Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mayor to Governor: The Crime Path to Power

Thanks to Rutger's political science professor Lisa Miller's scholarship we now understand just how different the information world about crime is around those who exercise power at the city level, and those who govern at the state or federal level. City leaders hear about crime from a wide variety of groups, of whom organized law enforcement is only a small part, and most of these groups are multi-issue organizations focused on local communities. State and federal leaders hear about crime from a limited set of hegemonic groups dominated by organized law enforcement and single issue agenda organizations, like the NRA or the ACLU.

Miller studies legislatures but the same imperatives apply even more to executives. Mayors may choose to make crime a greater (Giuliani) or lesser (Dellums) theme of their administration, but their politics and policies are generally checked by the very complex links that both victims and "criminal" subjects have with the vital interests of the community (moms and dads, siblings, children, cousins, etc.). Governors and Presidents, when they focus on crime, do so at a level of remove from these human complexities that allows them to frame it in simplistic ideological terms. The resulting policies (e.g. 3-Strikes) generally sold at the state level appeal to ordinary voters to imagine themselves in the same terms (rather than as the moms, dads, siblings, children, cousins, etc. of the people who will be victimized in crimes not prevented by harsh symbolic policies, or incarcerated).

If you want to watch this transition in process, keep your eye on SF Mayor Gavin Newsom as he gears us to win in what is certain to be a crowded Democratic field for the next governor of California. In today's headlines, Newsom is bowing to a classic governing through crime newspaper firestorm, in this case about the city's practice of not handing undocumented juvenile drug offenders over to the federal immigration detention and deportation system. More about that controversy later (keep in mind that as the New York Times showed in a recent series, federal immigration is the next US detention human rights scandal, with people dying in a appalling conditions), but Newsom's moves after initially denying any control over the situation, are on the path to crime power that leads to the state house.

San Francisco will shift course and start turning over juvenile illegal immigrants convicted of felonies to federal authorities for possible deportation, Mayor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday as he took the blame for what he conceded was a costly and misguided effort to shield the youths.

Newsom said he hadn't known until recently that the city was keeping the juvenile offenders from being deported as part of its sanctuary-city policy, but he added that "ignorance is no defense."

"All I can say is, I can't explain away the past," Newsom said. "I take responsibility, I take it. We are moving in a different direction."

He is taking personal responsibility, identifying "crime" as the line that separates those whose humanity must be recognized from those who are not recognized as such, and promising exile and boundary enforcing as the methods of securing the community.

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