FIGHTIN' WORDS

THE POLICE STATE WINS

Meet Operation Ceasefire, where constitutional protections are smothered by a Manichean narrative

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, April was an especially violent month in Jacksonville: 33 shootings, seven fatal, many apparently in service to the illicit drug distro business [“There Will Be Blood,” May 21]. Luckily — or not, depending on your perspective — the city of Jacksonville believes it has a solution.

Operation Ceasefire, as it’s dubbed, involves officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office visiting 18,000 homes in Northwest Jacksonville’s Zone 5 to put forth a more involved police presence, more robust surveillance and to blur traditional Bill of Rights protections in high-crime areas. The cops will engage citizens in Zone 5 in “consensual conversations,” as Sheriff John Rutherford puts it, though who knows how consensual those convos will actually be?

Almost as interesting as what JSO will do, however, is the way Operation Ceasefire was sold — with a press conference on May 20, weeks after the initiative was launched. And the most interesting moment of that press conference — one of unintentional irony — came during Mayor Alvin Brown’s anodyne presentation, when someone’s ringtone sounded with the theme song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which appropriately summed up what Operation Ceasefire ultimately is: a deliberate assembling of a Manichean dualist narrative in which the city marches in lockstep in battle against the “thugs.” We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore.

Brown delivered nothing more than a chunk of a standard stump speech, speaking with little specificity or conviction about the aggressive, post-Constitutional policing necessary to make this program an enduring success. Rather than talking about the realities of policing in lawless areas, he talked about jobs programs.

Somewhat more ingenuous: Sheriff Rutherford, who has sold initiatives like this before — for instance, Operation Safe Streets in 2006, JSO’s response to last decade’s wave of violence, which looked like the current one. Even if you believe that the “walk and knock” approach to connecting with the community that Rutherford advances flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment, it’s impossible to discount the sheriff’s consistency. And bromides like “you’ve got the amount of crime in your neighborhood that you’re willing to tolerate” strike a chord with the quasi-bootstrap conservatives in your local planned communities, the ones who turn city elections.

The highlight of the event: Councilwoman Denise Lee, candid as always. The crime problem, as she sees it, is constituted by “thugs … who don’t want other people to have quality of life,” and who thrive on “human blight.” Thugs who “have declared war on the community,” who have decided they can do what they want when they want. To combat this menace, there will be “cameras in the most targeted areas” and actions taken against businesses that aid and abet the criminal set.

And if recidivists keep on recidivating, no worries: “We’ve just got to put them in jail and keep them there forever.”

Operation Ceasefire won’t be a hard sell in Jacksonville. We all imagine ourselves tough on crime, and our media ensures that solutions more complex than “clean up your backyard” will not be discussed. From a public policy standpoint, in which the leaders of political structures both black and white almost invariably ask for aggressive policing, there is no risk.

And that in itself is the problem for those who still believe that the ever-expanding police state can be rolled back. Part of the reason the police state always wins is rooted in historic binary oppositions between black and white — the legacy, ultimately, of plantation slavery.

JSO undoubtedly will win some battles with Operation Ceasefire. The war, however, will be lost. Without legitimate alternatives to the drug culture to actually make a living in these communities (and unless investors radically change their strategies, this is not likely), young recruits will rise up to fill the slots left by incarcerated gang members. And the law enforcement industry will find ways to monetize the whole process.

UPDATE: Comments that came in from JSO after this piece went to press, from Chief Pat Ivey of Patrol West, added below:

"Operation Ceasefire is modelled after our very successful efforts during Operation Safe Streets, in 2006 and moving forward. The Knock and Talks are consensual conversations with residents who want to engage with the police; share with us what they know about crime in their neighborhoods. Just as import is the goal of establishing a relationship with that resident that we hope will continue after the initiative. (Going with us on Sheriff’s Walks; joining their Sheriff’s Advisory Council; becoming comfortable talking to the police, moving forward, if they have not done so in the past). The conversations take place on people’s front porches, on the street, in area businesses. They are possible because of that amplified police presence that is there specifically for that purpose. We’re looking for a relationship, not just information. But if they share information, great.

"We are getting excellent feedback from the citizens in the area; especially business owners. Any objections to a heavier police presence seems to be among people who are disappointed that we cannot afford to do it long term. It is not a sustainable presence. With recent personnel cutbacks that has our ranks down by 147 sworn officers, city wide, we can’t sustain this manpower allocation. We are focused on curtailing gun crime through improved relationships in the community; solving crimes by developing these relationships that hopefully encourage people to share what they know with police.

"The hope is that we see an increase in the number of people engaging with us short and long term: joining us when we walk the neighborhoods; coming to ShAdCo meetings to meet with the officers; calling the police for seemingly unimportant information or complaints. People may not take this seriously, but ONE seemingly trivial bit of information can hold the key to solving a crime… it might be just what we to determine what might be going on (of a criminal nature) in a neighborhood or it can help solve a crime, even a murder. Law abiding people get that and are encouraged by our outreach.

"As mentioned before, this kind of manpower in the neighborhood, engaging the citizens, it is not sustainable. The Sheriff remarked at the news conference, that this initiative is a dedicated one to raise the consciousness of the law abiding good people of Zone 5 (of which there are MANY), and let them know we are there to work with them; help solve their crime issues; prevent other crimes from occurring. We are very encouraged by the partnership with Councilwoman Lee and all the Council members committed to the Human Blight project she is spearheading AND there is the commitment from the Mayor’s Office on the summer jobs programs for youth in the area. By addressing the underlying problem in this challenged area, along with the police/citizen engagement, we are hopeful for improvements in the crime numbers and the challenges facing these neighborhoods."

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