Saturday, October 29, 2005

Crime and Punishment

"Crime constantly monopolizes the headlines, but the criminal appears there only fugitively, to be replaced at once."
—Camus, The Fall

As we continue to (irrationally) consider the reaction to the exceptional events of 9/11 as normal and necessary over 4 years later, it is no surprise that "crime"-- and its victims, safety and security--has been made a salient political issue in the impending Minneapolis Mayoral election between Rybak and McLaughlin. "Crime," like that which it threatens, "security," is only mentioned when it is intense, which seems to be the case every election.

Rybak proposes (surprise, surprise) more police, while his challenger, McLaughlin, is running an equally hackneyed "get tough on crime" campaign. Not to be out-manned, McLaughlin wants to add 250 police officers to the force over the next five years. If it is true that men tend to overcompensate when their masculinity is threatened by supporting the war in Iraq, purchasing a SUV or expressing homophobia, surely the debate over crime in Minneapolis is another manifestation of such overcompensation.

I doubt that any of their propositions are essential to the security of Minneapolis. This debate only makes sense as a way to facilitate political outrage against the status quo, which I should think can only hurt Rybak. In short, safety is not a safe issue for him.


PiedPiper said...

I can certainly see your point about overcompensation and masculinity. Most men who run for office feels the need to project an image of himself that is strong and secure (see George Bush clearing brush versus John Kerry windsurfing).

In a city election, particularly ones for moderate sized cities such as our own Minneapolis and St. Paul, I think the main reason candidates constantly and consistently say they'll reduce crime and improve the police force is because that's the most visible manifestation of city government. Most people simply don't know most of the smaller, more detailed issues involved in elections, so candidates need to point out the most obvious.

Besides, this isn't just a reaction to 9/11. Mayoral candidates have been bemoaning lack of police officers since Brad Pitt invaded Troy.

PiedPiper said...

Wait, was it Brad Pitt? I didn't see the movie.

sarah said...

I am having a little trouble understanding the connection between masculinity and the standard crime and punishment debate that takes place during every election cycle. The issue of masculinity seems irrelevant. Rather, what should be considered is why, during every election cycle since the 1970's have politicians scrambled to claim the label of "toughest on crime." Recent work by scholar Naomi Murukami nicely documents the increasing punitive nature of punishment and its direct correlation to mid-term and presidential election cycles. The politics of crime and punishment flies in the face of pluralist and deliberative democratic theorists. Neither Democratic or Republican politicians are willing to buck this trend despite an overall decrease in crime, soaring local, state and federal budgets, and increasing evidence that harsher punishment and more police have not evidenced greater security.

During a time of great global insecurity and increasing global and domestic inequality, continuing to rely on the discourse of tough on crime politics will only lead to greater insecurity, entrenching distinctions between the haves and the have-nots. Despite the disfavor of Marxist interpretations, it seems hard to argue that continuing in this path is creating a global lumpenproletariat.

"The underlying problem of prisons, of course, was political and social: the men and women locked up were the lumpen proletariat; many of them were black; and the general public neither knew nor cared what happened to them.” (311) Lawrence M. Friedman


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