In a recent letter, John Votava wrote, "I feel certain that the authors did not mean... that there is some relationship between the supposed drop in crime rates and the increased rate of incarceration that workers in the United States are facing."
They meant it, and the Militant agrees.
Who defines crime? The capitalist class makes the laws that determine what crimes are and, consequently, who criminals are. The criminals overwhelmingly are workers.
The capitalists, through their various government representatives, are increasingly cracking down on working people. In New York City, for example, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has been carrying out a "quality of life" campaign that has resulted in the accelerated lockup of toilers for actions that administration made criminal. A new "zero tolerance" law allows cops to seize a person's car if the driver is accused of drinking. Teen curfews, teen smoking laws, the stepped-up enforcement of laws against public consumption of alcohol - all result in more arrests.
Nationally, the Clinton regime has tightened immigration laws and amassed the country's largest police force to find, arrest, and jail or deport undocumented workers. Homeless people under capitalism are criminals, too. One day you are sleeping on a park bench because you have no place to live, the next day you're hauled off to jail for criminal trespass. Striking workers who picket their bosses' plant often find themselves in violation of the law, of course. By expanding the definition of crime, the rulers create more criminals and crime rates soar. They arrest and jail more of these criminals, and crime rates drop.
Votava's letter implied that cop brutality and imprisonment lead to "a greater spirit of rebelliousness." But jails are not hotbeds for rebellion; they are designed to degrade and alienate workers behind bars. The food is terrible, the conditions are cruel, and violent abuses by guards are well documented. The fact that some inmates maintain their dignity is a testament to the perseverance of the proletariat.
Amadou Diallo met cops' `generic description'
The case of Amadou Diallo shows that just being Black in a working-class neighborhood fits the description of a criminal. Never forget that the cops who shot Diallo argued he fit the "generic description" of a rapist they were allegedly chasing.
When the cops organize extensive roundups of workers and youth who "fit the description," such as when cops shut down a street and stop every car, they are mathematically bound to find someone they can charge with smoking a joint, carrying a gun, evading traffic tickets, jumping bail, or some other petty crime.
This approach has resulted in more people being arrested and imprisoned, including gang members and drug dealers. And when someone is arrested they get thrown in jail more often and for longer periods of time. The result is less crime in the streets.
In a letter on the facing page, reader George Rose notes that the "real criminals" are in Washington, those who carry out genocidal wars abroad, as well as against toilers on native soil. But those acts are not against their laws. The killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi people and countless others is - under the rule of imperialism - a legal act. That should be reason enough to fight for the abolition of such a system.
Most actions defined as crimes that are carried out against working people are by other workers who, demoralized by the crisis of capitalism and ignorant of their own self-worth, prey on members of their own class. This is a small, but very real layer.
According to the World Almanac, in 1993 the total estimated number of arrests in the United States stood at 10,448,491. In 1996 the figure jumped to 15,168,100. In the state of New York, one of the centers of the "anticrime" crackdown, total crime rates - including those for rape, murder, and robbery - dropped during that same period. Statistics on crime are no more or less reliable than other government statistics. It is our duty to face them, understand them, and explain them.
In exchange for lower crime rates and "safer communities," middle-class elements and some workers have given a degree of consent to these methods. For example, some Black store owners in Harlem would say Mayor Giuliani is racist and lets cops run amok, but give him credit for making their establishments safer and for kicking out the street vendors. Vendors used to flourish along 125th Street in Harlem. They are virtually nonexistent now.
The question is not whether crime rates have dropped, but rather, what price have we paid for this reality? Broken limbs and lost relatives from cop brutality, more time in jail from sentencing laws, waiting for the bus due to a car seizure, and hesitation about speaking your mind or protesting for fear of arrest or deportation.
The capitalists, however, can only push so far before they provoke a response. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand the four cops who killed Diallo be jailed. This example is of a piece with a growing shift in the morale and psychology of the workers and farmers towards resistance and solidarity.
- Brian Taylor
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