By Bill Quigley. Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org
Three True Stories
Renee Delisle was one of over 3500 homeless people in Santa Cruz when she found out she was pregnant. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported she was turned away from a shelter because they did not have space for her. While other homeless people slept in cars or under culverts, Renee ended up living in an abandoned elevator shaft until her water broke.
Jerome Murdough, 56, a homeless former Marine, was arrested for trespass in New York because he was found sleeping in a public housing stairwell on a cold night. The New York Times reported that one week later, Jerome died of hypothermia in a jail cell heated to over 100 degrees.
Paula Corb and her two daughters lost their home and have lived in their minivan for four years. They did laundry in a church annex, went to the bathroom at gas stations, and did their studies under street lamps, according to America Tonight.
Fact One. Over half a million people are homeless
On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the US according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Most people are either spending the night in homeless shelters or in some sort of short term transitional housing. Slightly more than a third are living in cars, under bridges or in some other way living unsheltered.
Fact Two. One quarter of homeless people are children
HUD reports that on any given night over 138,000 of the homeless in the US are children under the age of 18. Thousands of these homeless children are unaccompanied according to HUD. Another federal program, No Child Left Behind, defines homeless children more broadly and includes not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but also those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship, living in cars, parks, bus or train stations, or awaiting foster care placement. Under this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 that local school districts reported there are over one million homeless children in public schools.
Fact Three. Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless
Over 57,000 veterans are homeless each night. Sixty percent of them were in shelters, the rest unsheltered. Nearly 5000 are female.
Fact Four. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness in women
More than 90% of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.
Fact Five. Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent
The lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. HUD has seen its budget slashed by over 50% in recent decades resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low income housing each and every year.
Fact Six. There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before
One eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001. The US needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low income families and as a result millions of families spend more than half their monthly income on rent.
Fact Seven. In the last few years millions have lost their homes
Over five million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008, one out of every ten homes with a mortgage. This has caused even more people to search for affordable rental property.
Fact Eight. The Government does not help as much as you think
There is enough public rental assistance to help about one out of every four extremely low income households. Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists. For example, Charlotte just opened up their applications for public housing assistance for the first time in 14 years and over 10,000 people applied.
Fact Nine. One in five homeless people suffer from untreated severe mental illness
While about 6% of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, 20 to 25% of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness according to government studies. Half of this population self-medicate and are at further risk of addiction and poor physical health. A University of Pennsylvania study tracking nearly 5000 homeless people for two years discovered that investing in comprehensive health support and treatment of physical and mental illnesses is less costly than incarceration, shelter and hospital services for the untreated homeless.
Fact Ten. Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime
A 2014 survey of 187 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found: 24% make it a city-wide crime to beg in public; 33% make it illegal to stand around or loiter anyplace in the city; 18% make it a crime to sleep anywhere in public; 43% make it illegal to sleep in your car; and 53% make it illegal to sit or lay down in particular public places. And the number of cities criminalizing homelessness is steadily increasing.
While the Governor of Missouri is sending in the National Guard to Ferguson, it is worth considering where the real violence is coming from.
One. Hours before the 12pm Sunday night curfew went into effect, peaceful nonviolent protestors were legally marching in Ferguson. Then without warning the police turned on the marchers. Purvi Shah, a human rights lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, was marching with hundreds of others and reported just after 10pm: “Just got tear gassed. Eyes burning. No warnings. People running with someone in wheelchair. This is lawlessness. Police fired on peaceful protestors.”
Two. The police tear gas canisters hit an eight year old child walking with his mother according to Yahoo.
Three. Two reporters were arrested at about 10pm Sunday night.
Four. Reporters in the peaceful march also got a taste of tear gas.
Five. Police threatened to shoot another journalist in the face because the police thought his camera light was on. Christopher Hayes with MSNBC was told to “get back! Or next time you’re going to be the one maced.”
Six. There is a serious case to be made that the police got jittery and overreacted thus causing the very violence they decry. The police initially said they had to take action because there were gunshots, but reporters indicate that there were fireworks which were confused as gunshots. The police later retracted the earlier report of gunshots. The police also reported people were throwing Molotov cocktails at police but no one ever saw any and many reports show only protestors throwing back the tear gas canisters which were fired at them by police.
Seven. The reasons for the protests we see in Ferguson is as American as apple pie. Almost 50 years ago, the 1968 Kerner Report on protests, rebellions and riots declared: “police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection—one for Negroes and one for whites.”
Eight. Sending in the National Guard will never solve this. The USA cannot police our way to the end of the Ferguson problems. The same 1968 Kerner identified 6 deeply held grievances of the communities where conflict broke out: police practices, unemployment and underemployment, inadequate housing, inadequate education, poor recreation facilities and programs, ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms. These demand justice, not the National Guard.
Nine. The problems shown to the nation by the Ferguson community contain their own solutions. “When all else fails to organize people, conditions will.” Marcus Garvey
Ten. Police violence and National Guard guns and might will never beat the people. As Purvi Shah, after being tear gassed, tweeted: “To the police: you just organized a bunch of freedom fighters. Thanks.”
(A version of this article with footnotes is available).
Here are the top ten examples of corporate welfare and welfare for the rich. There are actually thousands of tax breaks and subsidies for the rich and corporations provided by federal, state and local governments but these ten will give a taste.
One. State and Local Subsidies to Corporations. An excellent New York Times study by Louise Story calculated that state and local government provide at least $80 billion in subsidies to corporations. Over 48 big corporations received over $100 million each. GM was the biggest at a total of $1.7 billion extracted from 16 different states but Shell, Ford and Chrysler all received over a billion dollars each. Amazon, Microsoft, Prudential, Boeing and casino companies in Colorado and New Jersey received well over $200 million each.
Two. Direct Federal Subsidies to Corporations. The Cato Institute estimates that federal subsidies to corporations costs taxpayers almost $100 billion every year.
Three. Federal Tax Breaks for Corporations. The tax code gives corporations special tax breaks which reduced what is supposed to be a 35 percent tax rate to an actual tax rate of 13 percent, saving these corporations an additional $200 billion annually, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
Four. Federal Tax Breaks for Wealthy Hedge Fund Managers. Special tax breaks for hedge fund managers allow them to pay only 15% rate while the people they earned the money for usually pay 35% rate. This is the break where the multimillionaire manager pays less of a percentage in taxes than her secretary. The National Priorities Project estimates this costs taxpayers $83 billion annually and 68% of those who receive this special tax break earn more than $462,500 per year (the top one percent of earners).
Five. Subsidy to Fast Food Industry. Research by the University of Illinois and UC Berkeley documents that taxpayers pay about $243 billion each year in indirect subsidies to the fast food industry because they pay wages so low that taxpayers must put up $243 billion to pay for public benefits for their workers.
Six. Mortgage Deduction. The home mortgage deduction, which costs taxpayers $70 billion per year, is a huge subsidy to the real estate, banking and construction industries. The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that 77 percent of the benefit goes to homeowners with incomes over $100,000 per year.
Seven. The billions above do not even count the government bailout of Wall Street which all parties have done their utmost to tell the public they did not need, they paid back, or it was a great investment. The Atlantic Monthly estimates that $7.6 trillion was made available by the Federal Reserve to banks, financial firms and investors. The Cato Institute estimates (using government figures) the final costs at $32 to $68 billion, not including the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which alone cost more than $180 billion.
Eight. Each major piece of legislation contains new welfare for the rich and corporations. The Boston Globe analyzed the emergency tax legislation passed by Congress in early 2013 and found it contained 43 business and energy tax breaks worth $67 billion.
Nine. Huge corporations which engage in criminal or other wrongful activities protect their leaders from being prosecuted by paying huge fees or fines to the government. You and I would be prosecuted. These corporations protect their bosses by paying off the government. For example, Reuters reported that JPMorgan Chase, which made a preliminary $13 billion mortgage settlement with the US government, is allowed to write off a majority of the deal as tax deductible, saving the corporation $4 billion.
Ten. There are thousands of smaller special breaks for corporations and businesses out there. There is a special subsidy for corporate jets which cost taxpayers $3 billion a year. The tax deduction for second homes costs $8 billion a year. Fifty billionaires received taxpayer funded farm subsidies in the past twenty years.
If you want to look at the welfare for the rich and corporations start with the federal Internal Revenue Code. That is the King James Bible of welfare for the rich and corporations. Special breaks in tax code is the reason there are thousands of lobbyists in the halls of Congress, hundreds of lobbyists around each state legislature and tens of thousands of tax lawyers all over the country.
Obama CareThis is a powerpoint explaining Obamacare and how it connects with Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and the uninsured.
While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.
Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.”
Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner. A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”
Nationwide, the latest numbers from the FBI report that over 762,000 arrests per year are for marijuana, almost exactly half of all drug arrests.
Even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people.
For example, Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans. Over 84 percent were for possession only. While Louisiana’s population is 32 percent black, 60 percent of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide. In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.
In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to twenty years in prison for the third. In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years.
Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) argues that “the “war on drugs” has been, is, and forever will be, a total and abject failure. This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on people, our own people, our children, our parents, ourselves.” LEAP, which is made up of thousands of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities, has been advocating for the de-criminalization of drugs and replacing it with regulation and control since 2002.
Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it. National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana. Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana.
Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice. Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”
Defense lawyers are appealing the twenty year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year. This insanity must be stopped.