I want to talk to you guys about Big Freedia. If this name already means something to you, by all means just keep on reading. If it doesn’t, do yourself a favor and check out this…. and maybe this. And definitely this. All caught up? Ok, let’s keep this bouncing along then (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Big Freedia is an internationally-known artist and performer from New Orleans who recently made the news for pleading guilty to a federal theft charge. Basically, the feds are accusing Freedia of continuing to receive government assistance beyond the point that she qualified for it. Freedia did acknowledge in a statement on March 1 that she continued to receive aid after her financial situation changed, and has already begun to pay back more than $30,000. She also wanted to take place in an available pre-trial diversion program. Despite this, U.S District Judge Lance Africk emphasized in court that Freedia could possibly be sentenced to jail time, including the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
I won’t argue that Freedia didn’t need the money at the time the housing vouchers were used, but I do believe her assertion that her financial situation changed drastically, and she did not know the proper way to handle that. Without a doubt, this system is setup with the assumption that people will not earn themselves out of it, and there is a real knowledge gap for how to maintain and manage public assistance. Additionally, the income of an artist, even a successful one, is unpredictable at best. Given that it typically takes years to get approved for housing assistance, particularly in New Orleans, turning in paperwork to declare a change in economic status might mean being removed from that list, and then (when the success fades) having to start at the beginning all over again.
This recent article notes that:
“The situation with housing in New Orleans is pretty dire, specifically for the poorest residents, a high percentage of whom are black and have been living in New Orleans for generations. HANO (Housing Authority New Orleans) opened up their waitlist for the first time since 2009—for the past seven years, no one could apply.
Currently, there are 6,000 people on the waitlist.”
To me, the big show that is being made out of this case only serves to reinforce the idea that black and brown people, no matter what economic class they are in, are always either suspects or criminals. How else can we justify Wall Street “white collar” criminals going completely free from even the fear of jail time, while Freedia stands in court, chastised and threatened?