This week federal, state, and local officials all collaborated in making a huge gang bust in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. Bringing down the Pierson Hood gang, as they call themselves, has been said to be a critical move in alleviating criminal offenses currently plaguing the city.
Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about this bust and the significance it can and/or will have on the city and – indeed – the nation. She seems to think that this bust is a perfect application of HR. 1279 : The Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005 which passed through the House two years ago, but has not been voted on by the Senate. This anti-gang bill along with the recent efforts in Flint are said to be battles in the so-called "War on Gangs".
Frankly, I’m not as optimistic.
Whenever I hear about a new "War on (fill in your own fear-generating phrase), I cringe. Not only do these "wars" provide the breeding ground for bigotry and other potentially harmful implications to certain individuals, but they also allow politicians and officials to create and legitimize a corrupt and exploitative agenda.
For as long as I can remember, "war" catchphrases have been used as a subterfuge for politicians to effortless gain support for insipid (at least I think they are) and resource-depleting programs (you can’t argue with that one. I dare you.). But, as a consistent trend, each of these initiatives have failed miserably; largely due to the negative implications that rose from them. LBJ’s “War on Poverty” did nothing but create an increased dependance on "the government" to fix everything. Obviously, that hasn't work very well. Richard Nixon’s "War on Drugs" only made getting medicine from Pfizer more expensive than getting weed from your neighborhood Nino Brown. Most recently, Dubya's "War on Terror" has only led to a universally-uncontested removal of our civil liberties and an expansion of the very terrorism we claim to be fighting.
The process for creating these wars is simple. To start, an enemy has to be established. But it can’t just be any simple enemy. It has to be an enemy that is undeniably harmful. Islamic fundamentalists easily fit into this equation, but it can be virtually anything we consider threatening. From there, a description must be made about enemy in the worst case scenario. This will undoubtedly cause the general public to be scared out their wits. From there, launching a campaign against that threat will be sure to gain support, even if our way of life is compromised in the process. And don't think of going against that agenda. If you're brave enough to oppose the steps done to combat these issues (at least according to the Prez ), you’re with that enemy.
The unfortunate consequence of allowing these "wars" to materialize is that we fail to realize just how flawed they are. Rather than sending them back to manufacturer as defective items, we casually sit back and watch them fail; especially if they appear to be successful once in a while. Sure, the "War on Drugs" may have brought down a big-time kingpins like Frank Lucas. But "illegal" drugs are cheaper, stronger, and much easier to come by now than ever before. Poverty rates may have initially declined during FDR’s tenure, but rising costs, inflation, the ongoing mortgage crisis, outsourcing, and shifty labor markets continue to create a neo-generational age of poverty. The War on Terror has done nothing but give the feds the ability to arrest and detain without probable cause, deny Constitutional liberties, keep us from taking hand lotion on an airplane, and use "excessive interrogation techniques" on suspect. None of which, I should note, have made us any of us safer. Now, even when Flint's gang bust was successful (depending on how you define "successful"), it will most likely add to a growing incarceration rate without also addressing the core problems of why people join gangs and commit crimes in the first place.
Oh, eff it. I think I’m going to start my own "War on Fear" campaign. It should be a real doozy. Do I have any takers?