Poverty as a Crime?

About two weeks ago Joe Cope came to class and discussed with us the the relationship between text and imagery. I found this class period to be really informative in terms of how text can support images in terms of description and illustration, but what really stood out to me was the topic behind the images that Cope had selected. Cope had chosen images that portrayed injustices through insensitive and narrow-minded narratives. Specifically, Cope explained how in the time period displayed in the 17th century pamphlets he selected, it was a common thing for people to be arrested and put in jail if they were unable to prove that they own property or had a working job.

This class was sort of a shock for me because I had always been under the notion that such injustices in relation to class and and social structures was something that was unique to American culture. In today’s time period, America has build a justice system that systematically oppresses poor people while the rich are able to escape being confined. When a person is arrested, they are usually given the option to pay bail and avoid being confined until the day of their trial. Often times, especially in poorer communities, people end up spending months– years even, awaiting sentencing because they were unable to pay the insanely high rates of bail. As such, this process has essentially resulted in punishment for poorer people.

I really enjoyed this class because it opened my eyes to the fact that poverty as a crime was not only used as a form of systematic oppression for poverty-stricken folks, it also was used to form a narrative about such people. A narrative that made them seem lazy, barbaric, hopeless, and undeserving of assistance. And this narrative was emphasized all throughout the 17th century pamphlets that we analyzed in class. As such, this allowed the elitist British to continue to hold the power in that society as well as allowed them to justify the idea of confining people in a poorer class. And this is something that I was able to connect to today’s criminal justice system in America.

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