I don’t live in a crime free neighborhood. I have often made the case that statistics overstate the crime problem in cities in the northeast for various reasons, and I stand behind that analysis. Furthermore, I agree with the peer reviewed data regarding personal safety which demonstrates that “stranger danger” is actually higher in outer ring suburbs and exurbs than in inner city neighborhoods. But, despite the fact that I rarely notice it and that I haven’t been touched by it while living in this place, a lot of crimes are committed in this neighborhood. Serious crimes. And it impacts the way in which I live.
After dark I consider my behavior. Even in daylight there are points on the compass which are less inviting. I would hasten to add that everyone who ever gets into a car or walks by a roadway has reason to be even more wary, and more contemplative, in balancing risk and reward, but that makes my need to do so no less real.
I’ve read of muggings and of murders though never that I can recall a criminal act which involved both in my environs. Not being a gang member, not being involved with illegal drugs, and not being in a violent personal relationship nor in a love triangle I am not within the normal parameters of the victims of homicide.
So I feel both untouched by crime and yet strangely controlled by its presence.
Enter 3-C policing. A model of policing which uses the “same tactics employed by special forces in Iraq to identify insurgents and to separate them from their base of support.” It must be more than ten years ago that I first started hearing and reading about how the 9-11 wars would result in the militarization of policing here in the United States, and a great deal of recent news coverage has been dedicated to the same or related issues. And now here it is. In my neighborhood.
Using the Iraq analogy, who am I in this scenario? I am certainly a racial minority within the neighborhood, but I am of the same background as most of the police forces and the majority of the people who make up the power structure. I would be considered not only generally supportive of the regime, but part of it since I sit on one of its minor councils. Overall I would be the type of person this program is supposed to help.
So why am I nervous about this?
I’m willing to believe that the intention here is really to make the neighborhood a better place for “law abiding citizens”. I like the idea of 4 or 5 more cops “on the beat” from 4 pm to midnight. As a matter of fact, if I were in charge that would be precisely the time on which I would focus because it is when I am most likely to be out and about and when things can sometimes feel a bit sketchy.
I don’t think that the South End has been selected by chance however. MGM’s $850 million project is starting construction this week. Its overall success will be judged by revenues and a healthy seeming(at least) activity at street level. The primary focus of this 3-C policing will be to squeeze the criminal element away from the MGM footprint. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re having people over you clean up a bit.
However, these people being labeled now as insurgents really, are citizens. Citizens of a very sick society and potential participants in a criminal justice system which has its priorities all out of whack. Often drug crimes, in which the “victims” are voluntary consumers of the products which harm them, do more time than violent criminals. We incarcerate people in detestable circumstances in which they are often made more savage and brutal than when they arrived despite the fact that we know that nearly all of them will be released some day! Prison rape, rape(!), is a topic of humor when discussing our system of justice, a crime which, if it involved anyone near and dear to us outside the walls of prison, would make us rage in anger and shudder in disgust.
And now I am to be part of a team searching for candidates to enter that system? While I consider myself fortunate by virtue of my age, wealth, clothing, and race to be easily marked out by those policing as a member of the order which is to be protected, I worry that those same markers could now make me and my family obvious soft targets for those who will receive greater levels of scrutiny by the police.
Marx once said of religion that “the abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” I would say of crime that its reduction requires a reduction in the condition that foments crime. The obsessive focus on crime as an issue is, in embryo, the criticism of that dysfunction and injustice of which crime is the outcome.
I don’t mind attacking the most visible symptom of our sick society, but the long term success of the effort to reduce crime will have more to do with attacking the diseases at its root. A little more democracy, and social equity along with a liberalization of drug laws could go a long way.