Just where does freedom and liberty collide with the civic responsibilities human beings fall heir to simply by living in a cooperative community of persons–a common humanity?
To listen to people like Congressman Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, and Chairman of the House Budget Committee—nowhere.
That’s right—at no point does anyone have a responsibility to see to the common good of everyone.
Ryan told the nation’s press that the urban poor, itself a reference point for blacks you don’t like, are in that condition of abject poverty because they don’t want to work. While his comment that African-Americans have a problem with absent fathers and broken families is true, he failed to mention that most of them are sitting in a prison somewhere—the lion’s share for non-violent drug possession. The War on Drugs declared by Richard Nixon some 35 years ago has been overwhelmingly concentrated in urban black and Latino neighborhoods with predictable results.
Though whites offend more often than people of color, those on the dark side of the twenty-first century American color line are six to seven more times more likely to be serving felony count prison terms. The process here is self-perpetuating.
And if you become a convicted felon, few employers will take a chance on anyone who is in that condition when required under the terms of their probation to reveal that information on job applications. So much so that Michelle Alexander, in the book of the decade, has labeled this system “The New Jim Crow.”
The author of this essay is even more emphatic so as to call it the “Injustice System.”
Ryan and the Tea Party herd grazing in the House of Representatives want to do something about having to support so many poor people on the Federal dole—preeminently as they fit the common racial stereotype of how blacks are supposed to be.
Their plan? To block every attempt of President Obama and Congressional Democrats to construct some group of targeted, private sector stimulated, and bi-partisan jobs programs. Even the relatively large number of people of color who do NOT have a felony record and want to work— as almost every single one of them do, then can’t find work when it is not there to find.
Fox News Commentator Bill O’Reilly has let whites know the specific mark of Cain to discern who these social reprobates are—anyone with a neck tattoo. So here, tattoos become the indicator of a person’s relative worth on the job market and in life. Note to Bill: the younger generation has completely embraced tattoos, and it is no respecter of race, color or creed. Yes, gangs use them to tell all what gang they’re with, and what a badass they’ve been. Readers may be thinking of where to place an O’Reilly tattoo and what it should be but we’ll not be detained by that.
A Facebook friend of mine, a good guy, yet ignorant of the truth, is fond of telling me that it is all about his freedom not to have to lend his money for social relief of the poor and needy. That includes a hell of a lot of children. Are they criminals just for being born in such modest circumstances? Is he not aware that the Son of God was born in just that condition?
The circular illogic he follows is that shredding the social safety net across the board is all about Americans gaining even more freedom. Essentially it is the new fundamental American right, declared by conservatives not to be burdened by those without the ability to make it on their own. The guy is perfectly willing and even hotly a proponent of cutting food stamps, welfare, and even Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And yes, lock up the bastards in black, brown, the swarthy and yellow.
Here’s where the boomerang he has rhetorically thrown comes to hit him squarely in the face:
In Wisconsin, it costs $23,000 a year to lock away people you are afraid of. And on the Federal level it can run as high as $43,000 each annum. Where is the logic in that? Unless it is founded in fear, ignorance and misplaced mistrust of others in our communities.
What if we did a Judgment Day style separating of the Sheep and Goats and pardoned all who have not used violence against others but whose drug dependencies have yoked them to a prison system that separates them from their families and leaves them unemployable—and then racially targeted by those such as Ryan and O’Reilly?
WISDOM, a State-wide group of churches is doing just that with their 11 X 15 program, a modest yet significant effort to trim the State’s prison population by 11,000 by 2015. Roughly calculated that’s a savings of a cool two and a half million dollars off the State’s bloated prison budget every single year and ten million plus within a four year governor’s term. Done on a national or Federal scale the cost savings are almost incalculable. And the really bad people we must keep separated from us for the public safety are still locked away.
Lost in all this is that if drug treatment were added to the mix as 11 X 15 contemplates, you have a potential in Wisconsin by 2015 of eleven thousand redeemed souls and lives!
Sadly, these things are all lost on conservatives like Ryan, O’Reilly, and my friend on Facebook, and there are millions like him.
They have created a new fundamental right of Americans not yet seen in this country: the fundamental American right of social and economic irresponsibility; a selfishness and shortsightedness so vast that it can be claimed as the new American frontier. It is rights and freedoms without the attendant responsibilities. Is that what we want the frontier of our national development to be? O’Reilly? I meant really of course.
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
for Struggles for Justice
“Speaking for the Voiceless, Protecting the Vulnerable”