Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear

Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear

Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear

Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear

Excerpt

For a long time before that in the United States it had not been
safe to walk in the big cities at night: sometimes in certain areas
not in the day. For years they had moved about by the grace
of paternal or brutal police; or under the protection of some
gang. (It was in the mid-seventies that it came out for how
long the United States had been run by an only partly
concealed conspiracy linking crime, the military machine, the
industries to do with war, and government.) Whether he chose
to be protected by the bully men of the gangster groups, or by
the police, or by the deliberate choice of a living area that was
safe and respectable and inside which he lived as once the Jews
had lived in ghettoes, in America the citizen had long since
become used to an organized barbarism.

—Doris Lessing, The Four-Gated City

In her 1969 book The Four-Gated City, Doris Lessing writes of the 1970s from the perspective of someone looking back at the end of the twentieth century. Her imagined observations of the United States, presumably based on the tumult and civil violence of the late 1960s, remind us that fear of sudden and terrible violence was a major feature of American life long before September 11, 2001. The collapsing towers were only the latest—and most lethal—of a series of spectacular scenes of violence that have unfolded at the centers of our largest cities since President Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas with a mail-order rifle in 1963. By the end of that decade, many Americans from all walks of life had come to believe that a personal confrontation with armed violence—robbery, riot, police deadly force—was a distinct possibility.

In the intervening decades, much as Lessing predicted, Americans have built a new civil and political order structured around the problem of violent crime. In this new order, values like freedom and equality have been revised in ways that would have been shocking, if obviously imaginable—in . . .

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