A fugitive people within a nation is tyranny.

Posts tagged ‘murder’

How the US Legal System Screws Poor Parents

father-child-in-prisonA system full of flawed logic that winds up hurting children more than it helps them.

by Wendy Paris

Walter Scott wasn’t just a black man in America shot by a police officer; he also was a divorced father. While debate rages about excessive use of police force, his death points to another troubling practice—the incarceration of poor parents for failing to pay child-support.

For the most part, these are not “deadbeat dads”; they’re dead broke dads. Seventy percent of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents with no or low reported earnings, according to the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Their ex-wives often are poor, too. For these families, our punitive child support policies function like a de facto debtor’s prison for fathers. This, at a time when divorce, more broadly, has dramatically improved for many. While family scholars and journalists voice concern about a growing “marriage divide”—the way that marriage has become almost a luxury good attained by the “haves” and eschewed or effectively denied to the poor—a similar sorting is happening with divorce and co-parenting.

On the one hand, celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow seek conscious uncouplings. Upper- and middle-class couples seeking divorce in the US benefit from ever-increasing psychological, financial, and parenting resources. The law itself has improved divorce for many. New legal approaches such as mediation and collaborative counsel can make filing itself a mutually uplifting experience. These forms of “alternative dispute resolution” help adults make good decisions for everyone in the family, and steer clear of the divisive, anger-escalating spectacle of family court. Divorce can be seen as another awkward life passage, one that generates laughs, as on Bravo network’s new show The Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.

kangaroo courtBut if a family finds itself in court, the system seems stacked against the poor. “Many states have two systems, one for married parents and one for poor people/welfare cases that are funneled through ‘paternity dockets’ where they barely get to say a word,” says Daniel Hatcher, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and a prolific researcher of and advocate for child support reform. “It’s a tribunal that’s just about child-support and paternity. It’s crowded. Judges are jaded. They face huge case loads.” As the trend toward unmarried parenting continues, especially among the poor, these paternity dockets look to grow even more crowded, meting out rushed decisions to more families.

While in court, a non-custodial parent, usually the father, may have a chance to explain to a busy judge his financial situation—perhaps he’s unemployed and worried about falling behind on rent. In many states, the judge can decide that this father could be earning minimum wage, impute that income to him, and set a custody amount he must pay the mother of his child as a percentage of his potential (that is to say, fictitious) earnings.

great-child-support-incomeMaybe this obligation pushes him to scramble for a job. Perhaps it takes a few months. All the while, the child support debt has been accumulating. Now he has the monthly obligation plus back payment. (This is where the Bradley Amendment kicks in.) Some states terminate parental rights or throw a parent in jail or prison for back child support, or “non-compliance” with court orders. In South Carolina, the court can order the noncompliant father to appear to explain his delinquency, charge him $1,500 in the process, and jail him for up to a year. South Carolina is hardly an outlier. In Texas, a parent can be incarcerated even after he’s paid back his child support debt. (Texas is infamous for overcrowded courts, too. In one court in Harris County, Texas, a court master decided 500 paternity and child support cases in one day.)

Now the father is in jail; for some, like Scott, incarceration means the end of that great (or not so great) job. While in jail or prison, child support debt continues to mount in many states, some of which consider incarceration “voluntary unemployment.” In some states, you can apply for a child support modification while behind bars, but many parents do not know about this option, may find the process confusing, and may not realize their child support debt continues. Studies from a few states show that on average, a parent with a child support case enters jail or prison about $10,000 behind; he leaves owning more like $30,000. This debt is unlikely ever to be paid. The national child-support debt is more than $115 billion.

empty-pockets-robbed-court-orderIn South Carolina, if the non-custodial parent accumulates $500 in back child support while unemployed, the state can suspend or revoke his driver’s license as punishment. Say our unemployed father is a truck driver. Without his license, he’s lost his ability to work, and probably his sense of autonomy as an adult, and his willingness to cooperate with a system that’s working against him. As Scott’s brother Rodney told the New York Times, “Every job he has had, he has gotten fired from because he went to jail because he was locked up for child support. He got to the point where he felt like it defeated the purpose.”

Incarceration also prevents a parent from spending time with his children. Research from a variety of areas shows that when the non-custodial parent spends time with his children, he’s more likely to pay child support. Forty years of research on child development shows that children benefit from having a good relationship with both parents, or parent-type figures. Incarceration yanks a parent right out of a child’s life.

ebt-card-welfareIf a custodial parent—usually the mother—seeks Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, the program that replaced welfare) or food stamps, both parents are treated like bad children. The mother is required to name the father, establish paternity, and sue the father in court for support, even if they have an in-kind arrangement that’s working. The pursuit of child support can destroy relationships. The money, if he has it, often goes back to the state for supporting the brood, not to his children. Meanwhile, the dads who can’t pay may find themselves in jail or prison, unable to help mom in other ways, such as picking up the kids from school or throwing a ball around on weekends.

The logic flaw baffles the mind, and hurts the heart, especially since about half of the nation’s back child support is owed to the government. In many states, child support collected in the name of the custodial parent receiving government aid does not go to that parent. It goes to the government instead, to pay for the cost of the food stamps of TANF. “The idea is that if we’re supporting this mom, we should be able to go after the dad to recoup this cost,” says Hatcher. “The guidelines don’t really work for these welfare cases at all. Most policy is driven by discussion about cases where both parents are working, middle class families on up; you plug in both parents’ income and then transfer to the custodial parent. That doesn’t make any sense when the money goes to the government.”

How have we arrived at these anti-family policies?

captiveIn the 1980s and ‘90s, the notion of the “deadbeat dad” loomed large in the public conscious, in part because of one spectacularly flawed and widely-cited study—since retracted by its own author—that purported to show divorced mothers subsisting at a third of their former standard of living, while the fathers lived better than ever. For many custodial parents, child support is the road out of poverty. Much child support went uncollected, and enforcement policies were changed to improve the situation. Some policies worked; the Office of Child Support Enforcement today still publishes reports showing continued gains in money collected. Threat of jail was considered a good motivator for delinquent dads, and it may be in some cases.

When it comes to the poor, however, these policies can create more harm than good. Maybe some fathers refuse to pay out of spite, while some mothers actively want their children’s father behind bars, if he’s violent, for example. But as research from a variety of areas shows, most of these poor families are fragile relationships, perhaps begun while very young, both people harboring hope for a future of stability and cooperation, even reconciliation or romance.

scarlet-letter-adulteryOld ideology probably contributes to our current policies as well—a view of faltering families that’s about as enlightened as something out of The Scarlet Letter. In England, Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601 authorized towns to sue fathers of unwed mothers to reimburse them for assistance provided to their children. Early “bastardy acts” allowed colonies to incarcerate pregnant unwed mothers to protect the state from the financial burden of the child. Today’s laws are not as different as you’d expect. Lurking underneath lies an entrenched view that fathers are the lazy enemies of their own families, and poor mothers, in some way brought this on themselves. (You see this kind of view in the comments section of a recent piece in Concurring Opinions by law professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone on the child support link in the Walter Scott affair.)

Some of the resources benefitting middle and upper-class divorcing couples help the poor, too. Technology, for example, allows those across the economic spectrum to read about their state’s laws online and access forms without shelling out for a lawyer. Courthouses around the country now have staffed self-help centers to guide pro se litigants (a.k.a. the do-it-yourself divorcees) through the paperwork. Increasingly, lawyers offer “unbundled” services, a consultation on an hourly basis. Most states have parenting classes and workshops for divorcing parents. Surveys show, and casual conversation confirms, wide satisfaction with these workshops.

Scott-police-fatal-shootingBut unmarried parents as a group get fewer resources, and if one parent sues the other in court, the kind of Orwellian child support laws that dogged Walter Scott kick in across the states. The overarching principle is the best interest of the child (a legal myth), but this aim gets subverted in policies that hurt the whole family.

There are solutions, the most promising of which take a problem-solving, rather than punitive approach. In Virginia, child support enforcement workers have begun reaching out to employers to find work for non-compliers, rather than more jail time. The state also has retooled its child support guidelines and begun launching programs aimed at helping poor fathers improve job-hunting and parenting skills. Some states have experimented with assessing child support only if a non-custodial parent has a minimum reserve of income. States, including California and Ohio, have passed statutes requiring the exercise of discretion rather than automatically referring certain child welfare cases to child support enforcement services.

In Maryland, Hatcher has worked on legislation to allow the state to automatically disable child support arrears during incarceration. This reform passed, but is not widely enforced. Hatcher notes that one stumbling block to reform is poor communication between child support enforcement and the criminal justice system.

This problem of poor communication—long the dominion of marriage counselors—is one I’ve seen repeatedly in my own research on divorce. I’d assumed that bad divorces result from a dearth of good ideas, but found instead that there are creative, humane solutions coming from a variety of states and various disciplines— and abysmal communication of them. In divorce, as in marriage, good communication may be the best way to suture a gap.

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The Character Assassination Of Black Men

reposted from ThinkProgress by Moody Jim Rathbone

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony ButtsOn Wednesday, the Washington Post obtained a Baltimore Police Department document, which states that a prisoner in the vehicle transporting Freddie Gray heard Gray “banging against the walls” and “intentionally trying to injure himself.” The Post was given permission to publish the information, provided that the name of the witness remained anonymous, yet the newly-released details counter previous reports about the events leading up to Gray’s death. What is consistent, however, is police departments’ selective release of information that paints people injured or killed by police in a bad light — and mainstream media’s decision to buy into it.

Since Gray’s death, BPD’s missteps in arresting him have been well-documented. In widely-publicized videos of the arrest, Gray yells in pain as three officers drag him to their van. They refused to give Gray, an asthmatic, an inhaler. They didn’t put his seatbelt on. And sometime between his arrest and hospital admission, Gray’s voice box was crushed and his spinal cord severed.

But of all the documents compiled during the course of BPD’s investigation, the one given to the Washington Post offers a different narrative: that Gray injured himself. That document minimizes officer responsibility for the 25-year-old’s death, and it’s emblematic of a larger police strategy to deflect blame.

Scott-police-fatal-shootingIn some instances, officers make false claims that are eventually disproved. Before video of Officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back surfaced, North Charleston police claimed Scott grabbed Slager’s Taser and attempted to use it. The Cleveland Police Department said Tamir Rice was sitting at a table, was told multiple times to put his hands up, and reached for his gun before officers shot and killed him. Video later disproved the department’s claims.

In other cases, police disclose background information that has nothing to do with the encounters in question, but which seems to undermine the character of someone who is no longer alive to defend themselves. Sanford Police told the Orlando Sentinel that, prior to his death, Trayvon Martin (who was killed by a private citizen and not a police officer) was suspended for an empty marijuana baggie. In the case against Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot Oscar Grant in the back while he lay on a train station floor, defense attorneys brought up Grant’s criminal background and history of resisting arrest.

Other times, officials reveal details that fuel local outrage. After Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson, the Ferguson Police Department released a video of Brown robbing a convenience store. The day before, Captain Ron Johnson took to the streets in solidarity with peaceful demonstrators, and many believed the tide was turning. However, the ill-timed release of the video was subsequently perceived as a power play to distract from Brown’s death.

equal justice fraudBut cops aren’t the only group to affect smear campaigns against victims of lethal police force, as evidenced by the Post’s decision to publish the BPD document. As noted by Al Jazeera, the New York Times published an article about Brown’s recreational activities, saying “he dabbled in drugs and alcohol” and detailed his “rebellious streak.” The Associated Press tweeted that Renisha McBride, who was shot and killed by a Detroit homeowner, was intoxicated. CBS and NBC reported that Scott had a bench warrant for missing child support payments. Northeast Ohio Media Group detailed Rice’s father’s history of domestic violence.

And since the Washington Post article was published last night, people have taken to social media to express their anger:

WaPo isn’t simply smearing someone murdered by police, they are profiting off of smearing someone murdered by police. #FreddieGray

— Remi Kanazi (@Remroum) April 30, 2015

So the Washington Post reports an unnamed prisoner is claiming #FreddieGray willfully injured himself in transport van. For real y’all.

— ReBecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC) April 30, 2015

Complete takedown of the lies spread by the Baltimore Police & Washington Post on #FreddieGray http://t.co/N0aYK0ZETe pic.twitter.com/QALCmbKQOu

— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) April 30, 2015

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Walter Scott and the Need for Child Support Reform

by Joy Moses

Scott-police-fatal-shootingWalter Scott’s death was striking because a police officer fired eight shots at him while his back was turned. When something so tragic occurs, observers tend to wonder why. The officer’s actions and utter disrespect for human life can never be justified. But recently, the New York Times published new information about Scott’s split second decision to run — his child support case. According to his brother, “Every job he has had, he has gotten fired from because he went to jail because he was locked up for child support.”

Elements of Scott’s story reflect existing concerns about the child support system. A debate over potential large-scale reform is more than a decade overdue. The seeming impossibility of change has always loomed ominously large, overshadowing calls for reform and pushing them into the dark corners of the policy world. However, at this current political moment, there are national conversations about policing, bipartisan criminal justice reforms and an existing White House initiative focused on men and boys of color — concepts that would have seemed laughable just a few short years ago.

indigent in America

child support can make a man indigent

There are some fathers who absolutely refuse to care for their children and they should be held accountable. However, the current system reaches well beyond that group, creating negative consequences for men who are rarely credited with being caring parents and are simply too poor to pay. The political explosiveness of the “deadbeat dad,” a figure that some researchers say sprang out of the same sources as his female counterpart (the “welfare queen”), helped distort the foundations of child support policy. The system seems to partially rest on underlying beliefs that low-income men, and especially those who are black, avoid work and financially providing for their children at all costs while also being permanently childlike and in need of both discipline and lessons on how to behave.

Over the years, the program has effectively served many families (transferring funds from one parent to another) for which it should be applauded. However, policies built on a foundation of stereotypes about numerous men who don’t want jobs stand in stark contrast to the reality of numerous jobs that don’t want the men. Researchers like William Julius Wilson (More Than Just Race), have documented decades long trends of disappearing job opportunities for low-skilled workers as well as increased criminal justice involvement which further leads to employment discrimination.

billboard-crimeWhen entities spend significant time on activities that fail to help and that actually hurt parents and families, it’s often useful to redirect their energies elsewhere. Reforms should shift the program mission and values away from damaging racial stereotypes that hurt families of all races and towards efforts to accurately diagnose the needs of families and take ‘pro-social’ action to address them.

One useful primary goal would be to comprehensively address the family law needs of low and middle-income families, helping with a very real challenge — the increasing and extraordinarily large number of families who can’t afford an attorney or who don’t feel comfortable representing themselves in legal matters. In doing so, agencies should assume that parents of all racial and class groupings share in a desire to care for their children, suggesting that they be treated with respect and provided with quality customer service. This would build upon efforts to accurately identify bad dads whose non-payment is rooted in an adamant refusal rather than their economic circumstances.

chronic-stressWith such a vision, services would start to look much different. No longer treated as enemies of the state, low-income fathers would be less likely to literally and figuratively run away from child support. The sole focus wouldn’t be on a father’s monetary value but on improving father-family relationships. Court decisions and unaddressed legal needs would be replaced by model practices like mediation that support mothers and fathers in making their own decisions for their families. Punishments like imprisonment would be replaced by employment assistance. And other proposed reforms designed to guarantee child support for women and children would avoid potential incentives to hound men for unaffordable reimbursements of funds states pay out to women and children.

Some states have already experimented with such reforms, finding positive results that have included increased child support payments by fathers and greater parental satisfaction with agency services. The Obama Administration has encouraged states to adopt these best practices while proposing helpful new rules. However, there are limits to the changes that can occur without Congress overhauling currently existing state requirements and incentives.

We need a fruitful, progressive conversation that abandons a focus on the status quo and reform efforts that toy around existing edges — instead choosing a new vision for the future that endeavors to do the hard work of changing the culture and functioning of a system that means so much to so many.

—-

Of course, there is no mention in this article about U.N. Treaty or the Bradley Amendment, which prohibits child support arrears from being changed or removed – but the article does pretend to care (and is much kinder than I am). Meanwhile, the welfare queens still have control over America at great cost to all Americans. – MJR

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Scott: Another Victim of Fear & Child Support

reported by Moody Jim Rathbone

A black man (Walter Scott) was shot eight times in the back as he fled in fear from a white police officer (Michael Slager). He did so because he was afraid of being jailed by Bradley Amendment back child support. Video shows a North Charleston, South Carolina, officer apprehending Scott.

The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston, claims that Mr. Walter Scott had been arrested 10 times for failing to pay Bradley Amendment mandated back child support. He had failed to show up for court hearings.

The family attorney said that the coroner had told him that Mr. Scott was struck a total of five times – three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear – with at least one bullet entering his heart. The story is that all this was the result of a traffic stop. In certain states, men are often taken to jail for nonpayment of child support following a traffic stop. Early news reports indicated that the police officer was in fear for his life. With his hands full of weapons and in pursuit of a fleeing man? Hardly. The video footage shows the reality behind the fatal bullying, as if the officer was doing little more than playing a video game.

murderer-Michael-SlagerScott’s death on Saturday fueled national outrage as an example of continued unjustified killings, another black man vanquished at the hands of police. The killing also highlights the injustice in the child-support enforcement system, which often punishes non-custodial parents who can’t keep up with child support with jail time. This blight of law disproportionately affects African-American men, a debtor’s prison that puts people in jail for something they can’t pay, even when half of a paycheck is being garnished.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has begun an inquiry into the shooting. The F.B.I. and the Justice Department are also investigating the incident.

The child support system in the United States has new blood on its’ hands. Walter Scott was like any other normal American seeking a better life. He had a job and was engaged to be married, after a failed marriage and 4 children. It’s very likely that the ex-wife and government were harassing him in a very large way. Fear of the system was well engrained in him. If the ex-wife was behind the acceleration in harassment, the ex-wife also has his blood on her hands, and now, children that will be on the government dole. Congratulations to Mrs. Scott, his poor children and a hopelessly broken punitive system. My heart goes out to any man, regardless of circumstances, that might be caught in a similar unconstitutional dragnet in this nation’s police state.

Scott-happier-times

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