The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Shot to Death for Failure to Pay Child Support

May 25, 2015

When Walter L. Scott was shot to death by police in North Charleston, South Carolina, he was shot in the back multiple times while running AWAY from the officer.

Supporters of the police like to point to his flight as proof of some wrongdoing on his part. Now, details of Scott’s life show that a major contributor to his wrongful death was likely the pressure of the child support system.

Family members relate that Scott was probably running from arrest for a warrant that had been issued for failure to pay child support. In fact, Scott had made multiple child care payments amounting to thousands of dollars, but he had been unable to pay the amounts levied by the courts.

Scott remained in a cycle of debt and short stays in jail, which caused his firings from jobs that he struggled to obtain and keep.

Scott’s situation is representative of the pressures faced by working class fathers across the U.S. that weigh disproportionately on the black population.

In the 1980s and 1990s, under the guise of welfare reform, politicians including President Bill Clinton crafted legal procedures designed to use jail time as a pressure tactic for obtaining child support.

Under these laws, child support amounts are calculated based on what the courts consider to be “normal” weekly pay, not the actual earnings of an individual. Being unemployed or underemployed or underpaid is not taken into consideration. Courts levy garnishee amounts that cut an individual’s income to the point that the individual cannot survive on the leftover amount.

Then, when child care debt accumulates, the father is presented with a bill of thousands of dollars, compounded by fines, and threatened with jail time.

Jail time, when warrants are served, causes the father to be fired from a job and the cycle repeats itself. With Scott, a debt of $8,000 more than doubled to more than $18,000 at the time of his murder by police.

Intent on portraying fathers like Scott as “dead-beat” and “no-account,” the system ignores the real situation of hundreds of thousands of families.

As early as 2007, national studies of seven large states showed that 70 percent of child care payment arrears were owed by people reporting less than $10,000 a year in income. They were expected to pay, on average, 83 percent of their income to child support. This is not the case for higher income families. And this was BEFORE the great recession beginning in 2008.

The continued police brutality against young and middle-aged black men has brought out into the light details of a judicial system designed to persecute and prosecute the poorest sections of the population.

Violent encounters that lead to death and/or incarcerations are the fruit of its continued jurisdiction.