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Jacksonville in Crisis

by ANTHONY GANCARSKI

As is typical of Florida metropolises, Jacksonville has too many police cars and too little in the way of actual neighborhoods. After a hard day working in a telemarketing mill and braving traffic jams through the interminable span of stoplights between home, work, and the strip mall, there isn’t much incentive to get to know one’s neighbors. Besides, odds are that they’re narcs or hoodlums of one stripe or another.

Because that’s all you see on the news. Homicides in Springfield, Terror in Bali, agitprop for a war that no one you know believes in. The scandals you read about are nothing compared to the scandals you don’t. The most undercovered mayoral tilt in recent memory coincides with below-the-radar gossip about spoiler candidates in the contest.

And the electable candidates might come from different neighborhoods, backgrounds in city government, or even races, but at heart they are all essentially the same. Apologists for a consolidated city government that bowed down to the NFL until they got their local concession; lackeys for a crew of bandits that forces students to attend state schools that don’t even teach them basic skills. In Springfield, off of Soutel, the locals get a little taste of Life In the Occupied Territories at the will of a sheriff’s office that has turned the phrase Rule of Law into a punch line.

And a kick line, and a billy club line, and a shot of mace. Folks in “nicer” neighborhoods like Mandarin and Baymeadows [both of which were developed long after Consolidation went into force in 1967] may not realize this, but officers routinely drive through poorer neighborhoods and searchlight the shrubbery, looking for evil doers, as if Osama bin Laden passed out in the bushes after too much Colt 45.

The worst thing about how the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office conducts its business of intimidation may not be that it flagrantly violates the Constitution. The Constitution lies shredded like so many unpaid bills at this point, and rumor has it that 108% of those surveyed in a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll are ready to give up “liberty for safety.” Liberty is being given up, all right. The liberty of the urban poor is being sacrificed at the altar of overpriced, unnecessary, and immoral infrastructure, and whether that sacrifice is worth it is not even up for discussion. The choice has been made, and the jails are flooded; between 1980 and 2000, adult incarceration rates nationwide rose 220%.

Despite the wrecked lives on display in our prisons, it could be argued that the worst thing about the War on Drugs, as it is manifested in Jacksonville [and virtually every other city of comparable size in the Southeast], is that local, state, and federal governments essentially soak the rich to pay for it. People who have bet their entire lives that they will be able to meet their mortgage obligations on a riverfront home have enough problems without subsidizing the hourly surveillance of every home on a block. Factory owners worried about their bottom lines chafe at having to subsidize the maintenance of a criminal justice apparatus currently touching six million lives in the United States.

$50,000 per prisoner, give or take, with roughly two million in jail. All of this is a drag on free-enterprise and a commensurate boon to the command economy that drives our domestic concentration camps. Where people get locked in solitary cages for years at a time, where newbies on the cell block find themselves at the mercy of those bigger, stronger, and willing. Wave the flag. Cover up the kanji with Made in USA stickers. Meanwhile, the next few generations don’t read or exercise enough, but are better than any prior at ordering pizzas, cooking up meth, and contracting social diseases.

It’s time for a change, in Jacksonville, and elsewhere. It is time to imbue the phrase “community standards” with new meaning. It is time to break the city up into self-governing zones roughly the size of city council districts, and to finally repudiate the doctrine of consolidation.

Who has consolidation benefited except for developers? I know I’d trade the benefits of it to be left alone by a city government incompetent in all areas except the enforcement of arbitrary laws. The false promise of resource redistribution served as cover for the encroachments of a JSO run amok, for the power moves of those who build subdivisions and call them plantations. Bold new city of the south? A flat out lie, underscored by the hundreds of thousands daily whose primary experience of consolidated government is scoring bail to get their children or brothers out of jail.

So, a modest proposal to close. Let each neighborhood police itself. Maybe even work out a system so that social services are neighborhood-based. Whether it takes a village to raise a child or not, it’s abundantly clear that a metropolis simply can’t get it done. It’s long past time to say goodbye to a discredited experiment and the political hacks that come with it. Rest in Peace, Consolidation, and take your boys with you.

Comments are welcome at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com

 

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ANTHONY GANCARSKI is a regular CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com

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