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Nikkita Oliver thinks stealing is ‘criminalizing poverty’

Nikkita Oliver (Zom Taylor)

Some King County Metro transit users are wantonly using their services without paying and Metro wants to stop that, according to former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver. She says they plan to increase transit enforcement. She slams that move as criminalizing the poor.

In a pair of tweets, Oliver, questions the good fare enforcement accomplishes. She argues: “If we invested the money we spend on fare enforcement, collections for tickets, and related legal fees on transit… we could substantially decrease the cost or make it free!”

Of course, that’s not how it works. In fact, under Oliver’s plan, she’d be hurting the poor.

Much of Metro’s funding comes from sales tax, a regressive form of tax that disproportionately impacts the lowest income earners in the county. It doesn’t matter if you reinvest the funds — it’s still working with money taken from the sales tax. It’s never “free” — we’re all subsidizing the service and unless you change the funding mechanism (which she doesn’t argue here), nothing changes.

But her argument gets even more ridiculous.

“Giving people tickets for not being able to afford transit fare is criminalizing poverty which forces people into the criminal legal system,” she tweets. “Once someone is in the criminal legal system it is hard to get out. Fare enforcement is more of a public safety issue than fare evasion.”

The idea that punishing someone for illegal theft is “criminalizing poverty” is a funny way of excusing illegal behavior. If I refuse to pay the bill for my lunch because I can’t afford it, it’s still theft; it’s not “criminalizing poverty.” It’s called illegal behavior and, thankfully, we live in a society where we still enforce some laws (though just not open-air drug dealing, heroin injection, using sidewalks as toilets, blocking traffic to moan about your pet causes).

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