voting for them.  They can’t possibly have any critical thinking skills that would be necessary to solve any real problems.

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By godistwaddle, July 6, 2009 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

Justice would demand that insurance and banking executives would meet piano wire and lamp-posts.  Thousands upon thousands of lives ruined demand hanging.  They’re lucky the Constitution was written to protect the rich.

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By lester333, July 6, 2009 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

I have an idea!  Let Chris Hanson of MSNBC Predator sting fame do another study.  We will set up a drug dealer and when the white sheeple come to buy, bust their ass, after we follow them to their mansions, with all the cameras..  You reckon there will be ANY outrage?

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By Self Wise, July 6, 2009 at 7:22 am Link to this comment

This story is bringing me to tears.  I am like mr. Brown’s son, and I was lucky to watch my father raised from his struggles with the underground drug economy and subsequent drug addiction to become a counselor for other homeless vietnam era war veterans who arrived at the very shelter he took refuge in.  we are all so selfish. 

when will we overcome our sedation

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By Cathy, July 6, 2009 at 7:19 am Link to this comment

I do legal transcription for a living and I do a ton of sentencing and plea bargains and trials for the New Jersey court system.  These past two years as I have watched the heinous crimes on Wall Street and in the health care industry I find these cases more and more heartbreaking.  I do both audio and video transcription, so sometimes I get to see the defendants, although they rarely testify.  I have seen them convicted on what seem very weak cases overall, whether they testify or not.

Thank you for doing this story. It must be very difficult for you at times to see all the pain that America inflicts on its citizens—and it doesn’t have to be this way.  I sometimes have nightmares at the end of my work day and I have to work very hard to put each case behind me. 

I am glad that Brown was found not guilty, but the idea that this man lost everything again and sat two years in a jail cell in these abysmal conditions waiting for his day in court.  It is so common. 

In 2009 America really should be better than this.  As citizens we have a lot of work to do.  Six months into his Presidency, Obama does not look like the answer, though—unless he does an incredible about face and listen to the people who elected him, rather than the ones who bought him.

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By rico, suave, July 6, 2009 at 7:03 am Link to this comment

Correct me if I’m wrong: Brown was found not guilty and is a free man. The cops, THE COPS!, in the courtroom agree that he got screwed by the system. It was the low lifes in the jail, not the PO-lice or the System, who made his life miserable for two years. He was a 16 year old father and drug dealer: What exactly is moral scum?

I saw Bernie Madoff living large on his yacht in the Hamptons with whats-his-name Stanford over the 4th of July weekend. Will there ever be justice??

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By Kay Johnson, July 6, 2009 at 7:01 am Link to this comment

I feel deep compassion and empathy for Mr. Brown. His strength speaks well of his character—that he stuck to his innocence and fought the system. That, by itself, can not be easy. The fact that he had to spend two years in jail waiting for his trial date should open our eyes, fully, to how broken our system of justice really is. The same thing could happen to any of us.

Now, he’s $13,000 in debt, and even his ex-wife is empathetic, but not the court system. If Mr. Brown had credit cards, those companies would be demanding that he pay them, first, which, I believe is now the law—passed as part of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform. Social Justice? Is there any in this country?

Mr. Brown would pay his child support—if he could. Jobs keep disappearing, by the hundreds of thousands, and states are in dire straits, partly due to Clinton’s welfare reform. Today, “Welfare to Work” is not a feasible option with the financial crisis continuing to worsen on a daily basis.

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By Virginia777, July 6, 2009 at 6:32 am Link to this comment

Our treatment of the poor and people of color most definitely seems like Power in our Country has decided to merely “rid” itself of them, by throwing them in jail.

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By TanyaRay, July 6, 2009 at 6:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a social worker for the homeless and high risk populations, I see this every day.  Thank you for telling the story.

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By lizleaf, July 6, 2009 at 6:05 am Link to this comment

Thank you for your powerful writing. You so clearly weave the story that it is easier for me to begin to explain to my middle class peers.

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By Tricky Prickears, July 6, 2009 at 4:30 am Link to this comment
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This is a fairly accurate account of the way the NJ criminal justice system works. Many want to believe that it’s about race. That’s not the whole story. It’s more about money, and one’s ability/inability to hire a private attorney. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who doesn’t walk into court with a private attorney, is going to be put through the ringer. Public defenders, or as some call them, “public pretenders”, are only good for making deals. And it seems the courts go ahead and make the assumption that if you request a public defender, you are guilty and looking to make a deal. Or, you can’t scrape together $500 for a private attorney, which makes you a drug addict or a vagrant, and probably deserve to be in jail anyway. That sounds harsh, but unfortunately, that’s the way judges and prosecutors operate. Also, having a private attorney gives you credibility when trying to defend a simple case such as mistaken identity. No one, not the cops, the prosecutor or the judge will believe anything you say unless you have an attorney.

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By Gerry Lykins, July 6, 2009 at 3:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In the tradition of the muckrakers of previous times, Chris Hedges’ voice (among some others) is of vital importance.

If our citizens are to wake up .. we need Chris to keep up his crucial work!  Thank you, Mr. Hedges!

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