Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mandate for Fear

One of the central dynamics of what I call "governing through crime," is the systematic production and dissemination of knowledge about crime. Knowledge is power. What we know about is generally what we try to act on (or at least avoid). In recent decades a variety of laws have made crime knowledge more generally available. This aspect of the law is generally unnoticed (even as the result is more notice of crime). Thus the well known "No Child Left Behind Law," (which I argue in Chapter 7 of the book Governing through Crime is largely modeled on crime, treating educational failure as a crime) included a little discussed provision which requires states to maintain lists of "persistently dangerous schools." The result is media coverage such as the story reported by Jennifer Medina in yesterday's New York Times, describing the list of such schools in New York (here is the list) and its growth or shrinkage. (Unlike most such stories, Medina helpfully reports on the law itself and process of setting the terms of dangerousness which the law leaves up to states).

For many it will seem benign and appropriate for information to be provided on which schools are dangerous. Schools may be quite reluctant to disclose the level of crime (indeed New York and other states, according to Medina, have been accused of keeping the lists too short) and the incidents involved are serious crimes like robbery, assault, and use of a weapon. The point however is that law is mandating your awareness to crime risk and not to others. Parents can learn whether the school they are considering is a "persistently dangerous" one in terms of crime but not, for example, whether it is a persistently racially segregated one, or one with high levels of diabetes, high exposure to pollution, or automobile accidents.

What we know about, we act on.

1 comment:

kirk boyd said...

The only reason it is pertinent to ask which schools are "unsafe" is to address the underlying reasons why they are unsafe. It's not a coincidence that the largest number of unsafe schools are from the poorest neighborhoods. Yet the Bush brigade would have us believe that crime is just flawed DNA or poor personal choice. They should think again, or perhaps deeply. The "unsafe" findings only highlight their failed policies.