Something is broken in The United States. Okay, so many, many things are broken in here, but the most glaringly obvious thing that’s broken is our Congress. Yes, the economy has been recovering sluggishly for almost three full years now, and a lot of private sector jobs have been created, but it’s just not enough yet. You want to know why it’s not enough? Because someone like Rickie Lawrence Gardner robbed a bank.
You read that right. A man robbing a bank in Moulton, Alabama is all the proof you need that something is wrong. Terribly wrong. In the American justice system, motive is supposed to matter. That’s why we acknowledge a difference between manslaughter and murder, for example. Intent, while not always the end-all, be-all of the story, very often tells us what state of mind the law-breaker is in, and it helps us to craft a punishment that is fair. In the case of Gardner though, it just shows us that we have a lot to fix.
You see, Gardner just suffered a rather severe leg injury at his job and was afraid he’d lose his job for not being as productive as he was before the injury. This led to him feeling desperate to not live out on the streets, and he walked into a local bank, handed the teller a note that read “I have a weapon. Give me your money,” took somewhere in the neighborhood of four thousand dollars, got in his car, set the money on the passenger seat and then got out and locked his car.
When police arrived on the scene, Gardner was sitting on a bench under one of the bank’s awnings. The whole reason he told the teller he had a weapon that he didn’t actually have is that he figured it would mean a longer sentence. So to sum up, a man in Alabama decided when he looked at his options that robbing a bank and going to jail, where he’d be assured a roof over his head, was better than being out on the street, which he assumed would happen once he lost his job.
Why would he assume that? Well, he lives in Alabama for starters. It’s one of the reddest states in the country and they don’t exactly break the bank every year on social welfare programs. Now, I live in one of the bluest states out there, but I can only assume that the options for public assistance in Alabama aren’t that great, and that the amount of support one can count on is even less. Perhaps that’s an assumption on my part though, so if anyone out there in Alabama has firsthand knowledge, please drop me a line and educate me.
Some might angrily shout for this “taker” to get a job. Of course they’d just be ignoring the fact that Gardner has a massive leg injury in the first place. Clearly in his estimation any disability benefits he’d get wouldn’t be enough to make ends meet — and being in a red state while living at a time when Republicans both locally and nationally are all about austerity, who can blame him? So he chose the route of robbing a bank solely to ensure he wouldn’t be living on the streets.
Look, I’m not going to excuse his crime, but he doesn’t want us to anyway. It should be noted that those close to Gardner said he is off his “medication” and that this could be the result of it. Perhaps he isn’t an ideologically motivated citizen making a visual demonstration about what is so wrong about our country. Yet, shouldn’t we all be embarrassed that the thought actually crossed someone’s mind that they needed to rob a bank to stay off the streets? We are the richest and most powerful country in the history of this world. We should be livid not at this man, but at the system that failed him.
If he’s got medications he needs to stay on to keep from making irrational decisions like this, shouldn’t we as a nation be willing to help him keep on that medication? It’s in our best interests, but I can already hear the sociopaths of the right scream that it’s “not our responsibility.” Bullshit. I call bullshit on that notion right now. Of course it’s our responsibility. Maybe he didn’t actually have a weapon, but what if he did? You have to consider these things and some point a man robbing a bank to make sure he doesn’t go homeless needs to be a wake-up call. We need better mental health facilities. We need easy to access assistance whether it be financial or just clean, safe places for people in Gardner’s position to know they can land long enough to get back on their feet.
Life isn’t fair, we all know that, but it’s time to stop living in a society that exacerbates that problem and start creating a society that actually solves that problem.