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  June 5, 2015

The Vultures of Desperation

Paul Jay asks why did Rodney Todd and his seven children die?
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Paul Jay, is CEO and Senior Editor of The Real News Network. He currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to TRNN, Jay was for ten seasons the creator and Executive Producer of CBC Newsworld's flagship debate programs, CounterSpin and FaceOff.

Jay has produced and directed more than 20 major documentary films including "Return to Kandahar", "Lost in Las Vegas" and "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows", a feature length documentary, that was screened in 25 major festivals and won more than a dozen awards. It's been called "one of the most acclaimed Canadian films in years" (Eye Magazine), "A tale as bizarre as Kafka and as tragic as Shakespeare" (Ottawa Citizen) and "one of the best films of 1998" (Peter Plagens, art critic for Newsweek).

A past chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada, Jay is the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hi, everybody. I'm Paul Jay from The Real News Network.

The world has heard the name of Freddie Gray, who was brutally murdered by Baltimore police. Here's another name everybody should know: Rodney Todd. Mr. Todd lived in Princess Anne, about 130 miles southeast of Baltimore. Rodney was described by family and friends as a devoted parent and a hard, disciplined worker. Rodney couldn't afford to pay an electric bill, and had been cut off by the Delmarva power company. He bought an electric generator to give some light and give his children warmth. Why he ran the generator inside the house isn't clear. People speculate it was because it was noisy and would have kept his neighbors awake at night.

Rodney Todd and his five young girls and two young boys died of carbon monoxide poisoning. They were last seen alive on March 28th of this year.

The media reports focused on whether the power company had illegally shut off his power. In Maryland during winter months, non-payment of a bill is not supposed to be legal cause for cutting the cord. The power company said it was a safety issue because of the type of meter that was being used. They also said Rodney had never tried to set up an account. And while it's criminal, or at least it should be criminal to shut off power to a family under any circumstances, it's even more criminal that a working father can't afford to pay an electric bill. Rodney Todd, an African-American worker, was paid $8 an hour for a full-time job. That's Maryland's current minimum wage. He was supporting seven kids on $8 an hour.

What the major media didn't ask is, why was Rodney working for $8 an hour? When Baltimore exploded after the death of Freddie Gray, CNN and other such media outlets, when they weren't accusing the protesters of being thugs and criminals, which was most of the time, paid lip service to the fact that the underlying conditions of poverty and the savaging of communities by drugs, and they should have added and they didn't the war on drugs, helped create the anger expressed on the streets of Baltimore. What they didn't address is why poverty in Baltimore and cities across the country is chronic?

Why did Rodney Todd accept work for $8 an hour? Why are people working at Johns Hopkins Hospital for 14 years cleaning surgical rooms, taking special drugs to avoid HIV infection, and working for $13 an hour after 14 years of work? Because people are desperate for jobs. There's a class of people that makes money out of desperation, out of high unemployment. The more desperate people are, the lower wages they are willing to accept. Why are communities in Baltimore and across the country faced with chronic drug addiction and gang warfare? Same answer. There's enormous amounts of money being made out of the insane war on drugs. The mass incarceration system, police, lawyers, judges. The for-profit bail bonding industry alone is a multi-million dollar business, backed by massive insurance companies and trade associations with the money and political power needed to shape the criminal justice system in their interests.

In Baltimore it's only within the last year that an accused person had a right to be represented by a lawyer at all at a bail hearing. Now most people rely on a public defender, because now they can get one, but they don't get to see them for more than around five minutes before a bail hearing. The public defenders are overwhelmed with cases. Sometimes on a Monday morning, two public defenders are dealing with more than 150 cases. A dispute over $20 can mean bail of $25,000 for a homeless person.

In Baltimore City jail, a prisoner is not allowed a visit for 90 days, except by a lawyer. No family, no friends. If you're represented by a public defender you're likely not to see them again until a few days before you go to trial. What does this create? More money made out of desperation, people desperate to pay bail bondsmen to get out of a hellish prison.

The front line in this war to keep people poor is the police. Police violence against people of color, that is, illegal violence usually without consequence to the perpetrators, is not merely the product of too many law enforcement officers with racist attitudes. Their name says it all. Police are enforcing laws, including with deadly force, to make people obey legislation that at its heart protects people that own property. The more you own, the more you're served and protected. When police use violence they do so as agents of a legal system that must keep a lid on people who fight back against desperate conditions. Whether they fight back blindly and often self-destructively, or more consciously and politically, the elites have passed laws to keep people in their place.

If you want news that speaks to the interest of ordinary people that's not afraid to describe the world as it really is, then we need your support. We can't do this without you. Our matching grant campaign is only a couple of weeks from ending, and we still have a ways to go or we won't meet our target. If you're watching and not donating, please, we can't make real news without you.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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