Tuesday, September 1, 2015
In the aftermath of the unrest in Baltimore and around the country, we pause to think about the critical need for the legal services provided by non-profit organizations like Civil Justice and by private attorneys who work to achieve fairness and equality for low and moderate income individuals and families. While the protests centered on the police and the treatment of certain communities by the police, underlying the unrest is the strong current of poverty, lack of opportunity and unfairness. Life truly is more difficult for the poor and the nearly poor, for those living in impoverished communities, without access to good schools, healthcare and transportation, and for those living paycheck to paycheck, with no support system in the event of a personal or family crisis.
Those who work with low income individuals and families know that the climb out of poverty is difficult with many almost insurmountable obstacles. We see this every day in the stories of the people who contact Civil Justice for assistance. The working mother who scrapes together $3000 to put a down payment on a car so she can get her child to day care and make it to her job on time, whose car is repossessed by an unscrupulous used car dealer – leaving her with no money, no car and no way to get to her job. The young couple who rents an apartment from a shady landlord who wrongfully terminates their utilities in the middle of winter, leaving the couple without heat and light. The woman who is pressured into taking out a loan to attend a for profit trade school which closes abruptly, leaving her with debt to repay and no degree or marketable skills. The family who is about to lose their house because the lender who agreed to give them a loan modification after the family suffered financial hardship due to a serious medical problem, transferred the loan to another lender who now refuses to honor the loan modification agreement.
All of these individuals and families can be assisted by attorneys – if they have access to one. Unfortunately, too many people cannot obtain an attorney. There is no right to an attorney in civil matters and the free legal resources that exist are overwhelmed by the need and cannot meet it. That is why Civil Justice works to fill the justice-gap by finding attorneys for those who would otherwise have no recourse in situations like the ones described above. If not for the assistance of an attorney, their dreams of getting out of poverty and making a better life for themselves and their families would be derailed. The legal system helps to redress the types of wrongs that all too often happen to people of low and moderate income. But without attorneys, the legal system can be difficult, if not impossible, to navigate. Without attorneys, many of the people who are trying hard to make it out of poverty, will be pushed right back down by the illegal actions of those who care more about their own profits than following laws and treating people fairly.
When people feel like the justice system doesn’t work for them or that they don’t even have access to it – some will feel they have no choice but to take to the streets. You may be far away from the chaos that occurred in Baltimore and other parts of the country, but its ripple effects were far and wide. We all need to be concerned about poverty and inequality in this country. Not only because it is the morally right thing to do, but also because it is in our own self-interest to ensure that all of our fellow citizens have the opportunity for a decent life and are treated with dignity. While we may think that there is nothing that one person or one organization can do and that our actions are insignificant in the grand scheme of such a big problem, if each of us does even a little, our collective work will help to bring about positive change. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”