Basketball great Charles Barkley’s recent interview with Brooke Baldwin of CNN has raised eyebrows. Barkley called the looters in Ferguson “scumbags”. During protests, following the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, people took advantage of the chaos and stole goods from convenient stores. His interview and demonizing the poor who decided to take their chances in breaking the law and being video taped by law enforcement or news reporters, sparked memories of a public radio story aired several months ago.
A young man, with no permanent residence was fined by a sheriff’s deputy for fishing in a restricted pond as he left the banks of the water. To fish for a meal is a difficult and anxiety filled task. You’re not sure if you’re going to eat today or not. Of course, the court date notice didn’t make it to him and he was subsequently charged with “failure to appear” and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Court costs and fines then reached hundreds of dollars. The tragedy of poverty got worse. The radio reporter then interviewed officials at the county courthouse. This lawless criminal was “playing the lawful as suckers”. That’s the attitude and comment from the clerk of the court during a recorded interview. His position was that law abiding people pay their fines and wouldn’t fish in the restricted pond.
There’s not only two sides to every story, but at least two positions when it comes to money. To this date no one has gone to jail for the cause of the recent financial “meltdown”. When the financial markets collapsed in 2007-2008, many thought that financial industry millionaires would eventually be brought to justice. The Great Recession was a major part of the 2008 presidential campaigns. How dare they manipulate the system that runs our very economy and walk away with just a fine? But that’s just what happened. Local television reporters didn’t film business leaders exiting their offices or homes with handfuls of money or interview famous basketball players or sportscasters on the “scumbag” situation. Black basketball players must have a unique insight into the psyche of the lawless.
Former governor and Republican presidential nominee, praised the “job creators” during the 2008 election season. Those with the knowledge and financial experience to create jobs and companies are usually given a wide berth. Praise is perhaps a powerful motivator for the lawless business people, but it does make it easier when a national candidate seems to justify your behavior.
Looters, primarily the poor and very low income people take a chance at getting caught. Our economy and indeed our society can create temptations that may make some with less than stellar character take advantage of a brief lawless opportunity. Not to condone that activity, but merely understanding it, is the position of the thoughtful, empathetic and privileged. The “their I go but for the grace of God” phrase comes to mind.
The decision to break the law is easier for some than others, and that doesn’t depend on how much is stolen, where it’s stolen from, or the means of the theft. However, maybe desperation or possibly character have more to do with lawless behavior. Most of us pray to our Maker that we’re not faced with situations that pushed us to make those choices. The distinction is whether the “looting” is done from a position of desperation or merely opportunity. Let us pray the Charles Barkley is never faced with those choices.