People are falling through the holes in the Spanish socialist safety net, and I see them every day on the streets of Sevilla. European countries like Spain are known for their “cradle-to-grave” assistance for struggling workers, but homeless beggars still squat outside grocery stores holding signs proclaiming “sin hogar.”
Spain’s severe recession and high unemployment rate (about one in four Spaniards were unemployed in 2014) probably contributes to the homeless problem. Similarly, an astounding quarter of Spanish people live below the poverty line, and an even higher percentage (27%) of children are living in or on the verge of poverty. The austerity measures imposed by Spain’s government as a last-ditch attempt to bail out the sinking economy aren’t helping. No wonder so many people are forced to take to the streets.
As in many countries, justice in Spain mysteriously serves the wealthy; poor people have to take what they can get. According to my host dad, Alberto, “the Spanish justice system in Spain works differently for different people. Rich people can get away with more than poor people can.” It would be nice if Lady Justice were truly blind, but unfortunately money corrupts.
Interestingly enough, neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment exists in Spain. Spanish judges can prescribe long sentences ranging from 20-40 years, but Alberto thinks some crimes should be punished more harshly. In cases of murder or rape, he argued for a life sentence. (He never mentioned the death penalty.)
For the most part, though, my host dad likes the police and considers them an important aspect of life in Spain. To him, the role they play in protecting citizens and punishing criminals outweighs the number of rogue police officers who take advantage of their authority. In Spain, there were 32 complaints of police mistreatment in 2013, and judges frequently dismiss allegations of mistreatment (Human Rights Report 2013).
Many of the problems with the Spanish justice system afflict the U.S. justice system as well. Money drives a lot of the corruption among police officials, and conflicts of interest in law enforcement can be found in many countries. Poor people always take the brunt of injustice, because they can’t pay lawyers to defend themselves and fines weigh most heavily on them.
For example, on top of the racial aspect of the Mike Brown case in Ferguson, MO, the Brown family had trouble pursuing justice because they couldn’t afford to fight for justice in the courts. Imagine what would have happened if the police had shot the eighteen-year-old white son of an oil mogul on that fateful August day last year.
Justice is difficult to administer with absolute fairness, and Spain is no exception. Even fail-safes meant to safeguard against debilitating poverty can fail, as I see every day in Sevilla. No doubt even more homeless people wander the streets of larger cities like Madrid. Unsurprisingly , the justice system works better for the rich than for the poor, just as it does in the U.S. Regardless, at least my host dad seems to think Spain’s police officers are vital to its daily operations. No system is perfect, but the system seems to serve at least the majority of Spaniards well.