Zero Tolerance

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at
Wed Apr 26 06:45:31 PDT 2000

It is easy to take cheap shots at the zero tolerance (ZT) policy, especially if one lives in suburbs or college campuses that are for the most part shielded from crime and grime. But your perspective dramatically changes when you live in inner city, as I do. For the most dreadful fear of city dwellers (most of whom are Black) is the fear of crime and violence - most of which is committed by black offenders. According to the official statistics (NCVS), over 80% of all Black victims of violent crimes, but less than 17% of all White victims, are victimized by Black offenders.

These numbers speak for themselves - Black criminals threaten the Black community to an incomparably greater degree than they do the White (mostly suburban) community. Ironically, the bleeding heart intellectuals, who live sheltered lives in suburbs and campus communities, worry about the rights of criminals while ignoring those of the Black victims. They seem oblivious to the fact that the main community concern (Black and White alike) in inner city, including public housing, is not police brutality but, in the words of Tracy Chapman, the police always coming too late, if coming at all.

Wilson & Co. may be fascists, but that does not automatically disqualifies all they say. Incidentally, the "broken window" view is consistent with what I saw during my seven years of living in inner city Baltimore. Borded up houses are a magnet for delinquency of all sorts. Granted, much of it is harmless, such as the homeless who just need a place to stay and seldom bother anyone. But drug trade and prostitution that also thrive in homes with "broken windows" (or borded up windows) inevitably attract all sorts of crime to the area.

It is quite obvious that the current problems are a censequence of the concentration and ghettoization of poverty (or building quasi concentration camps in inner cities if you will) pursued throughout 1960s. Not long ago ACLU successfully sued the city of Baltimore for what "warehousing the poor" (i.e. highly concnetrated and substandard public housing), forcing the housing authority to disperse public housing residents to more afluent areas. The added benefit of that move was bringing people closer to jobs most of whioch are in the burbs, since many of them were too poor to have car, and that effectively excluded them form the suburban job market. Needless to say that the implementation of this policy meets stiff resistance from suburaban residents.

Meanwhile, the residents (mostly minorities) who escaped public housing (thanks to empowerment zones and public subsidies to first time home buyers) are the most vocal supporters of the "broken window" policies - sine they saw what the lack of community control brought to public housing, and they do not want to go through that again.

The bottom line is that regardless of what pundits and policy peddlers, left and right, say - inner cities are very dangerous places and people who live there are desperate for any measure that will make them safe. In some drug infested areas, the residents (Black, lest you suspect racism) - frustrated with the lax or nonexisten policing - are taking law enforcement into their own hands and form armed vigilante groups to chase drug dealers out. As much as I hate vigilantism, I actually support these efforts - this is a case of local self-managemetn and doing what the government has failed to do.

It is one thing to fight police abuses, and quite a different thing to demand a profesional and efficient police force to protect citizenz from rouge elements in this society. ZT does not necessarily leads to the abuses of police authority - it can also be translated into a demand for more professional and community firendly police and policing.


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