We may think of poverty as being without wealth. If we think of it that way, then the solution to poverty is viewed as needing more money. But money or even access to resources – like housing and food, does not end poverty if there is no justice. Without justice, those at the bottom, the vulnerable, marginalized, and powerless, will remain in poverty.
I came to that realization recently when I saw a t-shirt with the inscription, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. – Bryan Stevenson”
I visited with the woman wearing the t-shirt and she began talking about Bryan Stevenson whom she has heard speak several times. He has written the book Just Mercy and wrote one of the chapters in The1619 Project, addressing punishment as a tool of racism. Stevenson, an attorney, founded the Equal Justice Initiative defending the most vulnerable in the criminal justice system after he learned about and understood the harm caused by our flawed punitive systems.
Recently in an article in County 10 about the disproportionate number of Native Americans incarcerated at Wyoming’s prison, the County Attorney is quoted as saying that the reason for the disparity in imprisonment is poverty. The meaning of his view seems to be that poverty leads to crime that leads to prison. But If Bryan Stevenson is correct, Fremont County prosecutors are looking at this backward and wrong-side-out. Perhaps injustice causes the poverty. Or why else then would more Native Americans be in poverty than others in Fremont County and Wyoming?
But whichever way we look at it, imprisonment is not the answer to poverty. And wealth is not either. The answer to poverty is the overhaul of our unjust systems and instead treat every individual with dignity and not power from the top down, but from the bottom up.