Friday, February 19, 2016

Thoughts on Paul Aker's Arrest

As most of you are now fully aware, a man named Paul Aker had US Marshals apprehend him and take him before a judge as a result of $1500 in outstanding student loan debt that he owed in federal loans. The story went viral - it seemed like everyone was talking about it, and every media outlet wanted to write something about this situation. I wrote a short post about it, a neutral one in fact, just because as soon as this news hit, my phone began blowing up. I received texts, Facebook messages, even a few phone calls (if memory serves me) about Aker's story. In fact, the messages and links to the story began the day before it even went viral.

The question was pretty much the same, "Cryn, have you heard about this?" And when I told the person that I had heard about Aker's case, the response was pretty much the same, "Could this be me? It's scary."

I remarked on Facebook that I shared the sentiment. It was a scary story. There was palpable terror that US Marshals could turn up at your door for old student loan debts owed to Uncle Sam the day that Aker's story made its way through the social media grapevine.

The reaction and the reporting about it immediately reminded me of an older story that occurred many years ago in Stockton, California. In this case, in June of 2011, a man named Kenneth Wright was the victim of excessive force. At around 6 a.m. a SWAT team arrived at Mr. Wright's home, broke down his door, and arrested him. His children witnessed his arrest. He was in his boxers, handcuffed, and thrown in the back of a SWAT car for 6 hours. I followed that story closely with updates, as the responses from debtors who know me were the same. In addition, I was also frustrated by the misinformation about the story. As for the debtors, they were terrified when the story first broke on a local TV station. As it turns out, the officials were looking for Mr. Wright's wife, who had been under criminal investigation for committing fraud and theft. I made a point to report these details in order to provide accurate information. The original news story, from a local news station, was vague. But they made it crystal clear in their first reporting, Mr. Wright had been arrested for his wife's defaulted loans.

As it would turn out, that turned out to not be the case. And I believe the news station took down the story - the clip went POOF! I documented all of it here, and wrote a concluding piece about the thing that I thought mattered the most: the reaction that debtors had to the story of U.S. officials arresting a man for his debt. The reaction again was TERROR.

Here we are again. This time the story is about Mr. Aker in Texas. Many accused me of spreading misinformation, just like the other outlets. People were quick to condemn Mr. Aker. He ignored court dates. He deserved what he got. You can read all the remarks in the original and extremely short post I wrote a few days ago.

As I said in the case of Mr. Wright, and I'll say in the case of Mr. Aker, the reactions to the stories matter. Debtors are - understandably - on edge. They feel powerless, because in many respects they are. It's that sense that you always need to be looking over your shoulder, that financial doom is imminent. That's why these stories get the type of attention that they do.

As for Mr. Aker, I presume they spent more than $1500 to bring him before a judge for this debt. This seems outrageous to me. I will not get into a blame game about Mr. Aker's situation. I find that to be a colossal waste of time, particularly in light of the fact that some of the biggest lenders have stolen millions and millions and millions of dollars from all of us. Yes, that's right. They STOLE from us. Nobody makes a peep about that, even when it's noted in the news. But when someone like Mr. Aker, who I presume to be working class or middle class, gets arrested for a measly $1500, there are plenty who are quick to blame and condemn him. I'll be honest, some of you people astound me. Your anger, my dear outraged readers, is misplaced. Redirect your anger. Be angry with the lenders who have been able to set up an industry that shouldn't even exist. Be angry with the leaders who have allowed these lenders to have so much power, the leaders who have written legislation in their favor, and in such a way that hurts those of us who are borrowers. Be angry! But be careful when thinking about to whom you ought to be directing that anger.

Who knows? Some day the SWAT team or crew of US Marshals just might come 'round your house - God forbid - and you might want us debtors to be understanding. After all, we're all in this together.


Anonymous said...

Well, good luck.

But I would suggest not ignoring court orders, talking back to judges when they call you, and then threatening US Marshals with a gun when they come to personally serve you after you dodged all the other servers.

I would suggest it's a better idea to just respond/communicate with your creditors and then at least the court. Even retaining an attorney if you truly feel you are being treated unjustly. Although most courts actually have an attorney on staff that helps pro se litigants, and most judges are extremely accommodating to them, especially for these low types of amounts.

Aker is pretty much an example of the absolute worst way to act, and that the system is extremely lenient but some people just don't know when to stop pushing it.

Anonymous said...

I love what you said in your reaction, but I have to admit, you've left me hanging. I was hoping to read something like, "There was a misunderstanding. He was really arrested for a crime he committed, not for a failure to pay a $1,500 student loan."

So is it all true, then? This man was arrested for not paying a student loan? Or, rather, was he arrested for "not showing up in court" over the student loan? It was my understanding that the federal government typically does not waste time and money taking debtors to court; they just garnish wages and tax returns without judgements. Why is this case different?

Why couldn't they just send the police? Why did it have to be the U.S. Marshals? This all seems rather extreme to me.

I agree with you. I can make no sense of how many of your commenters have been so quick to condemn victims, yet they seem to not be troubled by the fact that the federal government is using excessive force on debtors. Aren't most people in debt? Shouldn't most people, therefore, be concerned that this could happen to them one day, too? And by the way, why do they think that their brand of debt is more righteous than ours? I would disagree that my college tuition debt is inferior to the frivious credit card debt of someone else.


Anonymous said...

FACT: Of 7000 cases filed in the Houston area alone, 1,500 are now queued up for ARREST. The vast majority of these, if not ALL OF THESE judgements were obtained against the borrowers IN ABSENTIA.

FACT: In this particular case they sent the summons to the wrong address, but had no problems finding the borrower when the time came to make the arrest. This fact should be screaming out to REAL journalists everywhere.

FACT: This is a preliminary arrest rate of nearly 25%.

FACT: A similar 2003 operation in Minnesota, dubbed "Operation Anaconda Squeeze", which targeted 150 student loan debtors, resulted in only 4 arrests, or, an arrest rate of only about 2.5%

FACT: On just the current arrests planned in this Texas district alone, the court and federal marshalls stand to pocket nearly $2 million in fees from these judgements and arrests.

FACT: Never before have citizens in this country been arrested for loan debt on a scale ANYWHERE NEAR this large. We are talking about thousands of people in the Houston area alone, but the Department of Education has recently contracted with large collection lawfirms to engage in this sort of collection activity ACROSS THE COUNTRY.