Tag Archives: Philly

Criminalization of America’s Poor and Minorities on Trivial Beefs

9780226136714Vancouver       Over the last couple of days while traveling about I read on my Kindle a new book called, On the Run:  Fugitive Life in an American City, by budding sociologist, Alice Goffman, about a 6-year period of observation of a changing neighborhood in Philadelphia.  As the title makes clear the criminalization of this lower income, African-American neighborhood affecting men, women, the “clean” and “dirty,” as defined by their status with the police and courts, was pervasive.  Goffman argues that for many it was redefining their entire culture, social relationships, and future.

As a sidebar, having spent a good deal of time in Philly, over the years, it was fascinating to learn the argot of those streets where a “whip” is a car, an “elbow” is a driver’s license, an “AP” is an apartment, and so on.  And, not just in Philly but throughout urban America, her chapters on what constituted a “rider” and even more so a “hard rider,” women and men who would stick with someone on the run from the police even in the face of amazing pressure, brutality, and even the chance of their own arrest, was vivid.  The famous song from more than a dozen years ago about looking for a “ride and die” chick is a footnote in how long this criminalization of urban neighborhoods has been dominant.

Past the point where inevitably the reader will measure whether they in fact live with “riders,” which luckily I am absolutely sure of in my case, perhaps the most shocking overlay of this criminalization of our urban poor and minority communities is how trivial many of the so-called crimes are that are landing young men back in jail over and over again.  An overwhelming number of the beefs were for parole violations, many of them frankly ridiculously minor, like breaking curfew, having a drink, or driving a car.  Young people anywhere and everywhere are going to do those kinds of things just as part of L.I.F.E., but in these neighborhoods that gets you a back-to-jail card for months if not years.  Any experience in the criminal courts system also impresses how much the slightest trace of marijuana gets an arrest and puts you on the run as well, emphasizing even more how critical it is for our cities that there starts to be a movement for decriminalization and an end to mandatory sentencing.

As shocking though, were how many of the arrests and warrants were all about converting jails into the poor houses that we fought so hard to eliminate.   Time after time, in Goffman’s book the sword over a young man’s head was the problem of not having paid a court fine or some mandatory cost connected to the probation or parole.  With no jobs and no money, these chickenstuff fines of $50 here, $100 there, with interest and penalties building up were simply predatory and almost pushing people without income or jobs to have to go south on the law in order to satisfy the law.  People are being arrested for being poor.  An editorial in the New York Times, makes me think that perhaps they were reading Goffman’s book as well.  I hope so!

This same criminalization is what we are seeing in the deportation of immigrants where many of the so-called crimes that are being used to deport someone is the crime of having crossed the border illegally or attempting to live “on the run,” just as Goffman’s 6th street boys were doing.

This expensive, morally and political bankrupt process is a criminal injustice system tilted totally against the black, brown, and poor in our society.  We have to stop this.


Comcast, Internet, Arrogance, and Free Speech

New Orleans    Another day, another dollar in Comcast land where it turns out in their view of the world, no promises need be kept, customers should pay and not be heard, government is only for them, not for the people, and if they say it’s good, then, damn, it must be good:  Comcast-in-wonderland!

In Shreveport as Local 100 United Labor Union members pushed Comcast for action and access to the Internet for our Head Start parents, TV cameras were rolling and they were “not happy” as one of our members reported.

In Philadelphia where they had promised that there would be a detailed response to demands that our partner, ACTION United had brought forward in behalf of our coalition two weeks previously, yesterday came and went with no response from the company.   Houston Local 100 members got the same response from two Comcast governmental relations guys in their meeting on Friday.  Little Rock is waiting for its meeting soon.  We are on a “need to know” basis!

In Philly and Pittsburgh, members of ACTION United are taking the Comcast issue forward with a “baloney” sandwich picnic in their honor today.

City staffers in Pittsburgh sympathetic to our demands that Comcast lower the digital divide forwarded us an email from the local Comcast executive which is priceless in its arrogance and, frankly, lack of good sense about the basics involved in a democracy including the freedom of speech for folks like us who want to really see their Internet program work.  Somehow, Pittsburgh Comcast’s “Frank” seems to believe that if Comcast says “internet essentials” is a “great program,” then that ought to be enough said without worrying about the fact that no one is getting the Internet and virtually no one knows about the program.  Ol’ Frank wants to pretend that’s all on the shoulders of the Pittsburgh School System, because they haven’t “reported any complaints.”

Frank, ol’ buddy, first it’s not the job of the public schools to shill your so-called “internet essentials” program for you, and, secondly, if virtually no one has heard of your so-called “great” program, how would they complain?  And, who would they complain to?  Well, Frank, they would do exactly what they are doing and complain to people and organizations just like us who are committed to making sure that Comcast delivers on their program to provide low cost internet access.  And, despite your request to the Pittsburgh City Council members that they simply “not listen” to us as you indicated in your email, we’ve got news for you, they actually believe that it’s important to listen and respond to citizens (you might call them customers if you cared to actually really provide lower income families with internet!).

Don’t take my word for it.  Listen to Frank’s own words drawn from his email:

I have communicated with the Pgh Public Schools yesterday and they told me they have not received any complaints about the program.  We [Comcast?] ask that you do not [Frank’s bold!] engage with this group [ACTION United] and if any questions need to be answered please follow up with me.  Internet Essentials is a great program and benefits all families whose children are on the Free lunch program whether they are a Comcast customer or not.

The whole email is a classic, and, personally, I would simply love [my emphasis!] to know how Frank believes that this program currently benefits “all families…whether they are a Comcast customer or not.”

But, answers to those questions are unlikely to be available today in Pittsburgh even to members of ACTION United; since Frank also made it clear he was not going to actually show up at the City Council meeting.  Oh, no, not Frank, he’s a cable guy with Comcast.  He signed off saying, he’ll “watch on TV.”

Hello, Comcast!  Let us introduce you to America.  It’s a different country than you imagined it might be!  Live up to your word.  Provide real access to the internet for the poor, and agree to be accountable to your promises.  Hear our demands and “engage” with us directly!