Saturday, April 24, 2010

cuba and socialism and homelessness

i did somewhat of a book review a couple posts back about this book i'm reading-Black Rage Confronts the Law by Paul Harris and so far it has been really eye-opening. but not just about the "black rage defense", but also about the judicial system, our government as a whole, the supposed morals of our system, and in contrast to the law codes of other nations. here is an excerpt:
"In the united states you have a fourth amendment constitutional right to have your home free from searched without a warrant. but you have no right TO a home. which right would the man sleeping under the Los Angeles freeway prefer? in Cuba, the constitution states that the "socialist state strives to provide each family a comfortable place to live." decent housing for all is a goal of the society, and that goal is expressed in the constitution as a legal obligation by the government. this would raise an interesting legal question if the Cuban state tried to prosecute a homeless person for sleeping in a park. that person's lawyer should be able to defend the case on the grounds that the state failed to strive to provide a decent place to live according to Article 8(c) of the Constitution. actually, the parks and streets of Cuba are not filled with homeless people, even under its present economic crisis. but if they were, the legal system would provide a possible defense for the homeless.

the result in America is totally different, because our legal reasoning presupposes that there is no legal obligation for a government to provide housing for its people. in fact, what is taking place in America is the criminalization of homelessness.

there are many cases around the country dealing with homelessness. in 1995 the California Supreme Court ruled in Tobe v. City of Santa Ana that the city could prosecute and send to jail for six months and person who camps out or stores their personal belongings (a shopping cart for example) in a public park, street, or area. Justice Stanley Mosk, in dissent, angrily criticized the city for arresting person "whose sole 'crime' was to cover themselves with a blanket and rest in a public area." the decision noted the fact that the city provided shelters, but on any given night there were 2,500 more homeless people than there were beds in shelters. in Cuba, such a fact might be used as a defense, arguing that the government was failing to attempt in good faith to provide housing. but in the United States, this fact was considered legally irrelevant to the decision of the court. is being poor legally irrelevant to a criminal case? is being black and suffering actual discrimination legally irrelevant to a criminal defense?"

the case Harris mentioned reminded me of this old Law & Order episode i saw a while back. a homeless man was being prosecuted for murdering a fellow homeless man. he said he killed him over a plate of food one had found int he trash, or something along those lines. his lawyer made the case that he was, in a sense, justified in killing this man because, being homeless meant that he lived under different laws. he was never able to turn survival mode off. and considering this is a capitalistic country, his acts pretty much mimic our governmental system on a smaller scale.
if a plate of food is the only thing standing between you and death, then you may have to kill someone over it. and if you do, then is this really a "crime"? legally, yes, but a moral crime? arguably.

what does it say about a government that does not help one obtain a home, but criminalizes the act of not owning one? what does it say about our, for the most part, capitalistic system? what, ultimately, is the role of the government?

comment. think. read.

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