Who Killed Rodney Todd and his Seven Children?

By Paul Jay

The world has heard the names of George Floyd, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, and many others who were brutally murdered by police officers steeped in a culture of racism and demonization of the poor. 

The justifiable rage expressed by protestors across America is now resonating with tens of thousands of others around the world marching in support. 

Rodney Todd is another name everybody should know. It’s the fifth anniversary of the deaths of Rodney and his children, victims of another form of murder. 

Mr. Todd lived in Princess Anne, a city about 130 miles southeast of Baltimore. Family and friends described Rodney as a devoted parent and a disciplined, hard worker. He was employed at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 

Rodney couldn’t afford to pay an electric bill and had been cut off by the Delmarva power company. He bought a propane generator to give some light and his children warmth. Why he ran the generator inside the house isn’t clear. People speculate it was because it was noisy and would have kept his neighbors awake at night.

Rodney Todd and his five young girls and two young boys died of carbon monoxide poisoning. They were last seen alive on March 28, 2015.

The media reports focused on whether the power company had illegally shut off Rodney Todd’s power. In Maryland, during winter months, non-payment of a bill is not supposed to be legal cause for cutting the cord. The power company said it was a safety issue because an unauthorized meter was in use. Some reports said this may have been installed by the landlord. The power company said Rodney never tried to set up an account. 

While it’s criminal – or at least it should be criminal – to shut off power to a family under any circumstances, it’s even more criminal that a working father can’t afford to pay an electric bill. Rodney Todd, an African American worker, was paid $8 an hour for a full-time job. That was the minimum wage in Maryland in 2015. He was supporting seven kids on $8 an hour. The previous year the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Rodney was a single parent divorced from the children’s mother. He had full custody of the kids. 

What the major media didn’t ask is, why was Rodney working for $8 an hour? When Baltimore exploded after the death of Freddie Gray, CNN and other media outlets, when they weren’t accusing the protesters of being thugs and criminals – which was most of the time – paid lip service to the fact that the underlying conditions of poverty and the savaging of communities by drugs, helped create the anger expressed on the streets of Baltimore. They should have added, but didn’t, the immeasurable destruction of people’s lives by the federal government’s “war on drugs.”  

What they also didn’t ask is why poverty in Baltimore and cities across the country is chronic.

Why did Rodney Todd accept work for $8 an hour? Because people are desperate for jobs, and the more desperate workers are, the lower the wages they are willing to accept, putting more money into the coffers of business owners. 

Why are communities in Baltimore and across the country faced with chronic drug addiction and gang warfare? Desperation creates the need for escape, and instead of developing policies to treat addiction as a health problem and bring an end to poverty, there are enormous amounts of money being made out of the senseless war on drugs. 

In Baltimore and many other cities, the mass incarceration system, police, lawyers, and judges, to a large extent depend on the “war on drugs” for their livelihoods. There is an unholy alliance between organized crime and the judicial and penal system who all benefit from a drug policy that victimizes the victims. 

The for-profit bail bonding industry alone is a multi-million-dollar business, backed by massive insurance companies and trade associations with the money and political power needed to shape the criminal justice system in their interests.

In the Baltimore City Detention Center, a prisoner is not allowed a visit for 60 days, except by a lawyer. No family, no friends. And If you’re represented by a public defender, you’re likely not to see them again until a few days before you go to trial. What does this create? People in a violent, terrifying environment, desperate to pay bail bond agents to get out of a hellish prison.

It’s rather obvious now that the Federal Reserve has created trillions of dollars to bail out big banks and corporations, that chronic poverty could have ended years ago. But that wouldn’t have been profitable.

“Law enforcement officers”, their name says it all. Police are enforcing laws, often with deadly force, to make citizens obey legislation that at its heart protects people who own property. The more you own, the more you’re served and protected. When police use violence, they do so as agents of a legal system that must keep a lid on people who fight back against desperate conditions. Whether they fight back blindly and self-destructively, or more consciously and politically, the elites have passed laws to keep poor people in their place.

American police force culture was born in a society that waged genocide against indigenous peoples and protected a slave system. Most police officers succumb to the norms of training that leads to seeing the poor as animals to be controlled, and poor people of color even more so. 

There is much talk these days about systemic racism. This is not just a set of attitudes that hang in the culture like a poison that can be eradicated by education and better training. Capitalism dehumanizes those it exploits the most, and police are imbued with such attitudes. Undoing systemic racism must start by undoing the super exploitation of people of color and changing the fundamental mission of police. 

People living in desperate conditions will fight back desperately. Sometimes self-destructively. In Baltimore in 2019, there were 348 murders, almost one per day. That compares with 300 murders in New York City, 13 times the size of Baltimore. Most of the people who are killed are poor black people. Baltimore is a very safe city if you’re white. 

If you ask people in impoverished areas, what is the number one thing that they want, the answer’s always jobs. Lack of being able to make a dignified living is devastating their lives. 

The majority of Baltimore does go to work every morning. Sometimes they go to work again in a second job. They fight tooth and nail to get their kids to school and hoping their kids will do better. And many are making the minimum wage that led to the despair of Rodney Todd and the death of his seven children. 

I asked a veteran Baltimore cop, a black man, what do you think of all the police abuse? He said, “Well, what do you want . . . you want us to be the hammer, or you want us to hand out flowers?”

The top one percent holds over $25 trillion in wealth, which exceeds the wealth of the bottom 80 percent. That is more than all the goods and services produced in the U.S. economy in 2019. 

According to a Brookings institute study (Six facts about wealth in the United States):

In 2018, U.S. households held over $13 trillion in assets. For context, that is over five times as much as all the goods and services produced in the U.S. economy in a single year. If that amount were divided evenly across the U.S. population of 329 million, it would result in over $343,000 for each person. For a family of three, that’s over a million dollars in assets.

Almost three-quarters of aggregate household assets are in the form of financial assets—namely stocks and mutual funds, retirement accounts, and closely-held businesses. Real estate makes up the vast majority of non-financial assets.

The process of financialization of the economy has concentrated the majority of wealth into management by the finance sector. Financialization produced two shadow banks that tower over the rest of the corporate world. Blackrock and Vanguard, with other smaller money management firms, control 90% of the S&P 500 public companies, including fossil fuel companies, arms manufacturers, and major U.S. media outlets that own ‘mainstream’ news.  

The top three financial services firms manage 15 trillion dollars of assets, more than the GDP of China and will within a decade, surpass the GDP of the United States. 

Rodney Todd’s electricity was cut off by Delmarva Power, which is owned by Exelon Corporation. Eighty per cent of Exelon is owned by financial institutional investors. The top five shareholders include Blackrock and Vanguard. 

Concentrated ownership of wealth creates concentrated political power – the majority of the political class are bound to the very rich. The large financial institutions dominate the economic policy of governments at all levels. Look at the revolving door from Wall St. to the Treasury Department under administrations of both major parties. 

Much of the wealth of the top percentile depends on cheap labor at home and abroad. Defense of this system of ownership and power is the core mission of police departments and other coercive agencies of the government. 

Instead of economic and political democracy, establishment politicians talk flowers while the police are asked to be the sledgehammer. 

There are families all over the world like that of Rodney Todd. With the economic depression triggered by the pandemic shutdown, millions of people that never dreamt that they would live in poverty, are sinking into exactly that. We have a choice. Move to new forms of democratic ownership and distribution, or face bludgeoning by a police state. 

The way to solve chronic poverty is to have public policy that most elites don’t want, like higher taxes on the rich to finance the reconstruction of neighborhoods and schools; publicly-owned banks that break the power of Wall St.; publicly owned enterprises to create jobs and raise wages; community control of police departments (not just review); democratization of the legal and incarceration systems; ending the war on drugs, and so on. There is no shortage of policy proposals, just the political will to implement them. 

The solutions are obvious, but it requires a broad multi-class and multi-racial mass movement that demands economic and political democracy. We are witnessing its birth now, in cities around the world. The movement is finding ways of sustaining itself and raising demands to imagine new ways of living together. Its leadership must be working people, conscious of the greater task. 

Whether it’s systemic racism, poverty and inequality; climate crisis or the threat of militarism and nuclear war – in the streets and at the ballot box – such a movement will determine if we have a future. 

2 comments

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  • During the second world war, we, in the U.K. were issued with ration books, to ensure every citizen received a fair basic supply, of all necceccesities; well, that is exactly what a guaranteed “Basic Income” would do. So long as any “Basic Income” is spent into circulation immediately, there could not be any meaning ful objection to it, and it would not create “inflation”, more precisely expressed as increased prices. Those who have plenty of money, i.e. more than their fair share, raise all manner of objections and fear mongering, and all of it is just self serving twaddle. Money, printed, issued, spent into circulation, and controlled by Government agency, would be the perfect solution to solve most of the Worlds social problems. Spend some time, and “search”, understand which “group” in our Society is controlling all money, then you will understand the ulterior motives behind this denial of “Printed” money.

  • All Governments and Nations of the world must take back their Sovereign rights that enable them to create their own supply of domestic, Interest free, Debt free, Social Capital; two American States still do this and they are free of financial woes depressing the rest. The creation of money and credit must be returned to our Democratic Parliament; Private Banks, Corporations and Financial Institutions, must not control this important economic function.
    This first step eliminates untold quanta of inflation and Government debt.
    Every Sovereign independent Nation, or co-operating group of Nations, will then use this Social Capital to totally eliminate Poverty and deprivation in their communities by issuing to all that need it a Social Wage, structured to provide a basic break even living standard, a wage that will continue until death. The first duty of Government is to take care of it’s population; A Government controlled and issued Social Wage is the only way to successfully do it.
    The Government will finance all conceivable Public Support and Infrastructures, Health, Housing, Education, etc.
    The Capital so created will be the sole means of financing the Nations Money Supply. This will become a “trickle Up” economy, replacing the nonsense and fraud of trickle down.
    No Capital or subsidy will go to Private Enterprise directly, for if it did it would cause serious inflation.Capital created, issued, and “spent” directly into circulation, as described above, would not create inflation.
    There would be no interference with Private Free Enterprise. The Private Sector could employ those in receipt of the Social Wage by offering wages and hours of employment capable of inducing people to do the work offered; the wage so earned would supplement the Social Wage, not replace it. Thus inducing mutually agreed working conditions at much lower wage costs to employers. This will create a community of independent wage earners , no longer working as wage slaves, always in fear of job loss and penury. Will this not negate the export of jobs to China etc.?
    Thus far no or very little taxpayer money has been expended. The burden of support for the poor and the provision of social and community infrastructure has been lifted from the backs of Corporate enterprise and the wealthy.
    Control of Social provision has passed out of the hands of those not willing to vote for higher taxation to facilitate it. Working people are no longer at the total mercy of Market forces, that all too often deprive them of livelihood and take away hard won assets such as homes and pension funds. Working people can more easily change employment to escape unsatisfactory masters and conditions.
    Price and cost inflation will be substantially reduced by ceasing tax collections from wage and salary earners. Instead individuals will pay tax only once, and that when they are deceased, when the taxman will be empowered to asses deceased estates for tax liability. Avoidance will place the whole estate in danger of confiscation. Is there a better time to pay tax other than when we are dead?
    Corporations and all other commercial enterprise will pay an annual flat rate tax levied against total net profits. Avoidance and imaginative minimisation schemes will not be allowed. Tax allowances will be strictly limited to running,overheads and development expenditures.
    Government will not subsidise free enterprise, this great engine, by it’s own rules, must stand or fall on it’s own merits.
    The value of Sovereign currencies for international purposes will be decided by co-operating Governments, taking into account the requirements concomitant with considerations related to employment levels and relative standards of living between co-operating Nations, and by Supply and Demand balancing. Exchange rates will be fixed, stable, out of the influences of manipulators and traders.
    There is much more to be said in explanation, however your own knowledge and experience will enable you to foresee the many attributes such a system delivers. My title for it is “THE UNIVERSAL ECONOMY” for it will work anywhere and for every person, fairly and equitably.
    A very small “coterie” of Bankers and money power people is holding the world to ransom, they spend untold quanta of money spreading lies about the evils of Social Capital, and the “Printing” of money, for their own narrow self interested purposes; populations around the world are in mortal danger because they are at mercy and threat of money lenders and commodity traders, somehow the money power must be diluted.This dilution will come about when we elect independent politicians who will stop our representative system from being dominated by Corporate and private billionaire funding, intended to create and bend the World to their selfish undemocratic intentions; often requiring many death sacrifices, violent destructive War, resource theft , and all without regard for human-rights and the general well-being of innocent civilian populations. We need to change our system from being “representative” to being one of “participatory”; and return the Economy to one operating on sound money. This formula, most importantly,takes care of the constantly increasing costs due to population growth and other demographics.
    Have you read this far? then you have my thanks, your commentary would also be most appreciated.