Fascism comes to DC

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Fascism is alive and well in Washington, D.C. Metropolitan police are planning on creating “Neighborhood Safety Zones”, which is apparently another way to say “ghetto with limited access security checkpoints”. Your papers, please?

I love how the Interim Attorney General defends this fascist scheme by saying it has “been used in other cities”. None of those are examples it helps to create a comparison with, of course — I’m thinking World War II-era Jewish ghettos and modern day Palestine. And it says a lot about how bad the crime problem has gotten in this nation that we are seriously considering creating fenced-in urban ghettos. Apparently the real solution to crime — fixing the economic factors that causes crime in the first place — is too hard, so let’s just try ghettoization instead.

Since fixing economic problems actually takes long-term commitment, and interim fixes seem to be all the rage with the government these days, wouldn’t it make more sense to just put more officers on patrol in the most dangerous neighborhoods? Won’t an officer on patrol be a lot more useful in stopping crime than an officer stuck manning a checkpoint? The officer at the checkpoint won’t be able to see nearly as many of the goings-on of the neighborhood than the officer on patrol. Heck, he won’t even see the people entering the neighborhood on foot. Also, very few criminals are going to be stupid enough to commit crimes in front of a stationary police checkpoint, while the cop on patrol has the possibility of rolling up on a crime in progress.

Now allow me to change the tone of this piece from outraged to literary-allusionary. Upon hearing of this plan, I almost immediately thought of the lawless zones in Robert A. Heinlein’s novel I Will Fear No Evil. This dystopian novel posits that crime has gotten so bad in the future that the police have simply given up on enforcing law in some of the country’s worst inner city areas. Anyone entering those areas is leaving the protection of law, with posted notices to that effect, and is likely to face extreme danger from humanity’s worst criminal elements inside.

I fear that the creation of DC’s proposed “Neighborhood Safety Zones” is the first step towards seeing lawless zones in our own society. Sure, the police say they are only checkpointing people on the way in — but how long is it until they start harassing people who are leaving as well? Also, law will be enforced strongly at the checkpoints themselves, with the intent that the police won’t have to patrol that much inside the zone. It’s not a big step from this to a setup in which law is only enforced along the perimeter, creating a modern day Heinleinian lawless zone on the interior. The checkpoints themselves effectively send the message “if you don’t live within these boundaries, it isn’t safe to come in”. Creating a boundary between the outside and the inside is the largest and hardest step in creating lawless zones — and DC is jumping into it full force.

The worst possible outcome of this is if it actually works to reduce crime. DC could end up as a thoroughly segmented city, with documentation required at many checkpoints just as you’re driving through the city. What a terrible fate that would be — crime is down, but only because you’re living in a police state. It isn’t worth it to give up freedoms to that degree just to gain a little security (some old man said as much). And what a terrible message to send to all our international visitors.

DC needs to step off this dangerous path towards a city full of walled-off ghettos and put into place strategies that aren’t nearly so offensive to liberty.