Essay on Project Safe Neighborhoods


February 13, 2004, 03:49 PM
----- Original Message -----
From: cindy hill
Sent: Friday, February 13, 2004 10:30 AM
Subject: Essay on Project Safe Neighborhoods

Dear Friends,
I released the following essay today into the public
domain; I hope that you enjoy reading it, and feel
free to forward, post, or publish it with appropriate
author credit. Thank you.
Cindy Hill, Esq.

The Criminals Among Us:
Project Safe Neighborhood and The Patriotic Throwing
of Stones

Cindy Hill 2004

George Bush, John Ashcroft, and John Kerry, hunters
all, agree: law-abiding Americans should be able to
possess firearms. It is a sentiment which many
Americans leap to share, including the nation's
largest firearms-advocating organizations like the
NRA. To speak of "law-abiding Americans" makes us
feel good. It sounds patriotic. It sounds morally
righteous, as does the growing inverted outcry,
founded in the so-called war on drugs, that criminals
should pay for their foul deeds.

Let he among us who is a law-abiding American lock the
first jail cell.

I am sure there are some law-abiding Americans out
there, just as there were persons without sin at the
time Mary Magdelene was being stoned for tearing off
her shirt on public television. Law-abiding citizens
are as common as those who attend mass every day rain
or shine, floss after every meal, and never, ever,
snack before dinner. Which is to say, abiding by the
law is a laudable goal, and like most laudable goals,
we tend to fall short of it to varying degrees.

At some point in life, most people exceed the posted
speed limit (speeding, reckless endangerment, careless
and negligent driving), steal a lipstick from a makeup
department (misdemeanor theft) or a gnome off the
principal's front yard (felony theft) as a teenager,
drink a couple of beers at their cousin's wedding and
then drive home (misdemeanor or felony DUI), break a
window and take off without 'fessing up and paying for
it (disorderly conduct, felony destruction of
property),or buy a stereo way too cheap off a street
vendor or their brother in-law (felony accessory after
the fact of theft; felony possession of stolen

Yet nearly everyone who has committed such acts would
declare with great moral impunity, "I am not a
criminal." The functional definition of "law-abiding
American" in our popular lexicon, then, would seem to
be "one who hasn't been caught", rather than one who
commits an unlawful act.

The strength of this functional definition is
illustrated by the fact that, although most persons
who are caught and charged with minor crimes voice the
exact same protest ("But it's not like I'm a
criminal!), those who have not been caught take great
delight in tightening the thumbscrews on those who
have. Over the last fifty years, with an exponential
increase since the advent of the retributionist war on
drugs, ticketed infractions have become misdemeanor
crimes, misdemeanor crimes have become felonies,
felonies have developed mandatory jail sentences, and
people in jail have lost the ability to earn good time
for early release or to qualify for parole.

Many of these escalations have occurred without a
single change in the written word of the law. In my
childhood, spanking kids - often with the belt, or, I
seem to recall, the wooden spoon or hairbrush - was an
ordinary form of discipline in well-respected,
well-educated, upper and middle class households.
Without a single new anti-spanking law being placed on
the books, the usual "wait until your father gets home
incident" of the Wonder Years days now results in
felony domestic violence charges and the potential
removal of the children from the family by social
service entities.

Some would say this particular interpretive change in
the law is good, as children should never be spanked.
Since we have not yet raised a generation of people
anywhere in the western world without spanking, the
jury is still out. Whatever its eventual cultural
outcome, parents no longer are able to decide what
acts in their household so offend their notions of
appropriate behavior that physical conditioning is
necessary. The government has already decided. By
sheer coincidence, this leaves parents with only one
real fall-back: depriving kids of television for some
period of time (regardless of whether their miscreant
behavior involved licking the frosting on the cake
intended for the church supper, or killing the cat
with gasoline and a lawnmower), which merely serves to
make tv all the more valuable in kids minds.

I will confess that I am prone to unAmerican thoughts
in this regard: the urge to see Janet Jackson and
Justin Timberlake taken over someone's knee and given
something to cry about after they so cogently
demonstrated why it is that the Muslim world doesn't
jump up and down with joy at the imposition of
female-denigrating American entertainment into their
living rooms is overwhelming. But, there I go, guilty
of thought-crime.

The cultural conversion of spanking your kid to a
felony crime is but the tip of the criminalizing
iceberg. Moral righteousness has become the new
American caste system. People who live in
half-million dollar McMansions and drive cars that
cost more than a house should can differentiate
themselves from those who are "other", not on the
no-longer-politically-correct bases of race or class
or ethnicity, but on their moral superiority. "I
wouldn't let my child play with those kids," they now
say, not because those kids are black or poor, but
because their parents don't make them wear bicycle
helmets even in the driveway, or gave the son a
pocket-knife for his twelfth birthday. People like
that, clearly, should be put in jail. The jails that
have become one of America's largest industries. The
jails that hold the most incarcerated populations in
the world. The Soviet gulag, the South African
tyranny of apartheid, have nothing on us when it comes
to jailing criminals, criminals like those other
people, the ones who should be in jail.

Riding high on the tide of American lust for criminal
blood, George Bush and John Ashcroft, with the NRA's
blessing, have recently embarked on an intensive
jailing campaign entitled "Project Safe
Neighborhoods". "It's not a new law," they explain.
"We're just enforcing a law we've long had on the
books." The law in question is the Gun Control Act of
1968, a statute which purportedly keeps guns out of
the hands of criminals. Project Safe Neighborhoods is
an announcement of federal government policy to
enforce this law 100%, no exceptions, or as the
brochure they are distributing states, "no second

Despite the open possession and use of firearms by a
large number of Americans since the founding of the
colonies about four hundred years earlier, the federal
government in the late 1960's felt a sudden compelling
urge to outlaw gun ownership by certain segments of
the population. Given the political climate of the
time, they couldn't come straight out and prohibit
blacks, native Americans, and war protesters from
having guns. But they could list certain undesireable
character traits, traits most commonly possessed by
blacks, Indians, and other miscreants, and get away
with banning guns from people with those traits.

These prohibitions include people with felony
convictions - excepting, of course, anyone with
white-collar crime convictions, as we couldn't have
people who bilk public funds or embezzle millions of
dollars in working-people's pensions deprived of their
inalienable right to quail hunt with $10,000 shotguns.
And "felony" as the gun control laws define it
doesn't include many white suburban type crimes, like
DUI's. Nor does it include convictions for which
defendants with the money to successfully pursue
expungements or pardons or otherwise secure the
forgiveness of the court systems.

Despite the media outcry of disbelief that anyone
could try to buy a hunting rifle without realizing
he's a convicted felon, the question of just who
counts as a "criminal" under this law is pretty damned
complicated. A middle class white working Joe,
regardless of his prior entanglements with the
criminal justice system, had every reasonable
expectation that no one would consider him a
"criminal", until now. Or can I say "damned" in

What's most interesting to the couple of folks left
like myself who are still intrigued with the concept
of civil liberties, is the number of prohibitions in
the 1968 Gun Control Act which challenge our already
obscure notions of who is a "criminal". For example,
the list of "prohibited persons" includes those who
are "known drug users". This has nothing to do with
whether or not a person was ever caught, charged, or
convicted of a drug crime. A person's criminal record
has a few little slots on it where law enforcement and
other public agencies can insert bits of information
aside from criminal charges (yes, even those for which
they were found not guilty) and convictions. Such
information typically includes the person's aliases,
known affiliates, tattoos, tics, scars, and other
pertinent information. Like "known affiliate of gang
members", "known to be armed" (does this appear on
brave hunter Cheney or Scalia's record, one wonders),
and "known drug user". Such assertions by law
enforcement officers, often made on the basis of
carefully gathered intelligence, at least equal in
accuracy to that which determined there were weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq, become legal fact. So
according to the Gun Control Act of 1968, with it's
100% Project Safe Neighborhood enforcement, guys with
long hair and Harley Davidsons (obviously pot-smokers)
are "criminals", even when they - like us - haven't
been caught.

Known drug users are not the only non-caught
"criminals" swept up in this nationwide movement to
make our neighborhoods safe from crazed Middle
Easterners on suicide missions. Anyone who has been
dishonorably discharged from the military is a Project
Safe Neighborhood criminal. This would include those
dishonorably discharged due to their homosexuality.
Anyone who has renounced their American citizenship is
a prohibited person, though it's unclear whether my
drunken ramblings the night Reagan was elected, or my
very Irish comments upon seeing Tony Blair's smiling
face at Bush's ranch in Texas, count or not.

Anyone who has ever been "adjudicated mentally
defective" is a Project Safe Neighborhood criminal.
In 1968, this was meant to include the hundreds of
thousands of Americans who had been officially
declared "feeble-minded" under eugenics programs.
These programs, targeting not only blacks and Indians
but Irish and French Catholics and other "gypsies",
were all the fashion in social services until the Nazi
program ruined it all by going beyond the forced
institutionalization, removal of children, and
sterilizations which were the hallmarks of American
programs through the 1940's. Remnants of these
programs continued in the segregated south through the
1960's, and on American Indian reservations through
the 1980's. The primary crime of most of these
"criminals" was not buying into the idea that they
should be good steady factory workers and dedicate
their lives to the accumulation of material wealth and
purchase of consumer goods. The folks in the
McMansions have a difficult time getting along if the
labor pool won't do it's part.

If only those stones being thrown had strings attached
to them, we'd all be sinking in the net of our
hypocrisy, weighted down at the corners by our
gas-guzzling SUV's and all those bicycle helmets and
pocket knives. It's like a feeding frenzy in which we
are both the sharks and the bloody prey. Even the
handful of crazed civil libertarians turn on
themselves, declaring that Project Safe Neighborhoods
is nothing to get excited about, since guns, like
spankings, are bad.

As if gun ownership itself were not merely the
symbolic tip of yet another iceberg. "Criminals" in
America, by varying definitions, can no longer receive
FMHA mortgages. They can not get federal and many
state student loans. They can not receive government
grants, contracts, or work in public buildings - even
as a contracted janitor. They can not get visas or
travel to other countries. They don't pass background
checks for a growing list of jobs. They can't
volunteer in their own children's schools. The list
grows, until it's hard to imagine how, once branded
with the scarlet letter "C", one can ever make a
living other than by turning to crime. We are
outlawing the once fundamental American protestant
concept of redemption. Once you commit a crime - or
at least, once you're caught and convicted - you
better not ever attempt to go to school, start a
business, buy a house. Just stay in jail so we don't
have to deal with you. Don't worry about the cost,
the crowding, we'll just build more.

As a liberal, vegetarian, tv-less follower of an
alternative religion, I hate to turn to the
Constitution for my concluding point. Spouting
selected remarks of our Venerable Fathers has become
the hallmark of the conservative right, and usually is
offered to support an argument that life should go on
forever in some facsimile of a fabricated reality
combining Leave it to Beaver and the English
countryside in the Summer Before the War, when
everyone was white and Christian and heterosexual and
it never rained on weekends. Yet here it goes:

The folks who wrote our Constitution, who founded this
country, were criminals. They were guilty, one and
all, of treason, at the very least. Most participated
- either in person, economically, or vicariously - in
smuggling, tax evasion, and deliberate acts of mass
murder of guys in red jackets. In addition to those
crimes which were recognized in their time, they
nearly to a number participated in common acts which
today we'd find appalling: slave trade, not permitting
women to own property or be educated, and the physical
discipline of children ("spare the rod, spoil the
child"). They probably drove carriages whilst drunk
on illegal rum, and took various substances through
snuff on which we had not yet declared war, English
troops and ships being a lot easier to shoot cannons

The reason our founders inserted strenuous protections
against the tyranny of the state in our criminal
justice system within our Bill of Rights is that they
had a real good sense of what it was like to commit
crimes. Under our Constitution, even if you commit
crimes - as we all do - you do not become a "criminal"
unless the government has proven, beyond a reasonable
doubt, with lawfully obtained evidence, to the
satisfaction of twelve of your impartial peers, that
you should be so deemed. Our founding fathers
understood, wisely, that committing crimes is the
norm, but being branded a criminal is something else

Project Safe Neighborhoods, like its big brother the
Patriot Act (one and two, soon to be joined by a new
layer called the Protect Act, if Ashcroft and his
Brethren have their way), dispenses with the niceties,
the "technicalities", which our Constitution imposes
as obstacles to being declared a criminal. This opens
the door to equality for all: every single one of us
can be functionally deemed a criminal for any number
of purposes, without a lot of fuss and bother.

Don't you feel safer now? Just put on your bicycle
helmet, and remember to duck. Those stones just keep

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Standing Wolf
February 13, 2004, 05:06 PM
Given the political climate of the time, they couldn't come straight out and prohibit blacks, native Americans, and war protesters from having guns.

In origin, leftist extremist so-called "gun control" laws are all about disarming blacks and recent immigrants.

February 14, 2004, 12:12 AM
In origin, leftist extremist so-called "gun control" laws are all about disarming blacks and recent immigrants.
Exactly. A point that is rarely brought up. The laws were passed with the understanding that they would never apply to "decent white folk." Texas passed the first of its gun control laws back in the late 1800s to prevent freed slaves from carrying pistols.

Of course with the passage of time it became impossible to administer these laws as originally intended, and these days it's almost impossible to even admit their roots.

February 14, 2004, 09:46 AM
By diffantion every american is an "unconvited felon" and anyone can
be "adjudicated mentally defective"

Nice way to get a defacto gun ban.

Bill Meadows

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