Monday, June 16, 2008

A Few Hard Facts About Inner-City Law Enforcement

Pretty Lady is taking the splendidity of Mr. Obama's Father's Day sermon as read. She would like, instead, to take issue with an instance of sloppy thinking, evidenced by one commenter on such:
Where are the absent black fathers? Have you read anything about the incarceration rate of black males in this country?

Since the "more cops on the street" tactic has been tried before many times, you can just read the race and incarceration statistics from that and extrapolate.

More cops on the street mean more absent black fathers, not fewer.
The obvious rebuttal, made by another commenter, is that visible patrol cops tend to discourage crime, meaning that in the long term, fewer persons will go to prison; this increased patrol cop/reduced crime rate paradigm has been tried and tested in New York City, and has worked so well that Pretty Lady feels completely comfortable taking the subway to Brooklyn after midnight.

However, it is instructive to understand that all police patrols are not created equal. Most of us city dwellers intuitively understand this, but in fact, the difference in patrol zones is actually codified, if informally, by the police department. Ergo, a person has a radically different understanding of the purposes and temperaments of cops, depending upon which neighborhood a person grew up in.

In brief: Middle-class communities, such as the one where Pretty Lady was raised, are termed enforcement zones. Cops patrol them, in a friendly and casual way, and when they observe someone bashing in the windows of a car, or beating someone up, or if they get a phone call to this effect, they show up and arrest the perpetrators. They write reports, issue speeding tickets, and generally keep an eye out. They tend not to harass people for fun and profit. This is why, as a child and a young adult, Pretty Lady held cops in basic trust and respect; they never gave her any reason to do otherwise.

Wealthy communities, on the other hand, are termed enhancement zones. Patrols in these neighborhoods, if not actually private security armies, are known for their paranoia and intolerance. If one happens to go for a drive in these neighborhoods in a shabbyish car, or dares to appear in one on foot, one is quite likely to be stopped, severely questioned, and warned away in strong terms. If one's attitude at being so questioned is not deemed sufficiently submissive, one is quite likely to find oneself handcuffed in the backseat.

Really Bad Neighborhoods, finally, are known as containment zones. They might as well be war zones. Cops do not patrol them, out of equal parts laziness, cowardice, and cynicism. Garbage collection and mail delivery is spotty to nonexistent. Criminal activity rages unchecked; drug deals go down, bullets fly, muggings occur, without remonstrance on the part of the city or of the cowed resident citizens. If cops do appear in response to a summons, they are likely to shoot or arrest everyone in sight, and sort them out later.

Thus, persons who had the misfortune to grow up within a containment zone may possibly be forgiven for referring to cops as 'pigs.' This, in their view, is an accurate description of the role of the police officer in their lives. Cops, in our non-egalitarian society, still exist to protect the interests of the ruling hegemony, not those of every citizen.

So when Mr. Obama calls for the presence of 'more cops on the street,' it is to be hoped that he means to make the entire country an enforcement zone, without regard to the wealth or poverty of the zone in question. It would be such a lovely thing if only criminals went to jail!


Chris Rywalt said...

Do you think Barry Obama will be able to do anything about the War on Some Drugs?

Pretty Lady said...

Gosh, and you accuse ME of being irrationally optimistic.

Carol Diehl said...

I learned about "enhancement zones"--which must be all of the Hamptons--when I deigned to drive an orange 15-year-old car through Sag Harbor, and was followed by a motorcycle cop to the town line. Once he satisfied himself that I was safely out of his jurisdiction, he turned around and went back. Another time, in Westchester, I was stopped because, the cop said, he was looking for a car like mine--which I sincerely doubted, having seen only one other during the almost 20years I drove it.

As you can tell from my picture, I look SO dangerous.

It made me wonder what life would be like if I were also a person of color.

Driving a late-model Subaru as I do now, I don't get stopped, but part of me feels as if I'm giving in.

Pretty Lady said...

Carol: Yep. I've been asked to leave Seacliff in San Francisco because I was driving a rather battered Honda, and tailed in Westover Hills in Fort Worth because I was in my badass Ford Gran Torino.

Anonymous said...

Yup, DWB (driving while black) is definitely a problem, especially in certain neighborhoods. A few years ago there was a black guy (I think he had dreadlocks too) who did a sort of experiment by walking around Beverly Hills, neatly dressed, no gang colors or gangsta wear, and he got stopped (walking!) constantly. You know, police just trying to be helpful, asking him if he was lost. He would say, no, thanks Officer, I know where I'm going, or something to that effect.

On the other side of the vigilante street patrol, the one time I was in Texas (apologies to PL), having gone with a friend to visit her family for Thanksgiving, we kept having terrifying experiences on the road. I asked her, what is up with all these people trying to force us off the road? She said matter of factly, it's because we're driving a foreign-made car with California plates; that's just what they do here.

Yes, there's nothing like welcoming out-of-towners with quirky local rituals.


Pretty Lady said...

Hey, you don't need to apologize to me for pointing out the quirky regionalisms of Texas. I LEFT.

Chris Rywalt said...

I don't expect Mr. O to do anything about the War on Some Drugs. I was just wondering if there was any hope at all in that direction. Since we were talking about the number of black men in prison -- hell, the number of people in prison in this country -- I thought it was pertinent, since so many of them are there as casualties of the War. I haven't heard anything from McCain or Obama on the issue. I guess it's not a big one in this campaign, or maybe I'm just not paying enough attention.

As far as getting hassled, I guess I don't visit enough enforcement zones. I never get bothered anywhere, to the extent that I start to think people are paranoid when they say they are hassled. Like Carol being followed by the cop on Sag Harbor. I wonder if it was just her imagination or what -- no offense, Carol. The flip side is, I'm so oblivious, for all I know I'm followed all the time and I just don't notice. Then again, I'm not in any generally hassleable group: Big white guys rarely get bothered, I imagine, since they're too big to mug and too white to be thieves. (Not that I actually believe either to be true.)

Still, I usually drive a crappy car.

Wollf Howlsatmoon said...

Too much. Cops are bad. You've been "tailed, or questioned" a few times in your life.

Leaving your neighborhood now. My car looks out of place....

Pretty Lady said...

All I know is that Obama supports letting the states make their own decisions about medical marijuana, without federal interference. It's a small issue, but contrast it to W. sending the feds in to arrest cancer patients who are toking up, and it's a start.

Man, just THINK about all the revenue that could be raised if drugs were legal, and we taxed the hell out of them. That would pay for universal healthcare, right there.

Chris: 1) Your cars, that I've seen you drive, aren't that crappy.

2) You are a big white guy with an engineering degree and no tattoos. Also I doubt you've ever ridden a skateboard or a motorcycle. Therefore you read as a Member of the Hegemony.

3) You're oblivious.

Pretty Lady said...

Howlsatmoon, cops aren't ALL bad. One cop responded to a neighbor who reported that someone was peering in my windows; it was my psycho stalker ex-boyfriend, whom I'd called the police on for lurking in my bushes at 1 AM, a few weeks earlier. The cop remembered the earlier call, 'sort of forgot' to give him his ID back, and came by to have a chat about it. I very much appreciated his vigilance and concern.

Another one stopped me in my own bad neighborhood, a block from my own home, because there was a fist-hole through the plastic covering my shattered window; he though perhaps my car had been carjacked. As soon as he saw my face he waved me on by. This may have been racial stereotyping, but when you think about it, it was brave of him to have stopped someone he'd assumed was a violent criminal in the act of committing a crime. Not all cops would do that.

Chris Rywalt said...

I am a big white guy with no tattoos, certainly, but I don't think my engineering degree shows. I mean, I look nerdy, but not specifically like an engineer. I could be an accountant, or a florist.

My current cars are at their crappiest. Especially the one caught in the flood. They're pretty crappy, but not as bad as some. I've noticed, over my lifetime, though, that car crappiness has been steadily improving. You rarely see cars with whole fenders rusted out these days. State inspections have gotten much more stringent about things like that. People still manage to evade laws about tinted windows and emissions, but missing bumpers, windows, body parts? Not so much.

David said...

Driving while white, gray haired, in a '99 Ford van with new tires:

Recently stopped in Hingham, Ma. for an expired registration. The young cop:

1 apologized for stopping me
2 admired my new tires
3 gave me a ride to the nearest doughnut shop
4 apologized for having to put me in the back seat - the front was full of his stuff
5 dropped me off half a block from the doughnut shop so I wouldn't be embarrassed by getting out of his car.

Pretty Lady said...

David, why did you NEED a ride to the doughnut shop, seeing as how you had all new tires? Do they renew registrations at doughnut shops in Hingham? How quaint!

Chris Rywalt said...

The last and, as far as I can remember right now, only time I got a ride in a cop car was for DWoF (Driving While on Fire).