Neighborhood Safety Ghettoes in D.C.

So, there’s this poster that’s been circulating around anarchist, civil libertarian, and lefty blogs for a few months now. It’s become popular because it’s funny (in a nerdy way), and also because it makes an important point:

It has a photo of a column of people dressed as Imperial Storm Troopers from Star Wars is marching down a city street. Caption: Fascism: You really think it'll be this obvious?

But, well, the awful truth is that, as with so many other things in American politics, the answer to that rhetorical question can’t really be taken for granted, because it really depends on what kind of neighborhood you live in. The poster makes an important point addressed to, and about the daily lives of, people of a particular socioeconomic class (specifically, the people who most often spend their time reading blogs). For many if not most people in other social classes, the answer really is just, You bet it will. Or, It already is. Has been for decades. Where you been?

For example, consider the cops plans for improving neighborhood safety in the D.C. Ghetto. No, I’m not using that last word as a careless synonym for slum. I am using it in the most literal sense.

D.C. police will seal off entire neighborhoods, set up checkpoints and kick out strangers under a new program that D.C. officials hope will help them rescue the city from its out-of-control violence.

Under an executive order expected to be announced today, police Chief Cathy L. Lanier will have the authority to designate Neighborhood Safety Zones. At least six officers will man cordons around those zones and demand identification from people coming in and out of them. Anyone who doesn’t live there, work there or have legitimate reason to be there will be sent away or face arrest, documents obtained by The Examiner show.

— Michael Neibauer and Bill Myers, The Examiner (2008-06-04): Lanier plans to seal off rough ’hoods in latest effort to stop wave of violence

Guess who decides what counts as a legitimate reason for being in the neighborhood — the people who live and work in that neighborhood, or the government’s goon squad?

Lanier has been struggling to reverse D.C.’s spiraling crime rate but has been forced by public outcry to scale back several initiatives including her All Hands on Deck weekends and plans for warrantless, door-to-door searches for drugs and guns.

Under today’s proposal, the no-go zones will last up to 10 days, according to internal police documents. Front-line officers are already being signed up for training on running the blue curtains.

Peter Nickles, the city’s interim attorney general, said the quarantine would have a narrow focus.

This is a very targeted program that has been used in other cities, Nickles told The Examiner. I’m not worried about the constitutionality of it.

— Michael Neibauer and Bill Myers, The Examiner (2008-06-04): Lanier plans to seal off rough ’hoods in latest effort to stop wave of violence

Just so we’re clear, neither am I. I couldn’t possibly care less whether surrounding poor neighborhoods with cops, giving everyone the Ihre Papiere, bitte treatment, and chopping a community up into police-occupied strategic hamlets for the purpose of a government quarantine without any probable cause whatsoever for believing that any of the individual people you will be surrounding, stopping, hassling, and threatening with jail have ever committed any crime against any identifiable victim, is or is not countenanced by the United States Constitution. Who cares? The basic problem with terrorizing and brutalizing entire neighborhoods is that it is evil and incredibly dangerous, whether or not the Constitution allows for it.

Others are. Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the D.C. police union and a former lawyer, called the checkpoint proposal breathtaking.

Shelley Broderick, president of the D.C.-area American Civil Liberties Union and the dean of the University of the District of Columbia’s law school, said the plan was cockamamie.

I think they tried this in Russia and it failed, she said. It’s just our experience in this city that we always end up targeting poor people and people of color, and we treat the kids coming home from choir practice the same as we treat those kids who are selling drugs.

The proposal has the provisional support of D.C. Councilman Harry Tommy Thomas, D-Ward 5, whose ward has become a war zone.

They’re really going to crack down on what we believe to be a systemic problem with open-air drug markets, Thomas told The Examiner.

Thomas said, though, that he worried about D.C. moving towards a police state.

— Michael Neibauer and Bill Myers, The Examiner (2008-06-04): Lanier plans to seal off rough ’hoods in latest effort to stop wave of violence

But what the hell did D.C. Councilman Harry Tommy Thomas expect, anyway? You can’t go around pushing your paramilitary crack downs with rhetoric about war zones and then act all surprised when you get a police state. If you plan for an occupation, you can expect that you are going to get lock-downs and de facto martial law.

Radley Balko writes:

Last week, I received the following email:

I live in Eckington, a transitional neighborhood in northeast DC. I got a knock on the door this morning from a guy with ACORN (looks like a lefty community group that I’d never heard of) saying that DC police would be coming around shortly asking to search homes in the neighborhood for guns, and explaining we had the constitutional right to refuse, etc. He added that anything the police find they can use against you because you never know what a friend of a friend might have left in your house Not sure if he told me this because I had just gotten out of bed and had answered the door in my bathrobe looking disoriented, but I digress. He was handing out a packet of info from the ACLU including a nifty doorhanger you can put out that says NO CONSENT TO SEARCH OUR HOME. One of my neighbors told me the guy told them they were only doing this in poor black neighborhoods, and this notice from the ACLU that I found online seems to bear this out.

I know it’s not exactly a wrong-door no-knock raid, but I am concerned because while I certainly don’t want the police (or any other strangers) rummaging through my junk, I’m kind of afraid of what would happen if I refuse the search. I already live on one of those streets with the surveillance cams installed. Does my address get marked for being uncooperative or suspicious? I should mention of course that I don’t own any guns and have never touched anything more powerful than a bb gun.

You are free to refuse the searches. But if a regular reader of this site feels uncomfortable asserting that right, you can imagine how other people subject to these searches might feel.

— Radley Balko, The Agitator (2008-06-04): Police State D.C.

Please also keep in mind that this is the same metro police force which will toting around AR-15 assault rifles as they surround and cordon off and do door-to-door searches and raids in these inner-city neighborhoods.

Do you feel safer now?

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17 replies to Neighborhood Safety Ghettoes in D.C. Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Aster

    Am I the only person who feels, reading things such as this, that I am witnessing the end of the world?

    It’s no longer about ‘will America become a totalitarian state’. It’s no longer about debates about political philosophy. It is about what we can believe of this human race of ours. It is about what we do, and what character we reveal by what we do.

    Charles, I’m not a moralist. I’m not supposed to admire saints and am anything but one myself, and I don’t mean only in altruist or Christian terms. But when I think of the moral purity you are maintaining, and in the face of what, I think of saints. I think of the White Rose.

    God bless you. It doesn’t matter if we believe in God, or which god. There are times when everyone speaks in a language of prayers and tears.

    I wish I could say you give me hope. You don’t. But you give me respect for our species.

  2. Sergio Méndez

    Is weird…some weeks ago I was watching an episode of DS9 where something similar happened in San Francisco, in the middle XXI century. People without jobs were put into closed “districts” where they couldn´t leave nor anybody from the exterior world could get inside, so they “recieved help”. I thought for myself “pfff…hollywood scriptwriters exagerate the social problems – bad as they are- and then when people see episodes like that they do not give credit to real problems when denounces, thinking it is an exageration”. Well, now It seems I was wrong. The future is now, and science fi dystopias are no longer an exageration….

  3. Anon73

    The future is now…

    I agree with Charles, I’m no longer surprised by the lengths people will go to destroy human liberty and human thought in the name of “the country”, “the people”, etc.

  4. CorkyAgain

    The strange thing is, the last photo you enclose shows that yes, it WILL be that obvious. The only thing the poster gets wrong is the color of the uniforms.

· July 2008 ·

  1. Discussed at

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· October 2008 ·

· December 2008 ·

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— 2015 —

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— 2016 —

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— 2017 —

  1. Discussed at

    Update: Body Cam Videos Show No Original Cause for Stop in Racial Profiling Case by LVMPD Saturation Team | Cop Block:

    […] They are essentially just playing the odds in the hope that if they harass enough people within a chosen area they will find a certain percentage of individuals who have warrants or something illegal on them and that are willing to consent to a search to justify an arrest. Statistically, that makes the department look good, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that the vast majority of the people in any given neighborhood are not actually criminals and don’t deserve to be indiscriminately harassed because a cop has arbitrarily decided they “do not belong” in …. […]

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