Simon, Jonathan. Governing Through Crime: How the War of Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009. viii + 330 pages. Paper, $21.95.
Anticipating that readers might find the title of this work polemical, the author states in the Introduction three ways that government and institutions related to government have deployed assets in manners that support the title. They are political strategy, legitimatizing legislative "interventions," and as educational agenda. An example of political strategy is the championing of such crime-fighting policies as the death penalty and legalized carrying of concealed weapons. A legislative intervention on behalf of the right-to-life agenda would be an example of laws that elevate penalties for causing harm to a fetus. Examples of educational agenda include the treatment of students as either criminals or victims, and this reviewer's favorite, "... attacks on academic failure as a crime [that] someone must be held accountable for ..." (p. 5).
Simon's view of American culture includes the widely perceived shift from a "welfare state" to a "penal state." The proportion of the U.S. population in prisons, jails, and detention centers in schools is at a historic high. A most troubling demographic feature of this incarceration is its racial and ethnic skewing, which has arguably reversed gains made by minorities in the civil rights movement. In other sectors of American culture, the proliferation of gated communities, private police forces, sales of electronic security equipment, and even the popularity of SUVs are aspects of a prevalent American climate of fear. Another example is DARE, the police program inaugurated by Darryl Gates, the former Los Angeles police chief, which instructs (or at least instructed) children to turn in their friends and even parents for drug use.
The far-reaching effects of the growth of governance through crime are also illustrated by Simon as he discusses the national withdrawal from America's commitment to racial desegregation of the schools. When, in 1970, federal judge Stephen Roth ordered racial desegregation of southern Michigan schools that included suburban school districts largely populated by whites who had fled and left Detroit overwhelmingly African American and by a generation of urban racial politics, the language that suburban whites used to resist that desegregation plan included allusions to criminal...