By Susan K. Smith
George Curry Media Columnist
One of the most profound statements I ever heard from one of my church members years ago was, “Rev, there’s a lot of money in poor people.”
He was referring to low-income people bearing, disproportionately, a lion’s share of money collected from different sources, which ultimately helps keep government and corporate operations humming.
The poor pay higher interest rates for everything from car loans, to home loans; low-income people usually pay more for groceries and gas tends to be higher in low- income neighborhoods. Everyone knows that it is low-income people who are keeping payday lenders in business, an operation that feels no compunction at all at charging poor people more than 300 percent interest on loans, keeping them in poverty.
And the poor traditionally pay more for “justice.” As NPR noted, “…the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.”
When Marissa Alexander, a young, single Black woman fired a shot into the air to ward off her boyfriend, who had beaten her repeatedly over time and was threatening to kill her. She was arrested, charged, convicted and jailed. She was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison; she was released earlier this year after serving three years, and will be on house arrest for two more years. This, in spite of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, was acquitted and served no time for his offense.
If Black people, in general, get the brunt of a justice system that is not and which has never been “just” for them, Black females have it worse. Single, low-income Black women may have the sorriest situation of all. Another story on NPR explained how low-income women suffering from domestic abuse are being targeted by laws that say if she complains too often or if the police are called to her residence too often because she is being beaten by a spouse or partner, she can be evicted.
The fact that state and local lawmakers are passing such laws is infuriating in and of itself, but the fact that, once again, “the least of these” are the people being targeted, is immoral. The disregard for the lives of Black women seems to be even more blatant in this political season where raw and rabid racism is rearing its ugly head with abandon. Clearly, these draconian laws that would put an abused woman out on the street – just because she’s been abused – seems to add to the reasons the chant “Black Lives Matter” is so loud today.
The net effect of these laws, according to the story on NPR, is that women who are being abused are reluctant to call police when they are being beaten. Landlords who do not evict these women or these couples are subject to fines of up to $1,000 a day, and so it would seem that their hands are tied as they try to hold onto their livelihoods in these situations. But the women being beaten feel the heat of racism and sexism breathing down their backs even as they are abused, and because of these laws, they feel helpless to do anything about it, either in saving and preserving their own lives or in protecting their children.
There are a lot of issues floating about that should raise the ire of good, church-going, Jesus- believing people. Pastors, it seems, need to be lifting up this travesty of justice and letting people know what’s going on. Silence should not be an option. The thought that a woman, any woman, is “out there” because she has been evicted for being beaten is mind-blowing. The faith community ought not sit on its hands and allow this to be.
Rev. Susan K Smith is an ordained minister who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She is the author of several books, including “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives” and “The Book of Jeremiah: The Life and Ministry of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. She is available to preach or do keynote addresses. Reach her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org