Zero Tolerance

W. Kiernan WKiernan at
Sun Apr 30 17:37:56 PDT 2000

Wojtek Sokolowski wrote:
> At 02:40 PM 4/26/00 -0400, Eric wrote:
> >
> > I think zero-tolerance policies are racist, draconian,
> > destructive, and completely without merit.
> By contrast, selling drugs to black teenagers, shooting black women or
> rival gang members, or robbing poor blacks of their meager possessions
> to buy drugs are courageous of resistance carried out by ghetto
> freedom fighters who deserve our full support.

When you hear talk about "zero-tolerance" policies, they're not talking about murderers and armed robbers. Where and when ever did any U.S. police force generally tolerate murder or armed robbery? "Zero-tolerance" refers to policies which punish insignificant misdemeanors, like pot-smoking and graffiti-spraying, as though they were grave, unforgivable felonies.

Everybody in his right mind is against murder and armed robbery. But cops and right-wing politicians have spent the last few decades deliberately equating psychopathic gangsters who gun down their victims in the streets to harmless citizens buying some marijuana out of their own paychecks so they can 'lax out and feel good.

You continue:

> Far from being Robin Hoods of romantic populism, criminals are usually
> a violent, manipulative and opportunistic lowlife that victimize their
> neighbors for purely personal gain, such as gaining respect of their
> cronies, sex, drugs or money.

Anyone who violates any existing law, no matter how arbitrary or draconian, is by definition a "criminal." Rosa Parks violated a law; did that make her "a violent, manipulative and opportunistic lowlife"? In terms of numbers, when you look at the millions of "criminals" being flushed through the U.S. jail system, for every one of those bloodthirsty comicbook murderers you describe there are dozens of basically harmless dopeheads and the like locked up.

What "zero-tolerance" achieves is to distract police from concentrating on the really dangerous crimes. That, and it turns all us citizens into guilty-until-proven-innocent subjects under a police state. And also it disenfranchises something like a third of the black males living in this country, in terms of elections that last feature has to be of value to someone.

Yours WDK - WKiernan at

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