When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., the investigations into the city revealed widespread racism that went beyond just one racist cop killing a young black man. What was found was a scheme to ticket low-income areas for just about anything you could imagine. It was concocted by local officials, and police offers were encouraged to issue as many tickets as they could. When the ticketed individuals were unable to pay, they would incur more charges, fees, and would end up in jail.
Basically, local officials were putting black men and women in jail to make money off of them. It was a modern-day debtors’ prison, which is (or should be) considered unconstitutional.
After this was discovered, the Obama-era Justice Department worked to clear up any confusion and provided “basic constitutional requirements.”
However, we now live in the Trump-era, which is an era of regression, repression, and flagrant disregard for human decency. Adding to that disregard, Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked 25 documents that included guidelines for issues such as storing explosives, accommodating people with disabilities, and yes, debtors’ prisons.
Sessions’ tried to explain the action:
‘Congress has provided for a regulatory process in statute, and we are going to follow it. This is good government and prevents confusing the public with improper and wrong advice. Therefore, any guidance that is outdated, used to circumvent the regulatory process or that improperly goes beyond what is provided for in statutes or regulation should not be given effect.’
According to Bains, he noted the explanation was nonsense. He wrote:
‘The fines and fees guidance created no new legal rules. It discussed existing law and cited model approaches from local jurisdictions.’
Basically, they created no new laws and was advice that institutions could choose to follow on their own volition.
Bains went on to note that out of the 25 documents Sessions pulled, 16 were related to civil rights.
‘Sixteen of those involved civil rights protections – including 10 related to the Americans With Disabilities Act and one on the special harms that unlawful fine and fee practices can have for young people. Withdrawing these documents is consistent with the Trump administration’s hostility to civil rights in a host of other areas: abandoning oversight of police departments, reinterpreting anti-discrimination statutes to deny protection to L.G.B.T. individuals and switching sides in key voting rights cases.
In a scathing tweet from former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, he criticized the move harshly.
‘The GOP’s idea of war on poverty is putting poor people in prison. Too many Republicans are way beyond vicious they are evil. Most annoying are those who call themselves Christians.’
It’s a little more than annoying. It’s disgusting. The Bible and Jesus actually covered quite a bit of the treatment of the poor. For instance, Proverbs 19:17 reads:
‘Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.’
Deuteronomy 15:11 says:
‘For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
Luke 14:13 says:
‘But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind …’
Proverbs 14:31 says:
‘Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.’
Proverbs 29:7 says:
‘A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.’
There is plenty more where that came from, and we would really like to encourage any Republican who considers themselves a Christian to pick up that thing they call a Bible and check it out.
It’s saddening to see the regressive path America is on. Trump ran on the platform of helping the poor man, the working man, and saving the middle class. However, the actions of his administration are true proof that all his campaigning was nothing but bluster and politicking. The poor won’t be saved by the Trump administration. They’ll be jailed by the Trump administration.
Featured image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.