When hunger is a crime

CHICAGO, IL — I want to attend Chicago’s Moral Monday March, but I cannot because I am going to be in a Cook County courtroom to support two teenagers accused of retail theft. They had no food in their house. Mom’s paycheck didn’t post to her debit card when it was supposed to. An electronic glitch, they said. The food pantry was closed that week. Hunger and anger awakened the two boys and sent them to a grocery store at 3 a.m. They tried to shoplift cereal and frozen pizzas but they failed and are now in danger of facing convictions. Both are good kids; they’re not criminals. Hunger and anger lured them into a place where there was so much food.  They forgot that you can’t eat if you don’t have the money to buy.

I wish every city had a Moral Monday contingent to remind society that hungry children should be fed regardless of money. Moral Monday challenges society’s structural oppression and opposes the transfer of wealth from the public to the private. In other words, the corporate ruling class has utilized robotic technology to replace human labor, increasing their profits, but gutting our economy and throwing the workers to the wolves. Today’s “wolves” are the growing unemployment, homelessness, and the criminalization of poverty. Incarceration, and police brutality are an immoral justification for society’s failure to provide for people’s survival in a system that no longer needs them as workers and has no use for them.

My son is in jail in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He’s been unemployed for over two years.  He paid child support when he had jobs, but couldn’t when he was unemployed. In Wisconsin, when you can’t pay child support, you may lose your license and be fined.  As the fines and the unpaid child support increase, you will wind up in the county jail where the food is disgusting. My son has been served food that was rotten and bug infested. The jail is dirty, he was in a cell that he was sure had feces smeared on the ceiling. Trying to communicate with another inmate by note landed him in solitary for five days where food was even worse and where his small concrete cell was even filthier.  Ventilation was inadequate and his only furnishings were a tiny metal toilet, sink and a metal shelf that became his bed at 10 p.m. when he was issued a blanket that was taken away the next morning at 6 a.m.

This treatment is inhumane for anyone, even a person convicted of extremely horrible, violent crimes. How is it humane treatment for an unemployed man unable to pay child support?

The Moral Monday March reminds us that what we do unto the least of us is what we are doing to the Lord. Ultimately, our failure to be truly moral by recognizing and respecting everyone’s humanity is an indictment against our society and calls for us to change this immorality. I wish Waupaca had a Moral Monday movement.

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