The Choke Strategy, the Starvation Agenda
February 1, 2015, is America’s unofficial national holiday, i.e., Super Bowl Sunday. It is a day when many of us root for our favorite team, consume massive amounts of unhealthy food and vote for our favorite commercials. And for at least two days thereafter, the game will dominate the sports pages of every major newspaper in America. Yet, after the hoopla and excitement have waned, we will still be confronted by important social concerns, one of which is our system of justice.
On Thursday, January 29, 2015, C-Span’s Washington Journal ran a segment on potential improvements to criminal adjudication. The guest expert was knowledgeable, articulate and proposed reasonable solutions. Even the listener’s calls were encouraging. Many echoed the need to alter the way we handle crime and punishment. But don’t be fooled.
Officials may announce a new program or initiative. The system may tinker around the edges, slap on a new coat of paint or put on a different shade of lipstick. And its “Justice Warriors” and spin doctors will undoubtedly say all the right things and display the proper emotions.
Yet, despite its purported realization of wrong doing, feigned personal and institutional responsibility, contrived remorse, promised restitution and simulated redemption, the criminal justice system has neither the desire nor inclination to clean up its act. It will not cede power and will not voluntarily change, Rather, it will do precisely what it has done for the last two centuries, i.e., consume as many people as possible, no matter how much it speaks of law and justice; regardless of their guilt or innocence.
There is a direct correlation between the vitality of the system and the number of people it pushes through the “halls of justice”. The more people it arrest, charges, prosecutes, convicts and incarcerates the more it feeds. The more it feeds the stronger and more powerful it becomes. The more powerful and influential it becomes the more money it accumulates. And the more money it accumulates the more wealth it creates for its stakeholders and investors.
It is now the apex of our political, economic and social food chain. It is the alpha predator, the T Rex of our era. And for many the current system of criminal injustice works as God intended. It builds their treasury and protects them from the underbelly of society, read “us”.
They therefore have no reason to change what is for them a winning formula. The occasional excesses of a few rouge cops; the sacrifice of a few innocents is but the cost of doing business, especially since said cost is paid by others.
This does not mean however that change is impossible. We cannot force the system to behave ethically. Nor can we persuade or shame it into doing so. But we can contain it. We can restrict its supply of oxygen; its caloric intake. In other words, we can choke and/or starve it to death.
The choke strategy is advanced by changing our attitudes towards crime and punishment. Rather than rebuke malevolent conduct, we have instead criminalized poverty, homelessness, chemical dependency, mental/emotional illness, ethnicity, sexual preference and other forms of class and status. This must change.
The starvation agenda is pressed by limiting the amount of resources provided to and consumed by the system. Via a combination of favorable legislating, unlimited resources, money and manpower, arbitrary and unequal law enforcement and a never-ending supply of raw material, cum people, the system dominates the landscape. This too must change.
But, the change shall not occur absent a sincere and sustained commitment to action. Being mad isn’t enough. Neither is complaining, marching or protesting. We are instead required to participate in the political and public policy process via:
• Monitoring how our tax dollars are budgeted and spent. In this way we put the system on a strict, low cal diet.
• Keeping book on bad cops, prosecutors and judges. These are the facilitators of and apologist for systemic abuse.
• Finding and supporting political candidates who demand change. Conversely, defeating at the polls those who do not.
• Developing and advocating favorable public policy positions and vigorously opposing unfavorable ones.
• Communicating our concerns to elected and appointed officials on a routine and consistent basis.
• Holding public official and the system fully accountable for each breach of duty and every act of bad faith.
• Holding ourselves accountable for same.
It is clearly immoral to spend more money on imprisoning our children than educating them. And the way we treat those who have paid their debt to society is nothing less than criminal. But, it is equally immoral to willingly feed ourselves to a monster we know will consume us. With every bite it grows stronger. With each victory it becomes all the more inflexible.
If legend is true, a vampire cannot enter a home unless invited. Yet we continue to welcome the criminal justice system into our homes and our communities. One cannot reason with a predator or make a house pet of a Raptor. Give either a can of dog food and it will eat the food, the can, you and the entire household.
Yes we are obligated to change the system. But our greater task is to stop willingly feed said system. Our basic job is to choke the creature by engaging in no conduct that rises to the level of probable cause that a crime has been or is likely to be committed. The primary goal is to starve the Beast by giving it no reason to stop, accost, arrest, prosecute and imprison us. And our most sacred duty is to change the system by first creating a culture and community that is beyond reproach.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum