Republicans like to talk about being “tough” on crime. It’s a trick. We’re really talking about how to reduce crime and make us safer, but when we talk Republican, we create an assumption that “toughness” is the one and only way to reduce crime. Many Republicans don’t think it’s a trick; they honestly believe it.
What got me thinking about this framing trick is a recent BBC article about a surge of criminal gang violence in France over the past few years:
In 2002 Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy decided to abandon community policing based on prevention in favour of a strict law-and-order approach. […] Many local officials and youth workers in the suburbs feel this was a dreadful mistake.
Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s star right-wing politician, became Minister of the Interior in 2002. In the wake of his “tough on crime” policies, Paris suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois have suffered a wave of violence.
Nadir Dendoune, a 34-year-old journalist living in l’Ile-Saint-Denis, says what is needed above all is better policing.
“In this area community-based policing played a very positive role. Officers did real work in the estates,” says Clichy’s deputy mayor, Olivier Klein. “Now they go in only for tough security missions, but this does not make people more secure.”
What is “tough on crime”? Harsher sentences and excessive punishment are “tough”. Attacking public defenders is “tough”. Focusing on enforcement rather than prevention is “tough”. Executing innocent people is “tough on crime,” too. Hiring more police officers? Sensible, smart, and effective, but not exactly “tough”.
When Howard Dean was Governor of Vermont, he championed a series of state programs collected under the name “Success By Six” that provided support for new parents: health care for kids, counseling for parents who needed it, free parenting skills classes, home visits to determine what they needed. One of the effects of this program was that a decade later, child abuse had dropped by half. “And when you visit prisons,” says Dean, “you find the one thing almost everybody incarcerated has in common is that they were physically or mentally abused as children.” Did this happen because Dean was “tough” on child abusers? No, it was because he offerred support to families.
We want public safety, strong police, a solid justice system, and support for people and communities – things that lead to less crime. Don’t let Republicans trick the public into thinking of crime only in terms of how “tough” we are.
P.S. Deval, how about Success By Six for Massachusetts?