Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Cyclops

David Johston reports in the NYTimes on the growing unease in American law enforcement with the federal governments continued focus on terrorism (to the exclusion of crime). Some of the billions once spent by the federal government to incentive participation in the war on drugs, has been shifted to fighting terror, but while local police have responded by seeking anti-terror funds for training and equipment, they are concerned that crime is getting short shrift.

The Providence police chief, Col. Dean M. Esserman, said the federal government seemed unable to balance antiterror efforts and crime fighting. “Our nation, that I love, is like a great giant that can deal with a problem when it focuses on it,” said Colonel Esserman, who has been chief since 2003, when he was hired by Mayor David N. Cicilline. “But it seems like that giant of a nation is like a Cyclops, with but one eye, that can focus only on one problem at a time.”

“The support we had from the federal government for crime fighting seems like it is being diverted to homeland defense,” he added. “It may be time to reassess, not how to dampen one for the other, but how not to lose support for one as we address the other.”

The image of the state as cyclops, attacking only one mega-problem at a time, is consistent with my argument in Governing through Crime that crime became the template for all social problems after the 60s. What Chief Esserman and others seem to ignore is how much the war on terror plays to the same mentalities of citizenship (protect me!) and the same technologies of power (racial profiling) as the war on drugs did.

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