Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Louisiana aims to punish the homeless by making it illegal to beg

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Oh, you're a homeless person? Well, fuck you.

That's not me saying that, it's the State of Louisiana, which is about to punish those who live on the streets, among others:

If you are poor, live in Louisiana, and have the audacity ask someone else for help, be prepared to spend up to six months in jail.

A new bill to outlaw panhandling is quickly moving its way through the Louisiana legislature. HB 1158 would criminalize solicitation, making it a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $200 and up to six months in jail. The bill is targeted not just at panhandlers, but hitchhikers and those engaged in prostitution as well. 

The bill passed the Louisiana House last week by a vote of 89-0. There was no floor debate. It is now being taken up by the Senate, where it will be acted on Tuesday.

The bill's author, State Rep. Austin Badon (D), told Post TV that he hoped that banning begging will somehow lead to fewer poor people on the streets. He doubted that many were in actual need, saying, "they're paying their cell phone bills, they're paying their computer bills. It's a racket."

Yes, that's a "D" after his name. While Republicans dominate the world of ignorance and injustice, they do not quite have a monopoly over it. (And this Badon asshole is our Worst Democrat of the Day.)

Badon is echoing a familiar trope — that panhandlers are living large from others' charity. But it's not based on any actual research. In fact, a major study of panhandlers in San Francisco last year found just the opposite: the vast majority make $25 a day ($9,125 per year) or less. That meager income is largely used to eat.

It is simply insane to think that the homeless are voluntarily homeless or otherwise aren't in desperate need of help. Many are are severely mentally ill and most certainly suffer from mental illness of some kind. By and large these are people who have been abused not just in their own lives but by a society that in many ways resembles the Hobbesian state of nature in its preference for brutality over dignity. Sure, many of them use drugs, but that's because they're addicts in need of help. It's hardly a choice, and really what options do they have?

And of course with Louisiana we're talking about a place with warm weather (that attracts those who have no other place to go but the streets), a terrible education system, poor health care generally, and various other social problems, not to mention a Republican governor (Bobby Jindal) and basically an entire political establishment that sees homelessness not just as a nuisance but as a criminal "racket," as a problem to be criminalized instead of one that should arouse compassionate public policy to deal not just with homelessness itself but with the conditions that cause it.

Most of these assholes supposedly being Christian, I suppose we can ask that stupid question of the Christianist ideology, what would Jesus do? Well, from what we're told, he'd help the homeless, for he had nothing but compassion for the poor, and then call out the injustice all the around him. And in Louisiana, as in so many other places throughout our rich and prosperous land (for the few, as in his own time), he'd have an awful lot of it to call out.

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