(For added special effect, here’s a link to Chicago’s “The Whole World is Watching.” Just skip the ad if it pops up, let the music start, then read away)
During the first presidential campaign debate, Donald Trump answered the question about the future direction of America by favoring stronger law and order. His answer implied that the law enforcement community is either unwilling or unable to provide what he considers acceptable law and order.
His obvious scorn for preparation for the debate was on stark display with that pronouncement.
In 1984 President Reagan signed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. This was a wide-ranging consolidation of penalties for criminal violations, started a more widespread use of forfeiture of properties and assets of organized crime, and reinstituted the federal death penalty.
In 1994 President William Jefferson Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The bill was a reaction to the increase in violent crime and rising homicide rate in the US. This created a set of minimum mandatory sentences, increased use of electronic surveillance, and increased federal aid to state and local law enforcement.
Proponents argued, despite recognizing there would be a significant impact on minority communities, that each of these bills had the support of minority legislators and community leaders.
This is only partially true.
While many minority members of Congress voted for the legislation, they argued for added provisions including increasing aid to education, job training, and programs aimed at reducing poverty.
These provisions were never incorporated.
Which leads me to the point of how Trump panders to lowest common denominator with each position he takes. In this case, the strong law enforcement crowd. They see themselves as the solution to the crime problem. In fact, they, like the previously mentioned laws, are reactions to the problem.
They are not the solution; they are one element of the solution to a complex problem.
You can flood the neighborhoods of the south side of Chicago, or anywhere else, with an army of cops and lessen the number of incidents of violence. Yet the problem will remain.
Law and Order is not a solution; it is a TV show. And like a TV show, it is not reality. It replaces the truth with fantasy. A fantasy embraced by those seeking a quick solution to an embedded and difficult problem.
There’s a line in the movie, Fort Apache: The Bronx, about the former 41st precinct in New York. One officer, experienced and jaundiced by the reality of the time, explained to another officer, “We’re not a police department. We are an army of occupation.”
Like other armies of occupation, the Police Department soon realized that occupation is a short-term strategy. Eventually, they had to address the root cause. Police departments are ill-equipped to deal with these endemic problems.
Yet Trump would suggest stronger law and order is the answer.
We need to recognize that armed response to violence is not a solution, it is a placebo. We need to reduce the culture of violence and prevent those conditions which foster it from arising again.
We need to learn from the successes and mistakes of the past to create a more responsive and effective law enforcement model.
By all measures, the 1984 and 1994 crime measures both offered fixes to short-term problems and exacerbated the deeper, underlying causes. While some credit the passage of these laws with the reduction of violent crime, an equal number point out that the decrease in violent crime was already underway.
Through what amounted to a trick of accounting, we removed thousands of people from the welfare system by putting them in prison. And put them back in prison when, on release, they were unable to find jobs and re-offended.
Then, we turned the prison system into a for-profit enterprise. I have no doubt we could find a cost-saving method of implementing the death penalty through the private sector as well. Capitalism at its finest.
Despite the braggadocio of Trump, you cannot solve poverty with prisons, embrace enforcement of laws without also embracing education, or create “armies of occupation” as solutions to the racism and hopelessness of a segment of American society.
“Law and order” solution to crime is like injecting morphine into a broken arm. The pain is gone. The underlying problem still there, waiting to reemerge when the medication wears off. The problem, like the pain, will be worse.
Recent events would suggest the medication has worn off.
Trump touts the endorsement of organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police as validation of his position. I think it more a sign that the Fraternal Order of Police has lost sight of its true purpose in pursuit of empty promises of more cops.
If Trump had his way, there’d be thousands of more cops on the street. But if I were them I’d be worried how, or if, he would find a way to pay for them. Look at his business “success.” He contracts for something, then refuses to pay for it.
Listen to his own words about paying taxes. He doesn’t pay them because he’s smart. Those same taxes that go to support law enforcement. Trump doesn’t put any value on them. He merely panders to an unsophisticated, narrow-minded, short-sighted mentality.
No one had a stronger law and order approach to crime than the Gestapo or the KGB. Crime was rare in Moscow. Paris was almost crime-free during the occupation. Crime is pretty low in Pyongyang as well.
That’s strong law and order.
The law and order pronouncements of Donald Trump invoke the chilling echoes of a Final Solution.
Is that the kind of America we want?