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What If They Sent in Social Services to Help Occupations Instead of Riot Cops to Bust Heads?

Cities are cutting back on vitally needed social services, while at the same time, buying expensive military gear for their police departments.

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When all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail, and in two months, cities have spent an estimated $13 million policing, and in many case evicting, their occupations. That's only part of the tab; they will spend much more defending themselves against lawsuits and settling claims of police brutality.

The Oakland PD is being sued by the ACLU of Northern California and the National Lawyers Guild. Other suits are pending in Denver, Minneapolis, Austin, Cedar Rapids, Tucson, New York and at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. That kind of litigation costs big bucks. A recent investigation by the Bay Area Fox News affiliate found that the city of Oakland, with 400,000 people, has paid out $57 million to settle lawsuits stemming from police abuse over the past 10 years.

One has to wonder about the opportunity costs. How many people could have been offered drug rehab, job training, low-cost housing, mental health and other services for that money? Here we have a community that needs those services, and its citizens are concentrated in one place. So, why not send in social workers instead of riot cops?

This preference for law enforcement over social support is part of a larger trend. Barbara Ehrenreich recently wrote about the fact that, “in defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty.”

So concludes a recent study from the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more "neutral" infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container.

Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down.

Living in a capitalist society carries inherent risk; many Americans are an illness or an unexpected job-loss away from misery. But Ayn Rand's toxic ideology has permeated our culture, and many look on the poor or those suffering from mental health problems as somehow  deficient and unworthy. The Occupy movement has already succeeded in focusing the national discourse on spiraling inequality and the pernicious role of money in politics. Perhaps in the end, it might ultimately succeed in teaching us something about basic human compassion as well.


Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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