How much might makes right?
Could the military or police fix socio-economic problems?
These questions recently came to mind with the media uproar over President Trump’s threats to send “the Feds” to Chicago if they didn’t get control of the “carnage in the city.”
My gut reaction to this statement by Trump was to immediately write it off as more inflammatory rhetoric meant to disenfranchise. I searched the internet for a tweet from an opposing political point of view that articulated my reaction.
Reverend Jesse Jackson had tweeted in response to Trump, “We need a plan not threats. We need jobs, not jails.”
Since our political conversations are now reduced to 140 characters, I thought this pretty much summed up my feelings on the matter and I eagerly posted my little diatribe on Facebook.
But as the day wore on I couldn’t help feeling this conversation needed to expand beyond a couple of tweets. I read articles from a variety of sources and listened to Rahm Emanuel’s breakdown that ‘the Feds’ could mean a variety of resources which would be welcomed, but “National Guard troops were out of the question.”
Meanwhile my Facebook page exploded with arguments from both sides of “the might makes right” camps. Hoping that these friends would illuminate some of the nuance that Rahm Emanuel responded with, I was sorely disappointed. It was a run of the mill argument along the usual lines, with news articles and internet found statistics backing up either side (We are all familiar with this form of political discourse on Facebook) Basically… Chicago’s inner city is in a state of anarchy that requires more boots on the ground. And the flip side- Why do Republicans always want the government to get involved with more militarization and policing, but want the government to stay out of funding social programs?
Deeply unsatisfied with this nebulous debate, I went searching for answers in person. I sat down with a close friend that is a former narcotics investigator and asked her directly, “Could the Feds fix a crime problem?”
She laughed, “Depends on what you mean by the Feds.”
She went on to reiterate much of what Rahm Emanuel pointed out. There is always a need for more help in investigation and cooperation between departments. But she also said, “The National Guard would accomplish nothing. Most of the criminals in impoverished communities are institutionalized (meaning an established part of the community) and involved with drugs. A solution to the problem involves in-depth changes in culture and opportunities.”
To illustrate her point, my friend went on to tell me a story from her police years about a young woman that she picked up on felony narcotic charges. She said in a lot of narcotics police work, they offer lighter sentences to felons if they will “roll” on their contacts. She sat down with the girl and discussed the situation only to realize this girl had much bigger problems than the felony narcotics charge. This young woman had been sold by her foster mother in an exchange of sex for drugs to an older man since she was thirteen. The girl, who was almost 20 years old had 3 children by this man, had entered the cycle of drug trade to support herself. To ask this girl to return to this situation with a lighter sentence and an informant’s job, was going to do very little to solve the problems the girl faced and created for her community. My friend explained the situation to the DA. The judge sent the girl to some form of counseling program that would deal with both the drug and abuse issues the girl faced. My friend did not come across the girl again after that, so she knew very little about her ultimate fate. My friend’s point about the story was that she and the DA and the judge knew that jail time for this girl would only deepen the institutionalization of her criminal behavior.
Unfortunately an immediate punitive attack to a problem, does little more than a 140 word tweet or Facebook post does to solve the problem. As a society we are going to have to start addressing problems on a personal level, involving ourselves in communities that we are unfamiliar with and not assuming we have all the answers from a distance. We all need to take a hard look in the mirror and figure out how we need to change ourselves before we go out there and try to change others. And as far as asking the military to solve our internal socio-economic problems, we need look no further than the quagmires of our external nation building to recognize the inadequacies.