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Stop Crime -- Outlaw a Criminal Economic System
from the New Unionist, November 1993, pages 1,3
Crime, and what to do about it, was the central issue in the mayoral elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul, even though statistics show no evidence of any extraordinary crime wave in the Twin Cities.
Likewise across the nation. Whether or not the incidence of crime is actually rising, there is certainly a rising fear of crime.
In part, this is due to profit-hungry news media sensationalizing violent crimes in a lurid race for readers and viewers, and to fleabag politicians who run against "soft-on-crime liberals" in a squalid race for votes.
Still, fear of crime does have a basis in fact even if the crime rate is not rising dramatically. This is because violence is no longer confined to "rough" neighborhoods, but can strike anywhere.
People in the suburbs probably never gave a thought to house break-ins in poor innercity neighborhoods as long as they thought "it could never happen here." But now that their own homes may just as likely be broken into, and they probably have neighbors who have been burglarized, they perceive a crime wave descending on their once-safe havens.
If people weren't plagued by other very real fears and worries-of losing their job; of not having the paycheck stretch to the end of the month; of their kids getting into trouble; of getting sick; and being in general stressed out- they'd be able to view the crime problem more calmly and reasonably. But with all these problems to deal with, who needs to worry that the teenager asking for spare change might one day pull a gun and demand money?
As bad as the gun-wielding muggers are, however, they are not the ones responsible for the working person's financial insecurity and all the daily complications and stress that result from not having enough money.
It is the worker's employer and elected representatives who could do something about that. But if they are unwilling to give a pay raise or to enact a national health-care plan-or are prohibited from doing so by the competitive demands of the profit system- they will certainly like to see someone else take the blame for the harm their system does to people.
So we have the corporations' media mouthpieces and political flunkies create an image of criminal hordes terrorizing "hardworking Americans." And if these criminals can be depicted as always being from minority groups of a darker shade than white-that is, as "different" from "us"-the scam will be all the more effective.
Most African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans are themselves hardworking Americans and fear crime as much as whites. Yet, when these whole groups-as opposed to individuals within the groups-are depicted as criminally-inclined, working-class blacks, whites and browns end up fearing and hating each other instead of getting together to fight the system that keeps them all on the same treadmill.
It is no mystery why innercity minority communities are gripped by crime and violence, and the reason has nothing to do with "race."
When the steel mills shut down in Chicago and Gary, when the auto plants were closed in Michigan, when defense and other manufacturing facilities were boarded up in south-central L. A.- when the traditional better-paying jobs open to black people started disappearing, young blacks were forced to seek economic opportunity on the streets.
In an earlier period of American history, Irish-Americans were considered violent and criminal "by nature." At that time, the Irish were discriminated against in employment and housing, were shut out of economic opportunities open to other groups, were confined in overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary tenement ghettos, were scorned and ridiculed as ignorant, dirty and incapable of bettering themselves. And, given those conditions, the Irish were more likely to be arrested for violent and criminal behavior.
Then it was the Italians who everyone "knew" were violent by nature. And the Poles. And the Bohemians. And every other ethnic group that occupied the bottom rung of the economic hierarchy at one time or another.
But once these ethnic groups were each able to improve their economic position as the economy grew and created job opportunities-which happened especially during wartime-they were accepted into the mainstream, and popular stereotypes of them as naturally violent disappeared.
With the advance of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, it appeared that African-Americans would finally be offered the same opportunity to move into the mainstream. And some progress was made, both in blacks moving into higher-level jobs and in lessening the prejudice against them.
But then the system that had promised black people that they would have the opportunities they sought slammed the door in their face. The factory closings, job losses and wage decline of the 1980s affected all workers, but black workers bore the brunt.
Having your hopes raised and then frustrated, and ending up even worse off than you were before, leads naturally to disappointment, bitterness and anger. In its most extreme form, the disaffection turns to violent antisocial behavior.
This doesn't excuse violent crime, the victims of which are usually not much better off economically than the perpetrators. The point is, if the crime problem is going to be tackled effectively, its true cause must first be understood.
For the right-wing propagandists, the cause is a lack of values, absent fathers and disintegrating families. These clowns present themselves as thoughtful intellectuals, but it doesn't require extraordinary insight to see these problems are themselves additional effects, along with crime, of economic breakdown and the disappearance of jobs.
Certainly, the family is being wracked by these conditions, and children growing up in this kind of environment are often disturbed to the point of shooting each other over a pair of athletic shoes. But santimonious preaching about "family values"does not do a thing to change the conditions that lead to the breakdown of the family.
Values are important when it comes to shaping the behavior of young people and adults alike. The values which promote peaceful, helping, responsible behavior are those which teach it is wrong to exploit or harm others for one's selfish gain. Cooperation, mutual aid and personal moderation are the values that promote social cohesion and discourage antisocial, criminal behavior.
While these values may be paid lip service on Sunday mornings in our capitalist society, they are not the ones that help you "get ahead" in this system. And getting ahead-meaning making money and acquiring property-is the defining value of capitalism. Unless you were born with a silver trust fund in your mouth, making money in a fiercely-competitive system of money-making can be a gruesome affair.
You can' t be squeamish about other people's feelings and welfare when competing for the sale, the job, the promotion. This system promotes the values that make it work, values that tell people to look out for No. 1 and don't let other people's needs stand in the way of getting what you want.
People considered "successful" in capitalist society are those who accumulate large sums of money and property. They automatically receive respect, admiration and deference-the very things the poorest people in society, who endure the chronic contempt or pity of society because they have no money, long most to possess.
Since the manner in which the rich got their money is secondary to the fact they have it-if it is a concern at all-there is a hazy line between fortunes acquired legally or illegally. In fact, nearly all of the great hereditary fortunes originated in shady dealings, outright illegality (especially bribing public officials) and often violence to eliminate competitors or crush striking workers.
Of course, once "success" was achieved, the founding acquisitors and their heirs had the money to buy flattering magazine articles and biographies, and even whitewashed history books, to show them as "builders" and "philanthropists" rather than the thieves and murderers they really were.
The big corporations of the United States are habitual lawbreakers, convicted over and over of violating anti-trust, restraint-of-trade, price-fixing, bribery, workplace-health-and-safety, labor-relations and environmental-protection laws. If they were real persons instead of only legal ones, nearly all would be locked up for life without parole.
As it is, corporation executives seldom spend any time in jail, and corporation stockholders don't even have to worry about being accused for their companies' illegal actions that may provide them millions in dividends.
The corporations are also implicated in the crimes of the United States government, which carries on violence and terror the world over. It is their property and profits that are being protected when the U.S. military smashes attempts by other countries to control their own oil and other natural wealth, or when the CIA directs its puppet dictators to murder workers and peasants fighting the exploitation of the multinationals.
Drugs are often cited as a major factor in violent crime.
The reason the drugs business is so violent is that it's so profitable. When free enterprise operates outside the legal boundaries that try to keep business competition nonviolent, any and all methods to get ahead of the competition are acceptable and used. The quickest and most effective method is, of course, mayhem and murder.
An illegal business of such size and scope as the drugs business could not continue without regular and sizeable payoffs to cops, prosecutors, judges, po-litcians and officeholders. Panama is a major conduit of the South to North America drug flow. Not coincidentally, most of the world's major banks are located there to take part in the resulting cash flow. The drug trade is part and parcel of the "legitimate" profit economy and political system, and the smart money understands the so-called "war on drugs" is nothing but a public-relations scam.
Crime and the acquisitive values of capitalism are also inseparable. The people on the top cheat, lie and kill-orpay others to cheat, lie and kill-to get what they want. They are the ones who establish the moral standards for the rest of society. The muggers on the street are merely imitating their example to get what they want. The capitalist system itself is based on theft: all the goods and services labor produces are stolen by a small group ot capitalist "investors." What the workers get out of the deal is a wage to keep them alive and in good working order.
But more often than not, the system can't even provide that much to its workers, or enough jobs for all who need one. That's when people are pushed to more extreme measures-to crime-to get money. As the economic crisis deepens, crime will inevitably worsen and society will become more violent, regardless how many cops are on the street or how many prisons are built.
Does this mean we just have to accept a future of rising poverty, crime and violence?
No! In fact, there is no rational reason for these conditions continuing because more than enough wealth and productive capacity already exist to meet the material needs of all. The main problem, from which all other social problems flow, is that private profit, not human need, is the goal of economic activity.
Instead of mindlessly shooting at each other, the 90% of the population getting ripped off by the 10% should be directing their fire at the top. Not with guns, but with self-education, economic organization and political action, all directed toward taking back the wealth of the nation for the people.
This is the only long-run solution to crime. It is also the only effective short-run strategy, because it alone offers a way for alienated and angry young people to return to the working-class community and be accepted on a basis of equality. It shows them how to direct their anger productively against the system, instead of self-destructively against their neighbors.
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