Thursday, May 17, 2007
The city of Baltimore hopes to curb its outrageous murder rate by preemptively transforming some of its troubled neighborhoods into prisons.
A city council leader, alarmed by Baltimore's rising homicide rate, wants to give the mayor the power to put troubled neighborhoods under virtual lockdown.There are so many things wrong with this proposal that I hardly know where to begin. For one thing, minus the calling in of the National Guard we saw in New Orleans and almost saw in Jackson, Mississippi (both majority-black, like Baltimore), this proposal throws out the baby of liberty with the bathwater of ineffective law enforcement, not to mention inviting massive abuse by policemen and perhaps other government officials.
"Desperate measures are needed when we're in desperate situations," City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran told The (Baltimore) Sun. He said he would introduce the legislation next week.
Under Curran's plan, the mayor could declare "public safety act zones," which would allow police to close liquor stores and bars, limit the number of people on city sidewalks, and halt traffic during two-week intervals.
Police would be encouraged to aggressively stop and frisk individuals in those zones to search for weapons and drugs.
Baltimore has tallied 108 homicides already this year, compared to 98 over the same period last year. Police and prosecutors also say they are facing a "stop snitching" culture [More on this later. --ed] that discourages victims and witnesses from cooperating with investigators trying to get criminals off the streets. [bold added]
And, as we are seeing with global warming hysteria and the just-mentioned cases of inappropriate responses to crime, the excuse for such massive new government intrusions is that there is an "emergency". As I have said before:
So because the government -- by failing to punish criminals adequately and thus creating an "emergency" -- has proven unable or unwilling to protect individual rights, it is thus entitled to run over individual rights and install military troops? For what other pedestrian reasons will we have government officials declaring "emergencies" and what will they capriciously decide to do about them? This trigger-happy willingness to declare "emergencies" seems like the real emergency to me.In addition to presenting the threat of unwarranted government intrusion to anyone who happens to live in one of these neighborhoods, there is also the inconvenient fact that many high-crime neighborhoods -- especially where there is what is euphemistically called a "'stop snitching' culture" -- are black neighborhoods.
Just wait until the NAACP notices that most of the locked-down areas are heavily black. Baltimore will either have to abandon its plan or spread the misery in the name of racial equality! In neither case will it be protecting the freedom of its law-abiding citizens. (Although, at least if the plan gets shot down, freedom will have been served by accident. Sort of.)
None of this is to deny that Baltimore has a serious problem and that its government must change aspects of how it addresses crime. I suspect that some of these changes would be similar to those I mentioned at the previous link, so I will not go into them again here. The specific problem of uncooperative witnesses sounds daunting, but instituting neighborhood lockdowns is not the way to address it.
Nevertheless, the mention of the "'stop snitching' culture" alludes to the more fundamental problem, faced by cities like Baltimore (and by black Americans generally) which I recently read a column about. After noting such deleterious influences as rap music on black youths, the column ended as follows, with the following allusion to the anti-snitch culture:
"In this war we have to decide which side we're on: the side of the law, or the side of the gangs. If that means turning our back on a family member, so be it.The column further reminded me of a particularly stupid comment awhile back by a popular rapper to the effect that he would not cooperate with the police, even to turn in a serial killer next door.
We have to make ending gang and gun violence our movement and our cause.
Where I come from, once word gets out that you've co-operated with the police, that only makes you a bigger target of criminal violence.Does this concern for one's image even over one's continued existence not sound juvenile? Is it any wonder that so many kids growing up in such neighborhoods see it less likely that they will suffer for committing a murder than for turning someone in for a crime? How the hell can someone grow up into a responsible adult, much less one who thinks long-range, in such a milieu?
That is a dark reality in so many neighbourhoods like mine across America. I'm not saying it's right, but it's reality. [bold added]
What I find ironic about the Baltimore proposal is that it threatens to reinstate almost exactly the kind of poor policing that helped cause many blacks to become wary of cooperating with the police in the first place, back when the police were part of the state apparatus for enforcing Jim Crow laws. To be sure, the police would not be enforcing segregation, but they would once again represent an oppressive state rather than simply acting as guardians of public order.
Now that I think of it, the notion of massive lock-downs of neighborhoods itself strikes me as a reprise of other aspects of Jim Crow. And this provokes another thought: Just as any culture can slowly become accustomed to tyranny over time, I suspect that many of the problems in black culture today are a sort of "hangover" from the long period of servitude and second-class citizenship during which it developed.
That being the case, I see such lock-downs as a horrible impediment to black youths breaking with the dysfunctional aspects of their culture. Living like this will make it harder for them to learn how to live with the personal responsibility called for by freedom -- or to appreciate why it is better to help a cop rather than to cover up for a crime.
Black Americans face a life-and-death cultural problem that can be helped or hindered -- but not solved for them -- by government action. Ultimately, blacks must develop a culture of individualism like other Americans before they will realize the value of rule of law. All the government can do is makes its best effort to protect their lives and their freedom while they learn.
5-18-07: Corrected two typos.