Profound contrasts in policing and incarceration reveal disparate Americas.
MSNBC host and editor at large of the Nation, Hayes (Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, 2013, etc.) expands the investigation of inequality begun in his previous book by focusing on law and order. Offering a persuasive analysis, he distinguishes between the Nation, inhabited by the “affluent, white, elite,” and the Colony, largely urban, poor, “overwhelmingly black and brown” but increasingly including working-class whites. The criminal justice system, argues Hayes, is vastly different for each: “One (the Nation) is the kind of policing regime you expect in a democracy; the other (the Colony) is the kind you expect in an occupied land.” In the Colony, “real democratic accountability is lacking and police behave like occupying soldiers in restive and dangerous territory.” Law enforcement, as noted by law professor Seth Stoughton, takes a “warrior worldview” in which “officers are locked in intermittent and unpredictable combat with unknown but highly lethal enemies.” Acknowledging that America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, Hayes traces the country’s history of punishment to the experience of European settlers who, “outnumbered and afraid,” responded with violence. Between 1993 and 2014, although the crime rate declined significantly, most Americans feel that crime has increased and therefore support aggressive police action. Furthermore, although most crime occurs intraracially, the Nation believes that the Colony is a constant, insidious threat; unmistakably, “we have moved the object of our concern from crime to criminals, from acts to essences.” Among other rich democracies, ours is the only one with the death penalty. Whereas in Europe, humane treatment has been widely instituted, in the U.S., perpetrators are treated as unredeemable. “The American justice system is all about wrath and punishment,” the author asserts. Arguing for the erasure of borders between Nation and Colony, Hayes admits, regretfully, that such change might fundamentally alter the comfortable sense of order that he, and other members of the Nation, prizes.
A timely and impassioned argument for social justice.