Freddie Gray and his twin sister Fredericka were born with a life sentence. A predetermined reverse lottery that only appeared random to those looking in from the outside. Being born two months premature in the late 1980s wasn’t always a death sentence but it did come with a variety of health risks that kept Freddie hospitalized for the first few months of his life. Still, they survived. Freddie and Fredericka fought and lived.
Before their first birthday, blood tests showed that poison was accumulating in their tiny bodies. Unbeknownst to the family, Freddie and Fredericka were being poisoned by their landlord. The poisoning could have been fatal. Still, they survived. Freddie and Fredericka fought and lived.
But the damage that had been done to their little bodies was irreversible. Surviving the poison wasn’t the same thing as being unaffected by the poison. The twins were diagnosed with ADD, were easy to frustrate and anger, were impulsive, and had difficulty regulating their emotions. Together, these individual side effects spelled trouble: Freddie and Fredericka had trouble understanding the consequences of their behavior and had difficulty regulating their emotions when they faced with frustrating experiences and tasks. The side effects of the poisoning started to impact their education. The children would fight, get suspended, and their grades suffered. Eventually, suspensions turned into arrests, frequently for petty drug-related crimes.
A landlord robbed these babies of their future. Freddie and Fredericka were survivors. They fought and lived. From the day that the poison entered their bloodstreams, they were started upon a path that would damn them to a cycle of jail, poverty, and conflict. A constant struggle for two lives born into struggle. Fredericka could have been a doctor, a lawyer, or an athlete. Freddie could have been a mathematician, a musician, or a politician. However, these aspirations rely upon things like an ability to understand complex sentences, the cultural capital to network, and an ability to link action with consequence. These children had been robbed of the tools that most successful adults need in order to get ahead. These children were disabled.
Fortunately, in 2008, Freddie and Fredericka were granted a modicum of what almost seemed like justice. After a long and arduous battle, the family sued and won money to help care for Freddie and Fredericka. But Freddie and Fredericka don’t get a happily ever after. They were born into struggle. The odds were stacked against them the day they were born. After already having been robbed of their futures living the average American dream, Freddie and Fredericka were robbed again.
Access Funding sounds almost innovative like a cool capital lending company with funky furniture filled with staff always dressed for casual Fridays. Under the benign sounding name, though, a cancerous predator lurked. Access Funding hunted for adults like Freddie and Fredericka; Disabled adults who had won large sums of money. They would convince these adults to sign over their entire settlement for pennies on the dollar with the promise of immediate cash.
Washington Post’s article summarizes the atrocities committed by Access Funding like this:
Every case spells out the deal’s worth. It lists the aggregate value of the lead victim’s payments, their present value and the agreed purchase price. A random survey of 52 of those deals shows Access Funding generally offers to pay around 33 cents on the present value of a dollar. Sometimes, it offers more. And sometimes, much less. One 24-year-old lead victim sold nearly $327,000 worth of payments, which had a present value of $179,000, for less than $16,200 — or about 9 cents on the dollar. Another relinquished $256,000 worth of payments, which had a present value of $166,000, for $35,000 — or about 21 cents on the dollar.
Taken together, the sample shows Access Funding petitioned to buy roughly $6.9 million worth of future payments — which had a present value of $5.3 million — for around $1.7 million.
Again, Freddie and Fredericka were robbed of their future. But they survived. They fought and lived. That is, Freddie lived until the Baltimore police killed him.
On April 12th, the police illegally arrested Freddie for possession of a legal switchblade. On April 19th, Freddie died. His death was listed as a homicide. A homicide for which none of the arresting officers will ever be held accountable. And so, Freddie’s story ended much like it began: a predestined struggle. A sort of reverse lottery in which a system of exploitation, neglect, and violence starts to write one’s destiny from the day they were born.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Children don’t have to be born into systemic disadvantages that turn them into grim statistics. We, as a society, simply tolerate it. The banality of evil. We damn children because we’re not uncomfortable enough to protect them. Inaction or being lazily disengaged is more convenient. White people, I’m talking to you.
People of color are more likely to be born into a system of disadvantages. Polluting companies are more likely to pollute next to communities of color and schools that service children of color. This leads to poorer health outcomes for communities of color: premature births, asthma, ADD, cognitive delays, and so forth. Emergency room physicians prescribe less pain medication to black children. At school, children of color are more likely to be suspended and arrested for behavior overlooked in their white peers. Adults of color are far more likely to be arrested for drugs despite there being no evidence of higher use than their white counterparts.During sentences, black defendants tend to receive 60% longer sentences. And, once in prison, inmates become slaves. Some inmates are even forced to fight each other in a gladiator battle for the amusement of the prison guards. Even after release, many are stripped of their right to vote. Jobs are more difficult to find. Probation costs and court costs are saddled on these individuals leaving many in debt. Failure to make payments can result in jail time which disrupts employment and that only accrues further debt. It’s no wonder that people of color are more likely to die younger than their white counterparts.
Hell, a presidential nominee (Hillary Clinton) for the 2016 election used prison slave labor to staff the mansion she shared with her husband. Not only was this almost entirely ignored by the media during the election cycle (Hillary Clinton’s book in which she detailed her experienced was published in the 90s), but the Democratic Party is unable to collectively acknowledge that the Clintons should not have relied upon slave labor, that it was within Bill’s authority to end, but the Clintons chose profits over black lives. To add insult to injury, Arkansas prisoners were robbed of their blood as the Clintons sold that, too.
What else should that be called if not white supremacy?
The advantages you inherit as a white person make it your obligation to fight for the disadvantaged. You need to have uncomfortable conversations with each other. These conversations need to be stark, harsh, and raw. You need to admit to yourselves and each other that inaction or being lazily disengaged is the banality of evil. That whether or not you created the system, it is your responsibility to change it. You own it. You didn’t have to rob the bank but you are the getaway driver and you are culpable for being complicit in a system that robs communities of color.
And the solution shouldn’t be a hashtag. It’s not a Facebook rant. It’s not saying, “Black lives matter.” Do something. Lots of somethings. Fight for the people who were born into this world fighting for their very own survival.
You need to step up and be an ally. You need to serve and protect the people of color around you because the system that you benefit from exploits them. How else do you think you get those benefits? A benefit tree? You receive benefits and advantages that the system robs from your classmates, your neighbors, and your friends.
Advocate for reparations. Support the prison abolition movement. Champion environmental protections that improve health outcomes for communities of color. Demand single payer so that people of color have the access to the care they need. Support reforming state laws that put restrictive and painful caps on lawsuits. When police inevitably murder another person of color, demand justice like the victim was a member of your family. Demand free college and technical schools so that advancement isn’t contingent upon student debt or socioeconomic class. Abolish the poverty draft. Support a minimum basic income and robust welfare benefits so that pregnant mothers and children receive the nutrition they need to maximize their potential.
And never, ever tolerate abuse or exploitation. Especially among your political leaders.
This piece was originally published on Left of Politics.