Reading With a Legal Eye
Thank you for visiting my blog! The Idea for “Reading With a Legal Eye” is what actually prompted me to start this blog. It brings together my love of reading and my love of the law (I’m a public defender). I’m hoping to make it a monthly series where I analyze some of the legal issues that come up in books (or that a book makes me think about). Hopefully you will find this interesting! I would love to hear your thoughts and some constructive criticism as I start this blogging journey.
About the Book
Title: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
My Rating: 5/5 ⭐
Synopsis from Goodreads: Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy.
Basically, I flew through this book despite its huge size and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series! I will be reading the sequel for sure.
SCOFFs and Involuntary Servitude
The main character, Zélie, worries that if her family is unable to pay their taxes, she will be forced into the stocks. “Run by the king’s army, the stocks act as our kingdom’s labor force, spreading throughout all of Orïsha. Whenever someone can’t afford the taxes, he;s required to work off the debt for our king. Those stuck in the stocks toil endlessly, erecting palaces, building roads, mining coal, and every thing in between. It’s a system that served Orïsha well once, but since the Raid it’s no more than a state-sanctioned death sentence. An excuse to round up my people, as if the monarchy ever needed one. With all the diviners left orphaned from the Raid, we are the ones who can’t afford the monarchy’s high taxes. We are the true targets of every tax raise” page 28.
The history of America as it relates to minorities is one of continued strides to subjugate within the law. After slavery was outlawed, our white supremacist system came up with new ways to ensure blacks were not truly free. Share cropping and Jim Crow laws kept slavery alive in all but name. When those were also banned our system was not deterred (I mean it’s an ongoing struggle for civil rights but legally they were supposed to be struck). We moved to using the criminal justice system to ensure the subjugation of minorities. Not only are young minorities incarcerated at disproportionate rates but any interaction with the system can lead to high costs and fines burdened on families who have often already lost family members to gun violence, police brutality, or prisons.
A great book that really taught me a lot about how all of this history is connected is White Rage by Carol Anderson. I highly recommend it. None of these laws were isolated; they are part of a greater legacy of white supremacy.
In New York, a SCOFF (named after the law) is a suspension of your license for failing to appear to court for a ticket or failing to pay a fine (as opposed to a suspension for drinking and driving, speeding, or other suspensions based on being a danger on the road). If you receive a SCOFF, you have to pay $70 to lift the suspension, on top of any other fines imposed by the court. This may not seem like a big deal but if an individual is pulled over, receives four tickets from the police officer, and then doesn’t show up to court he will have to pay $70 for each of the tickets. That’s $280 for not showing up to court, even if the tickets were ultimately dismissed.
For those who would say that low income individuals could just avoid getting tickets in the first place, I have a couple of points:
- If you have ever received a ticket, your argument is invalid. Having money shouldn’t entitle you to break the law more than person with less money. Plus, traffic tickets don’t require intent so it could be as simple as not noticing a sign in a new area.
- I know many individuals who have received tickets for equipment violations because they couldn’t afford to fix their car. If it’s going to cost you $600 to repair your exhaust and your rent is due, you might just risk the “inadequate muffler” ticket until your next pay check. These are choices that individuals who have always been middle class (or even wealthier) just can’t seem to fathom.
This is further complicated by the fact that minorities are pulled over a disproportionate amount compared to whites. A 2015 New York Times article, entitled The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black, explains that, in the four states they looked at, blacks were also more likely to be searched after being pulled over. This is despite the fact that, in all four states, whites were more likely to be found with contraband when searched. This would seem to contradict assertions that other factors are the determining factor, such as socioeconomic status. If whites are more likely to be breaking the law when searched, then why do police pull over and search blacks more? I think we all know.
Either way, if minorities are being disproportionately pulled over, it would also follow that they then receive more tickets. After receiving these tickets, if they miss court or don’t pay their fines after attending court, their license is suspended until they can pay an additional surcharge to the state.
If they aren’t able to pay to have the suspension lifted but need to get to work, the grocery store, bring their children to school, etc. they may end up driving anyway. In many rural areas there is little or no public transportation available and cabs can be cost prohibitive to a family that can’t afford court fees. Then, they are pulled over and charged with some degree of “Aggravated Unlicensed Operation.” If they end up convicted of this charge, the minimum fine in NY is $200 plus a surcharge of $93 or $88. For a person who already couldn’t afford to pay off fines.
For many, this becomes a vicious cycle that they can’t pull themselves out, helping to ensure they remain in poverty. Ever since becoming a public defender I have been immensely bothered by these AUO charges. So, it was the first thing I thought about when I was reading this amazing novel. There were so many other great references to the #blacklivesmatter movement and other issues pertaining to race in America.
I hope this is remotely interesting because it turned out a bit longer than I meant.