DON'T BLAME THE POOR FOR POVERTY: An editorial


root - Posted on 01 January 2000

by PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE/TRIBUNO DEL PUEBLO

Our country prides itself in providing its citizens with equal
fundamental rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. History
shows that these fundamental rights have been and continue to be
compromised. In many cases they were compromised under the
assumption that people of color were not equals, and today we see
a distinct fissure between the haves and have-nots -- those that
can afford to have rights, and those that simply can't afford
them. The U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision on March 26,
2002, confirming that tenants residing in public housing will be
evicted if anyone in their household, a guest, or other person
under their control engages in any illegal drug-related
activities, is a prime example of this unfair "selectivity of
rights."

The Supreme Court ruling came in response to a combination of
cases in which tenants were evicted because someone else in their
household was involved in drug activities. One of the cases
involves 63-year-old Barbara Hill and 71-year-old Willy Lee, who
have been in public housing for over two decades, and whose
grandsons were caught smoking marijuana in the parking lot of
their apartment. Another involves a 63-year-old woman, Pearle
Rucker, whose mentally disabled daughter was caught with drugs
fairly near the Oakland housing project they resided in. Rucker
argues that she never observed any drug use on behalf of her
daughter. Lastly, the fourth case involves Herman Walker, a
disabled 71-year-old man, whose caretaker and guests were found in
the possession of cocaine in Walker's apartment. Although Walker
fired the caretaker, he was still given an eviction notice.

All of the tenants above were sent to the Oakland streets
regardless of their age, circumstances, or lack of knowledge that
the person who they were responsible for was engaged in drug-
related activities. Many of the tenants had lived in public
housing for years; how could they possibly afford anything else?
Rents aren't getting any lower. The Just Cause Coalition in
Oakland reported that rents in Oakland have increased 25 percent
in 2001 alone. In 1998 there were 84,000 low-income renters, but
only 36,000 low-income rental units. Public housing is therefore
essential for many families that qualify. In order to qualify for
public housing in Oakland, residents cannot make more than 30
percent of the city's family median income. Currently, most people
living in public housing are single mothers with two or more
children, senior citizens, and disabled people.

Hence, we come to an irrefutable contradiction. During President
Roosevelt's era and his analysis of the country's poor, the
"culture of poverty" was deemed to be an individual issue. The
whole philosophy of "blame the individual," began to saturate
American minds. If you were poor, it was because you weren't
working hard enough; you were lazy or perhaps incapable or
unwilling to compete. The assumption was that capitalism provided
everyone with tools for prosperity, and if you were poor it was
simply your choice. And Americans believed it. They still believe
it. And they will continue to believe it, unless we begin to
disclose the truth. The truth is that the number of poor continues
to grow at an exponential rate. We are all human beings that want
to live well, want our children fed, and want to live life to the
fullest. The second reality is that in our country you have to be
able to afford it all. If you can't afford it, then you lack the
basic necessities for survival. First the poor are accountable for
themselves. Now they're not only accountable for themselves, but
they are responsible for others as well. How is that just? So if
the poor are responsible for those that reside in their apartment,
then who's responsible for the poor that reside in the United
States? When is our government going to be held accountable for
our poor, homeless, elderly, and handicapped?

It's not really about ridding our communities of drugs. If that
were really the issue, Congress would be focusing on the
millionaires who can afford to produce the drug, smuggle it into
the U.S., and whose middle men bring it into our poor communities.
They are the true criminals, and who ironically would never find
themselves in the position that public housing tenants are in. Why
not focus on the root of the problem? It's all a scapegoat.
Throwing people out on the street will not solve anything. It will
only increase the number of homeless we have on our streets, the
number of ill and malnourished, and the number of neglected
Americans. The U.S. Supreme Court decision is an attack on the
poor. When can they ever strive for prosperity if they're
constantly bombarded with laws that strip them of their civil
liberties? The new class of poor is growing, and as Congress
attempts to disperse them, they are going nowhere. They will be on
park benches, on street corners, under trees, and if they're lucky
they will be working at fast food joints, serving coffee, cleaning
buildings, bringing your groceries, building, painting, selling
... enough to survive.

The means exist to end poverty. But we are going to have to fight
for a new system -- one that does not blame the poor for their
poverty.

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This article originated in the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE/TRIBUNO DEL PUEBLO
(Online Edition), Vol. 29 No. 5/ May, 2002; P.O. Box 3524,
Chicago, IL 60654; Email: pt@lrna.org; http://www.lrna.org
Feel free to reproduce and use unless marked as copyrighted. The
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